6 Bits Of History To Spot On The Underground

Londoners are very proud of their 150+ year old subterranean network. Sure, we can complain about it, but we love it really. The main reason I love the tube is the little quirks you find at every new station, so this post is focussing on the six best bits of history to spot in the underground.

1. The Tiles at Aldgate East

Look closely on both platforms at Aldgate East and you’ll spot an odd collection of tiles among the plain cream ones.

History To Spot On The Underground

They were created by Harold Stabler in 1938 and are sporadically placed along the walls with no rhyme or reason.

Some show London landmarks like St Paul’s or the Houses of Parliament. Above and left is 55 Broadway (more on that later).

But some are more unclear, the TFL roundel on the right is pretty self explanatory. But the griffin is less so – possibly a reference to the City of London’s dragons?

You can also spot them at Bethnal Green station, though there’s not as many.

2. The River Above Sloane Square

It’s easy to ignore the steel pipe above Sloane Square station, but it contains one of London’s lost rivers!

History To Spot On The Underground

Inside the conduit is the Westbourne River which rises in West Hampstead and flows through Hyde Park and Sloane Square, emptying into the Thames right by Chelsea Bridge. This section is also referred to as the Ranelagh Sewer.

Originally pure, the water became polluted in the 19th century and as the areas between Hampstead and Chelsea became more residential these cesspits were covered from the late 1820s. Some parts (in les wealthy areas) survived uncovered until 1871.

3. Stepney Green’s Stencil Sign

I haven’t been able to find a precise date for this pleasing stencil sign, but Stepney Green station opened in 1902. If – like me – you enjoy a bit of typography you might enjoy my post full of geeky tube font facts here.

History To Spot On The Underground

Today the signage is hardly necessary (there is literally only one set of initial stairs to get down to the platforms) but it makes me chuckle to think people needed reassurance that they’re heading in the right direction, despite already being halfway down the stairs!

Enjoying this post? Get the latest London secrets to your email
See the City from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday.Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties

4. Gloucester Road’s Abandoned Platform

One of the older stations on the network, Brompton (Gloucester Road) was originally part of the Metropolitan Railway and opened in October 1868. It’s sort of two stations in one with District and Circle line in the ‘sub-surface’ station (which used to be above ground) and then the Piccadilly line in the ‘deep level’ station.

In the 1970s the Circle line tracks were reorganised, making the extra eastbound Circle line platform redundant, but the whole station wasn’t covered from the outside world until the 1990s when the ‘Deck’ appeared, intended to support a shopping mall and apartment building.

History To Spot On The Underground

Today, because it’s inside and has the access to dramatic lighting, it’s an ever-changing undergound art gallery!

Run by Art on the Underground who put in installations, the current one celebrates their 15th anniversary. For a look at some of the previous ones including work by David Shrigley and Cindy Sherman and click here.

5. The World Clock In Piccadilly

If you’ve ever circumnavigated the ticket hall of Piccadilly Circus you’ve probably walked past this weird clock.

History To Spot On The Underground

The station opened in 1906 but was refurbished between 1925-8 by Charles Holden, who designed many tube stations in the 1920s and 30s as well as the TFL HQ, 55 Broadway;

History To Spot On The Underground

But take a closer look at the clock…

History To Spot On The Underground

It supposedly shows each timezone’s current time as the strip moves at a snails’ pace (the same speed as the Earth’s revolution) across the map.

It’s not wholly accurate (only following longitude) but at a glance does show you more of less whether it’s day or night in any given place. In any case it’s worth pausing to have a look if it’s not rush hour!

6. Temple’s Heritage Map

The last on my list isn’t quite on the underground and stands outside a central station. As you walk into Temple (beloved by tour guides because it only has one entrance/exit) look out for the Heritage Tube Map dating from 1932.

History To Spot On The Underground

It predates Harry Beck’s iconic London Underground map which is still used today and one massive difference is clear.

Beck’s map was so clear and simple because it didn’t take into account real geographical positions. While this map overlays stations on top of an accurate London map, Beck realised that wasn’t necessary.

History To Spot On The Underground

We should give F. H. Stingemore some credit though, he tried to enlarge the central London area so stations appeared less squished and probably inspired Beck’s design which appeared a few months after this one, also in 1933.

Any more transport history gems I should keep an eye out for?

 

More London Inspiration

  • Things to do in London

    10 Reasons Londoners Should Visit Parliament

    The oldest democracy in the world, based in a building with parts from the 11th century. If only those walls could talk. Thankfully, with the help of a Parliament guide they sort of do. Here's 10 things I learned from a guided tour of Parliament....

  • Unusual Gardens and Open Spaces in London

    10 Unusual Gardens and Open Spaces in London

    Often listed as one of the greenest cities in the world, London is blessed with 8 Royal Parks and surrounded by woodland. However, I've made a list of the more esoteric green places to visit in central London, spots with an interesting tale or simply in an unexpected place....

  • Weird London Street Names

    12 Weird London Street Names With A Story Behind Them

    Concerned by Hanging Sword Alley in EC4? Intrigued by Knightrider Street? Or tempted by Wardrobe Place? There are the best street names in the city and they each have a story to tell....

  • London City Churches

    15 Unusual Things You Can Find In London City Churches

    There's 47 churches within London's square mile. Each with their own history and often some special quirk up their sleeve. From ancient relics to pop-up gardens and cutting edge sculpture to 17th century shoes, there's plenty of surprises to be found......

  • 5 Typography Quirks That Only Tube Geeks Will Appreciate

    Last night I seriously geeked out at the London Transport Museum for a talk about Underground Lettering before 1933. The talk, given by design and typography lecturers Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, featured the progression of lettering styles before Johnston’s famous sans serif was introduced.    ......

  • History To Spot On The Underground

    6 Bits Of History To Spot On The Underground

    Londoners are very proud of their 150+ year old subterranean network. Sure, we can complain about it, but we love it really. The main reason I love the tube is the little quirks you find at every new station....

Aldgate Pump

No Comments

Post a Comment

fifteen − 6 =

Want London secrets direct to your email?
See the City from a new angle, discovering little things you miss everyday.Once a week. No spam, just inspiration.
Your details will never be shared with any 3rd parties