London Underground

Unusual history of 'The Tube'.

A lot of unusual things have happened on the London Underground over the last 150 years. Here are a small sample from a rather interesting book about the 'Tube'.

1. Aldgate tube station is built on the site of a plague pit that was the final resting place for an estimated 1,000 victims of the Bubonic Plague in 1665.

2. John Oxenham’s horror novel, A Mystery of the Underground, serialised in a Victorian magazine called To-day in 1897 and set on the District Line, was so convincing that passenger numbers plummeted. Especially on Tuesday nights when most of the murders occurred in the story.

3. Only two corpses have travelled on the Underground. In 1898, the coffin containing Liberal prime minster William Gladstone was transported to Westminster station to make sure it arrived at his State Funeral at Westminster Abbey on time. Gladstone, incidentally, was also one of the first people to ever ride on the Underground alive.

The second was Dr Thomas Barnado, famous for setting up a series of charitable children’s homes. His final Underground journey was made on the Central Line in 1905, from Liverpool Street to Barkingside.

4. Chelsea’s home ground, Stamford Bridge, was built using soil and rubble excavated from the building of the Piccadilly Line.

5. Closed in 1994, Aldwych Station has become the London Underground’s default film location. It has been used to film scenes for Atonement, 28 Weeks Later, Superman IV and Patriot Games.  It’s also where The Prodigy filmed the video for their hit, 'Firestarter'.

6. American retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge, the man behind Selfridges on Oxford Street, pressured the government to change the name of the nearby Bond Street tube station to ‘Selfridges’.

7. During the Great War in 1915, Maida Vale on the Bakerloo Line became the first Underground Station to be staffed entirely by women. What’s more they were paid the same salary as their male counterparts, a full 60 years before the implementation of the Equal Pay Act.

8. Harry Beck, the engineering draughtsman who created the iconic map of London Underground, was paid a measly 5 guineas for his design, around £230 in today’s money.

9. The now-closed British Museum station is said to be haunted by the ghost of the daughter of Egyptian pharaoh, Amen-Ra.

10. At the height of the Blitz during the Second World War, close to 150,000 people were sleeping on Underground platforms each night. The Tube quickly became a hub of entertainment with libraries, concert parties and informal dances. An amateur drama group toured the stations with a production of Chekhov’s The Bear.

11. After his team won the FA Cup in 1964, West Ham manager Ron Greenwood caught the Tube home with the said cup in  tow – wrapped in cloth so he didn’t get mobbed.

12. The first voice commuters heard imploring them to ‘Mind the gap’, was that of sound engineer Peter Lodge. He had originally been asked to record an actor saying the words, but when the actor demanded a royalty for every time it was played, London Underground decided to use the recording Lodge had made to check levels instead.

13. In 1998, scientists discovered that the London Underground was home to a previously undiscovered species of mosquito. Christened Culex pipiens f. molestus, it has developed a taste for the rats and mice that call the Underground home. And the unfortunate maintenance men who work there.

The above examples are  from  London Underground's Strangest Tales by Iain Spragg, published by Portico, and available on Amazon now.