Hard to believe it now, but the first train to travel on London's famous underground system was powered by steam. Next time you're somewhere between Paddington and Farringdon just think, that's where, one hundred and fifty years ago, the first steam train made its virgin voyage under the streets of London.
On Saturday 10th January 1863 the first public passengers queued up to travel the three and a half miles underground from Paddington to Farringdon aboard gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. Described by The Illustrated London News as 'the most stupendous engineering undertaking yet achieved in the railway world', it was the birth of the world's first underground train system a system which now carries an estimated 3.5 million people per day.
In 2013 London celebrates its pioneering subterranean train system with a series of special events. Steam and heritage train outings, talks, tours, a large scale poster art exhibition and theatrical events in the disused Aldwych tube station are all part of the celebrations marking the 150th Anniversary of the London Underground.
On Sunday 13th and 20th January 2013, passengers (who have bought tickets allocated by ballot) can take a nostalgic trip and travel via steam, once again, through the tunnels of the Metropolitan line between Paddington and Farringdon - now part of the Circle and the Hammersmith & City Line - in an 1892 carriage pulled by the Met Locomotive No. 1 which has been painstakingly restored especially for the occasion. It will be the first steam passenger journey to travel on the Underground network since 1905.
How the Tube shaped London
For a really in-depth look at the last 150 years of Underground history, immerse yourself in the book 'Underground - How the Tube shaped London', a 286-page tome put together in a lively and informative way by David Bownes, Oliver Green and Sam Mullins. All three authorities on the Underground will host a series of illustrated talks at the London Transport Museum's Cubic Theatre in Covent Garden between January and March 2013.
David Bownes opens the series on Monday 21st January with his talk on 'The Underground Pioneers', beginning with the first day,10th January 1863, when nearly 40,000 people queued up to be the first to travel underground. He follows the birth of the fledgling network right up until a shady American entrepreneur, Charles Tyson Yerkes, created the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1902, which later became the Tube.
The following month, on 25th February, Oliver Green, head curator at the London Transport Museum from 2001 to 2009, considers 'The Rise and Fall of London', examining how the world's greatest urban public transport system was developed and extended in the 1920s and '30s until the outbreak of war in 1939.
Sam Mullins, Director of the London Transport Museum since 1994, will be giving the third and final talk, 'Out of Chaos' on Monday 25th March, in which he focuses on the last fifty years from the building of the Victoria line in the 1960s right up to the travel challenges of the 2012 Olympics.
There are further discussions on the history and use of the Underground at the Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research, one of the world's leading centres for the study of the history of London and other cities. Anyone with an interest can buy tickets to take part in the two-day conference on 17th and 18th January at Senate House, University of London, in Bloomsbury.
The People's Art Gallery
From 1908, under the direction of Frank Pick, the Underground began to commission poster art and became well known for its outstanding poster designs - a reputation which continues to this day. It is this heritage which is celebrated in the London Transport Museum's major exhibition, 'Poster Art 150: London Underground's Greatest Designs'. Visitors to the exhibition will be asked to choose their favourite from a selection of 150 posters that showcase the very best poster art, with contributions from the likes of Man Ray, and the most popular poster will be revealed at the end of the exhibition.
There will be special behind the scenes events at the museum's Depot in Acton - which is usually closed to the public - when it opens for two weekends in April and October. The Acton open days will give visitors the chance to learn more about the restoration of old rolling stock including the Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage No. 353, a wooden four-wheeled first class carriage built in 1892, in use for the first time since 1940. Met Loco No. 1, the restored 1898 engine which will be the showpiece of the heritage days on Sunday 13th and Sunday 20th January, will be covering visitors in clouds of steam, with information about its return to the tracks, 150 years after it first took passengers underground.
The disused Aldwych tube station, the only stop on the now-defunct Strand branch of the Piccadilly Line and closed for the last 18 years, will be opened again, in May and June, for an immersive art event. And, if you want something to help you remember the 150th anniversary, commemorative stamps are being issued by the Royal Mail revealing the timeline of the Tube, from the opening of the Metropolitan railway in 1863 to Sir Norman Foster's modern Canary Wharf station, opened in 1999.
London Underground image credits © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection
Stamp Images © Royal Mail and Transport for London except the 1938 image © Ian Allan publishing and 1999 photography by Paul Grundy © Royal Mail Group Ltd; London Underground & logo are registered trademarks of Transport for London.