Over the past century and a half, London’s Underground has seen two world wars, millions of passengers, and more secrets than we could begin to count. The “Tube” is used by Londoners and visitors to the beautiful city every hour of every day, but most are unaware of the history they’re traveling through.
Once you learn of the 150-years’ worth of secrets and history housed below England’s capital, you’ll earn a completely new appreciation for this feat of engineering and human-kind.
In the early 1800s, London was booming. The influx of people bustling about quickly made it apparent that a better method of mass transportation was needed, and fast. The Metropolitan Railway took on the immense challenge of constructing the first underground line below the city. After months of construction, the 3 and three quarter mile railway carried 38,000 passengers safely to their destination on the inaugural ride on January 10, 1863.
For the following five decades, London’s Underground saw changing ownership, builders, and thousands of passengers. However, once World War I began London saw its first air raid, and the tube was transformed into much more than a transportation system. The safe-haven continued on into the World War II.
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Initially, British government officials tried to prevent the tube stations and lines use as bomb shelters. But, after their attempts to keep people from taking shelter there were decisively ignored, they decided to regulate the shelters instead. Trains continued to run on certain lines, bringing supplies, food, and other Londoner’s seeking shelter. A number of unused stations were converted into factories for wartime productions.
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While the Tube was considered by many to be the safest haven, no place in London was completely protected from German Blitzes. Hundreds of Londoner’s lost their lives when the tube was hit by German bombs in 1940 through 1943.
Even in the times of crisis and tragedy, the Underground has remained as a point of togetherness for the people of London. It’s an unmistakable symbol of the ingenuity and strength of Britain as a whole.
Traveling the Underground Today
The Underground lines cover nine zones and stop at more than 200 stations. Even though there are nine zones, tourists typically stay in Zones 1 and 2 because they cover Central London where many of the major tourist attractions and hotels are located.
These days, 11 Tube lines transport locals and tourists throughout Britain’s capital:
- Bakerloo Line
- Central Line
- Circle Line
- District Line
- Hammersmith & City Line
- Jubilee Line
- Metropolitan Line
- Northern Line
- Piccadilly Line
- Victoria Line
- Waterloo & City Line
Generally, the Underground runs are between 5:00 a.m. — 12:00 A.M., Monday through Saturday. Sunday times are reduced by a few hours with later starting times and earlier stopping times.
Secrets Along The Stops
We alluded to the importance of the Underground during the World Wars, and proof of that is beneath 8 of the 11 Tube lines. For under these lines sit deep-level air-raid shelters. The construction of the shelters took place between 1940 and 1942. Originally reserved for government officials, 5 of the 8 shelters opened up to civilians as bombing intensified.
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The shelters that were constructed include:
- Chancery Lane
- Belsize Park
- Camden Town
- Goodge Street
- Clapham North
- Clapham Common
- Clapham South
After the war ended, several of the shelters were still used by London’s military. The Goodge Street shelter was used by the army until the 1950s. The Chancery Lane shelter was used for the Kingsway Telephone Exchange during the Cold War years.
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In addition to the secrets you’ll uncover while traveling the Underground, you’ll also see all of the most iconic sights of the region.
Circle Line – Tower Hill Station
Tower Bridge – Built 120 years ago, the Tower Bridge is an engineering marvel and arguably one of the most recognizable attractions in the world. If you’re feeling brave, trek out onto the high bridges suspended between the bridges towers.
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District Line – St James’s Station
St. James’s Park – Millions of visitors flock to the beautiful St. James’s Park every year. It’s the oldest of London’s eight Royal Parks, and it includes The Mall and the Horse Guards Parade.
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Jubilee Line – Westminster Station
Big Ben – Is there a more iconic London sight than Big Ben? Lucky for visitors, this sight is right along the Jubilee Line outside of Westminster Station. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to check it off of your bucket list, you need to stop by Big Ben.
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Northern Line – Waterloo Station
London Eye – The London Eye is a larger-than-life Ferris wheel on the River Thames in London. From here, you will be treated to the most spectacular views of the city and a ride you won’t forget.
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Piccadilly Line – Covent Garden or Leicester Square Station
Covent Garden – The district of Covent Garden in London is a hub for local shops, delicious food, and incredible street performers. Once you hop out of the Covent Garden station, you’ll have a tough time fitting everything you want to explore into just one day.
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Parts of the Tube’s storied history are somber, but the incredible spirit of London persists and prevails. For once you wander the stations and secret passageways hidden beneath the surface, you’ll never think of London the same way again.