TreeHugger Gets Personal Tour of London Subway System

first station subway photo

Photos: B. Alter: Farringdon Station

A good public transit system is one of the best ways to get cars off roads and people into buses and trains. London's system -- called the London Underground, or "the Tube" -- has been rolling along and expanding since 1863.

This TreeHugger was invited on a "London Underground and Tube Tour " by Insider London, a green tour company. We were delighted to explore the underworld for a morning with a guide who had a green and environmental point of view. Mind the gap as you hop aboard the tour....The London Underground is a marvel; it was the first ever subterranean line every built, with the first station being Farringdon in 1863. It was such a surprise that 30,000 people showed up to see it on the first day. The first escalators were made out of wood.

deep cuts photo

Photo: Insider London

It was built privately, with two competing companies starting to work at the same time. The first station was 5 metres deep and was built by the deep-cut method: digging down, making a tunnel shaped passage and covering it over.

old tiles photo

Photo; B. Alter

The London Transport network of underground trains, buses and trams was regarded as the world's most progressive public transport system and a role model of enlightened use of contemporary art and design. It was a vision that stood the test of time.

Many of the most famous examples of London Transport design were commissioned by Frank Pick (1878-1941). He was convinced that London Transport should be an exemplar of design excellence and commissioned work of the highest quality for everything from station architecture, to litter bins. He ensured that it was implemented with great rigour, regularly travelling the length and breadth of the network, often late at night, to check that every detail was up to scratch.

The red, white and blue Tube symbol designed by Edward Johnston for the Underground in 1918 is still in use today as is the London Underground map devised by Harry Beck in the early 1930s.

tile work photo

Photo: B. Alter

From 1903 onwards, the architect Lesley Green designed 27 stations in 5 years. He had a vision of how design should work, and it has lasted. The upholstery was commissioned from famous designers of the time.The tile colours in the station were coordinated with the lines. So blue symbolized the Victoria Line, green the District, and red the Central.

old station photo

Photo: B. Alter

The above ground stations were covered with distinctive red ox-blood tiles. They were 2 storeys, with a flat roof so that more could be built above them.

new architect photo

Photo: B. Alter

The design moved with the times. By the 1930's a new architect, Charles Pearson, was designing stations that represented the new age: aerodynamic and speedy. Piccadilly was circular with shops inside the stations for commuters; a first.

paolozzi tiles photo

Photo: B. Alter

These colourful mosaic tiles were added to Tottenham Court Road station in the 1980's. They were created by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. The Scottish artist's intricate mosaics, made up of vitreous glass tiles and stained glass tesserae, refer to local sights such as the British Museum and everyday life such as chickens and dogs, cog wheels, satellites and even saxophones.


Photo: B. Alter

Fast forward to the new Jubilee line, completed in 1999. The Westminster station, pictured is 128 feet deep. But the tile work is reminiscent of Green's idea with grey tiles, the colour of the new Jubilee line.

More on the London Underground
Subway Seats on your Feet
Design Makes a Difference; Frank Pick
The World's Most Impressive Subway Maps

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