Monday, 9 December 2013

Digging deeper (literally): 150 years of the London underground

For this month's Digging Deeper we are turning to the interdisciplinary publication The London Journal: A Review of Metropolitan Society Past and Present and its recent special issue celebrating a number of significant milestones in the history of the London underground.

In the case of London’s underground railway system, the focus of this special issue, several key dates vie for commemorative attention: 1890, the date of the first deep-level, wholly underground line, when new technologies — electric traction and deep-level tunnelling — were united; 1933, the key political–managerial date, when the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) took over control of almost the entire Underground network; even 1853, when the North Metropolitan Railway, which became the Metropolitan Railway, first received Parliamentary authorisation, and the process of planning and building the Underground began in earnest. The last two dates have the satisfying arithmetic quality of being exactly 80 and 160 years ago, and the first was, in fact, celebrated (albeit modestly) as the ‘Tube Centenary’ in 1990. But 150 years is a more obvious anniversary, not least because it marks the longest period of operation of any underground railway, reminding us that the first section of the Metropolitan, the ‘world’s first underground railway’, opened to the public in January 1863, employing tried and tested technologies but in a novel combination to solve a new problem: how to handle traffic in cities that could no longer be traversed comfortably on foot. Ideas about traffic and comfort have changed since then, and will continue to change in the future, making us mindful of both marked continuities and the contingency of change.
The article "Celebrating the Underground's Architectural Legacy" provides a retrospective of the statutory protection of the London Underground’s built heritage since 1970, when the first Underground listing, St James’s Park Station and 55 Broadway, Westminster took place. It sets out the criteria used in assessing Underground buildings for designation, with illustrated examples from a comprehensive resurvey undertaken by English Heritage in 2010–11, which resulted in seventeen new listings and four upgradings:
"London’s Underground system has endowed the capital and its suburbs with some of its most outstanding examples of architecture and design. Seventy Underground stations, approximately one-quarter of the total on the network, are now included in the National Heritage List for England. Statutory listing, introduced by the Town & Country Planning Act (1947), is a recognition of special architectural or historic interest in a national context. Over half a million buildings are listed nationally, graded under three categories: Grade I (of exceptional interest); Grade II* (of more than special interest); and Grade II (of special interest). These account, respectively, for approximately 2.5 per cent, 5.5 per cent and 92 per cent of all listed buildings. Most pre-1840 buildings are listed; after that date, increasing selectivity is applied. Buildings under 30 years old are listed only exceptionally, and must be of outstanding interest and under demonstrable threat in order to be considered; this is because the lapse of time is usually insufficient for their significance to be properly understood."

>> Read the full article for free

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