London Underground: secrets, history and principles of operation of the underground world

We invite you to go on a fascinating journey through the London Underground. The Underground is one of the hallmarks of the UK capital and is almost the most recognisable symbol of London. Since its foundation, the Underground has become an integral part of the city’s life and an important means of transport for millions of residents and visitors. In this article we will talk about the mysteries of the London Underground, dive into the history of its creation and tell you about the principles of the underground. Let’s go.

Secrets of the London Underground

The London Underground opened in 1863 and is the first underground railway in the world. For such a long existence, the Underground has become the keeper of many secrets and stories. And here are some of them.

Other names for the underground

Thanks to the press and the cost of all tickets at two pence, another term came into use in the early 1900s – Twopenny Tube, which literally means two pence tube. The Underground in London is also often called the Tube because of the shape of the tunnels. The Underground logo is a round red circle crossed by a horizontal blue stripe.

Underground network with ground stations

Although the London Underground is an underground network, more than half of the stations are above ground, and only 45% are actually in tunnels. The Victoria Line and The Waterloo & City Line are the only lines that are entirely underground.

A station that closed without ever opening.

In 1901, a North End station was planned for the suburbs of London. It even had a second name, Bull & Bush, in honour of the famous pub next door. However, plans for the opening changed after the platforms and lift tunnels were built. All the facilities were bricked up and never used as an underground station. Still, the site served a different purpose – it became a place to store government documents during World War II.

A 20-second trip

The shortest distance between two adjacent Tube stations is 260 metres. The Tube journey between the pedestrianised Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line takes about 20 seconds but costs £4.90. Nevertheless, the route remains one of the most popular with travellers.

Voice of the Underground

The famous phrase “Mind the gap” was introduced in 1968 as a short automatic warning to remind passengers to be careful and watch their step when moving from platform to carriage. The administration decided to use the voice of sound engineer Peter Lodge, who was setting up the equipment and made this test recording.

London Underground stations have also been played by various voices, including the famous novelist Emma Clarke and the actor and writer Tim Bentinck. In 1990, a recording of the voice of Keith Wilson, manager of PA Communications Ltd. appeared. This appeared on at least 10 stations that housed equipment from this firm and today it is still heard on Paddington tube station. The Northern Line also used the voice of the actor Oswald Lawrence for a long time until it was gradually replaced by others. At the request of the actor’s widow, her husband’s voice was retained at Embankment tube station so that she could still hear it.

Code word: Inspector Sands.

At London Underground stations, you may hear an announcement asking for Inspector Sands to be called. This phrase means for staff to investigate a tripped fire alarm, but it does not cause concern for passengers.

A code word originally used in theatres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to inform staff of a fire backstage. Sand buckets were used to extinguish the fire, hence the name Inspector Sands.

Forgotten stations

There are around 40 abandoned ghost stations on the London Underground. Most are closed due to declining passenger traffic, outdated infrastructure, or merger with neighbouring stations.

Here are some of them:

  • Down Street tube station: located between Hyde Park and Green Park. It was the secret bunker of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Second World War;
  • York Road tube station: near King’s Cross Station, one of the first stations on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR). Closed in 1932, however the station has retained its appearance to this day due to its neighbourhood with King’s Cross Station;
  • British Museum tube station: London Central line station, located on Bury Place Street, close to the British Museum in the historic Bloomsbury district. It existed for 33 years and closed in 1933. British Museum station was used until the 1960s as a military administrative office and emergency control centre;
  • King William Street tube station: one of the oldest and shortest-lived. Opened in 1890, it was known as the first deep-level underground railway, and its long crossing under the Thames was considered a benchmark of Victorian engineering. However, the design of the station and tunnels severely limited capacity, leading to closure in 1900. The station building itself was demolished in the 1930s, and its underground parts were converted into bomb shelters and used during the Second World War.

Today, the remains of these and other abandoned underground stations can still be seen and some can be visited. Underground tours are always popular and allow you to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of London’s underground world.

“Ghosts” in the stations

The capital of the UK is one of the most mysterious and mystical in the whole world and is famous for its ghost legends. And, of course, the London Underground is one of the most popular places where various ghosts are rumoured to be found.

It is said that sometimes underground passengers hear strange sounds, some voices, whispers and even music. However, all of them can be explained by various reasons, including echoes, vibration of walls and so on.

One of the now closed Aldwych tube stations is often used as a filming location for many TV shows and films. It has also been the location for the Hidden London tour.

There is also a theory that the former British Museum tube station is connected by a secret tunnel to the museum itself.

There are many stories about mysterious phenomena that occur on the London Underground. Some people believe in them, but for others they are just urban legends.

Hidden Rivers

Part of the London Underground tunnels run parallel to the course of the River Fleet, the largest river hidden underground in the 19th century. Although unknown to passengers, its historical significance is ingrained in the Underground infrastructure.

Below The Bakerloo Line, near Lisson Grove tube station, runs another lost river, the River Tyburn. Once famous in London, it is now enclosed in a culvert. The river is invisible to passengers and flows silently beneath the tracks, a reminder of the city’s ever-changing landscape and history.

Another tributary of the Thames, the River Westbourne, is of interest. Passengers at Sloane Square tube station may notice the large green box in which the river still flows over the platform.

Secret tunnels

In the London Underground, classified tunnels connect some underground stations to Buckingham Palace and other royal residences. These passageways are used to transport members of the royal family on special occasions.

In addition to the Royal Tunnels, the London Underground also has secret military tunnels. One of them runs under the government building at 57 Whitehall Street. The tunnel was built to protect important infrastructure and communications in case of a nuclear attack. The secret bunker goes to the Old War Office, and was used by Winston Churchill during the war. The British government remained silent about them until some time later.

Many metro stations were used as bomb shelters during World War II. On the Central Line, several tunnels and stations became a military factory, information about which was not disclosed until the 1980s.

The history of the London Underground

In the mid-nineteenth century, London was one of the largest cities in the world, and in 1891 the population of the capital was already over 5 million. The city grew rapidly, especially in the centre, and there was an urgent need to improve the transport system.

At that time, traffic was limited to conks, omnibuses and private carriages. These modes of transport were slow, inconvenient and expensive for most residents.

The idea of building the London Underground belongs to the British lawyer and politician Charles Pearson (1793-1862), and work began in 1860.

On 10 January 1863, after his death, the London Underground opened. It was travelled by steam locomotives burning coke and then coal. On the first day, 38,000 people made the 18-minute journey with 6 stops between Paddington and Farringdon. The underground railway was a huge success despite the sulphurous fumes. The Times called it “the great engineering triumph of the age”.

The technology to safely dig deep tunnels under London was developed by 1870, but the first underground railway was not practical until it was improved in the late 1880s. In 1890, the London Underground gradually began to switch to electric trains, but steam locomotives still ran on the capital’s lines until 1961.

Remarkably, in 1900, the Central Line took a train carrying the Prince of Wales and Mark Twain on its maiden voyage.

London’s Underground was built to a greater extent to the north of the Thames, where 241 stations were eventually located, and only 31 to the south. This is because there was much more scope for development on the north side of the river. In addition, the suburban railways at that time already sufficiently provided transport routes south of the Thames.

The name and logo of the London Underground, which are still in use today, were introduced in 1908. Before that time, the underground was called the Metropolitan Railway.

Interestingly, the famous font for the London Underground was created by Edward Johnston back in 1916. Just like the London Underground map designed by Harry Beck in 1931, with some additions it is still relevant today. The scheme simply and clearly indicates the direction of trains, with interchanges clearly shown. It was officially criticised because of deviations from the actual location of stations, but passengers liked its convenience.  The map became official in 1933 and in 2006 it was recognised as one of the national design examples.

Back in London, at 23-24 Leinster Gardens Street, there are houses that at first glance appear to be a pair of ordinary townhouses, but the fact is that the buildings are not real. In the days of steam trains, the facades of the houses were built to hide the smoke coming out of the train tunnel. The BBC used this location in the TV series Sherlock in 2014, when the show’s characters discovered a secret location behind the facades.

The London Underground now consists of 11 lines and 272 stations covering the entire city and suburbs. The underground network has a total length of 402 kilometres, making it one of the largest in the world and serving up to 5 million passengers a day. London Underground is committed to being environmentally friendly and energy efficient. It does this by utilising trains with low greenhouse gas emissions and introducing energy-saving technology and lighting.

How the Tube works in London

  • The London Underground network is divided into nine zones. Zone 1 is located in central London and includes most tourist attractions and neighbourhoods.
  • London Underground fares vary depending on distance, time of day and type of ticket. The Oyster contactless card is said to be the most convenient and inexpensive way to pay for travel on the London Underground and other public transport services.
  • The London Underground timetable depends on the line and day of the week and looks like this: Monday to Saturday – from 5am to midnight, Sunday – from 7am to 11pm. On certain lines there is night traffic on Fridays and Saturdays. More precise timetables are always available on the official website.

The London Underground is a complex and efficient system that works for the benefit of the city’s residents and many tourists. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, professional management and environmental care, the Underground provides fast, reliable and comfortable travel for millions of passengers.

FAQs about the London Underground

How much does it cost to travel on the London Underground?

London Underground fares vary depending on the time of day, distance and form of payment.

Remember that journeys during peak hours will cost more than at normal times. That is, Monday to Friday from 6:30 to 9:30 am and 4:00 to 7:00 pm, except on public holidays, the metro is most in demand.

You can buy a paper ticket for cash but note that single tickets will cost between £6.70 and £9.80.

Many people favour the Oyster contactless card, which allows them to pay much less for any journey. For example, using it in Zone 1 will save you more than half the amount you spend on a paper ticket. This means that if you buy this card for £7 and top it up with any amount you want, you can pay from £2.70 for journeys.

Before you pay, you need to decide which zones your itinerary will cover. Usually tourists travel in zones 1 and 2, which allows you to see all the city’s iconic sights.

Which London Underground line is the longest?

The London Underground Central line is marked in red and is the longest line, connecting the north-east and west parts of the city.  There are 20 stations on 74 kilometres of track underground and 29 on the streets. Many of the stations are interesting and valuable from a historical point of view, as the line dates back to 1900 as the Central London Railway (CLR). It is also a deep-set railway and uses smaller trains compared to the main underground lines.

Which tube station in London is the deepest?

Hampstead tube station is the deepest station on the London Underground and is located on the Northern line, which is marked in black on the map. The station was opened in 1907, and it is located on a rather big hill. As a result, the distance to the platform is 58.5 metres or 192 feet, which means that you can’t do without a lift! It will help you descend to the distance of a 15-storey building, i.e. 55 metres or 180 feet. If you are an athlete and want to overcome this path on foot, you will need to walk up at least 320 steps on a spiral staircase.

Please note and do not confuse it with West Hampstead station. It is on the Jubilee branch, which is shown in grey on the map.

Also, don’t be surprised to see the Heath Street lettering on the tiled walls of the station in some places. This was originally intended to be the name of the station in honour of a nearby street. Now it has become part of history, reminding passengers of the connection between the times.