11 fun facts about the London tube

posted in: Tips | 2

Visiting London without travelling on the tube is a bit like going to a restaurant without ordering an entrée. The London Underground is one of the oldest and best working public transport systems in the world, carrying over 3 million passengers every day.

So far so yeah yeah yeah…but there’s more to be found below the surface. Since the opening of the first tube line in 1863, a number of stories, rumours and incidents have been brewing underneath the streets of London.

London Tube Elephant
London Tube trunk line (1)

As today is the 11th, how fitting that we’ve dug up 11 fascinating facts about one of the world’s most famous transport systems. Let’s dive right in:

1. Escalation

What runs around the garden without moving an inch? Think about it for a bit….
Similarly, the Underground system’s 409 escalators travel a distance equivalent to two trips around the world every week.

London Tube escalators
London Tube escalators (2)

2. Filthy habits

No shit, Sherlock: in terms of asphyxiation, travelling on the tube for 40 minutes is the equivalent to smoking two cigarettes.

No Smoking
Shadows: rebellious (3)

3. ‘Underground’ music

The Underground is a good place to stumble on musicians busting out tuneful tunes to the delight of passers by. Following in this spirit, Julian Lloyd Webber is rumoured to have been the London Underground’s first official busker.

Julian Lloyd Webber
Easily distracted – Julian Lloyd Webber (4)

4. Dead centre

Bubonic plague swept through England in 1665, and was especially rife in urban areas. Aldgate Station, on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines, is built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies are buried.

Aldgate station
Aldgate Station (5)

5. Fast food

Swimming, travel and THC all give us the munchies, and for this reason the tube system is choc-full of vending machines dispensing all kinds of marked-up goodies. Whilst Kit Kats and Monster Munch hold their own on the shelves, the Cadbury’s Whole Nut chocolate bar is by far the biggest seller.

Cadbury whole nut bar
Wholly nuts, Batman; can you break a tenner? (6)

6. Famous catchphrase

Falling between the platform and the train can sometimes be a mild inconvenience. For centuries the English puzzled over the riddle of how to prevent this type of accident. The answer finally came from an unlikely source when, in 1968, the phrase “MIND THE GAP” originated on the Northern Line.

Mind the gap
Class war goes underground (7)

7. Close for comfort

The walking time between two underground stops in central London is never more than 10 minutes, and is sometimes a lot less. In fact, the shortest distance between two adjacent stations on the underground network is only 260 metres. The tube journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the the Piccadilly Line takes only about 20 seconds, but costs £4.30.

Walk it
Walking: cheap (8)

8. In plane site

Many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters during WWII, but the Central Line went one better and was actually converted into a massive aircraft factory that stretched for over two miles, with its own railway system. Its existence remained an official secret until the 1980s.

Central Line airplane factory
Central Line aircraft factory (9)

9. Hidden corners

There are several unused stations down there. For instance, Down Street Station was used by Winston Churchill and his cabinet during the Second World War. The British Museum also has an abandoned tube station, lying on the Central Line between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn.

British Museum Underground Station, London, 1937
British Museum Underground Station, 1937 (10)

10. Ancient heritage

How does a tube line celebrate its birthday? Drop by to find out next year, as the Metropolitan Line marks its 150th. Having opened on 10th January 1863, this is the oldest tube line in the world.

The Metropolitan Line
The Metropolitan Line (11)

11. Grapes of wrath

Next time you walk into a tube station, keep your eyes peeled for roguish fruit. Green grapes are particularly notorious offenders, causing more accidents on the London Underground than banana skins. Just like Marvin, remember where you heard it.

Marvin (12)

Well, Marvin brings our journey to an end. Thanks for riding it out with us, and we look forward to meeting again further down the line. How many puns can you fit into one paragraph? More to the point, do you have any curious facts to add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And if you want some useful info about London’s wider transport system, there’s a comprehensive article about it here.

As the say in France, buona sera!

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