January 10th 1863: London Underground opens
On this day in 1863, the London Underground opened its first line between Paddington and Farringdon. The world’s first underground railway was a solution to London’s problems with horse-drawn carriage congestion. Funded by the City of London, in 1860 the Metropolitan Railway company began building a tunnel between Paddington and Farringdon Street, led by chief engineer John Fowler. The builders faced the uneviable task of navigating around water and gas pipes and sewers as they cut into the ground to build the tunnel and lay train tracks. The project was the brainchild of City solicitor Charles Pearson, who died just a few months before its completion. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and future Prime Minister, William Gladstone and his wife were the first passengers on a trial trip in May 1862. The tunnel was finally completed on January 9th, 1863, which was marked by a celebration of railway executives, Members of Parliament, and figures in London’s government. 600 guests, with the notable absence of elderly Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, traveled on the undergound train to attend a banquet at Farringdon. The following day, the line opened to the public, and over 30,000 Londoners vied to become the first people to travel on the London Underground. Despite public scepticism about the project, it was a resounding success, and in its first year the underground steam trains carried over nine million passengers in its carriages. The success of the initial line led to the expansion of the underground service, and the steam trains were replaced by electric trains from 1890 onwards. The London Underground, now popularly known as ‘the Tube’, made it easier to commute into Britain’s capital, allowing the city to expand. The underground remains a core part of London’s culture and its heritage, having served as air raid shelters during the world wars, and continues to serve billions of passengers every year.