diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 02, 2013

As you'll be aware, 2013 sees the 150th anniversary of the London Underground. The anniversary's next week, in fact. But which day next week?

According to TfL, the anniversary is a week today, 9th January.

It says so on TfL's special 150th anniversary webpage...

...and on this press release...
On 9 January 1863 the world's first underground train pulled out of Paddington station to make its 3.5 mile maiden journey to Farringdon.
...and on the TfL website's official history page.
London has changed a lot since the first stretch of line - the Metropolitan, or Met - opened on 9 January 1863. The first stretch measured six kilometres (nearly four miles) and ran between Paddington (Bishop's Road) and Farringdon Street.
But the anniversary always used to be given as 10th January instead. Saturday 10th January 1863 was the day the railway opened to the public, and that's the day that's always been quoted everywhere as Day One. Friday 9th January was more Day Zero, the day the directors took a one-way ride on their new railway and celebrated with a slap-up banquet. No, the proper anniversary's surely, definitely, 10th January. And, contrarily, TfL agree.

This is from the official list of TfL milestones...
1863 - The Metropolitan Railway opened the world's first underground railway on 10 January between Paddington (Bishop's Road) and Farringdon Street.
...and this from the London Transport Museum.
The first section of the Metropolitan opened from Paddington to Farringdon on 10 January 1863. A second underground line, the District, began operating five years later. The two were eventually linked to create the Circle line in 1884.
The BBC agrees it's the tenth...
Vintage Tube logos form the background of a commemorative Oyster card to mark the 150th anniversary of London Underground rail service in London. The Tube began service on 10 January 1863, covering a three-and-a-half mile journey between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Line.
...and the Manchester Guardian, reporting from January 11th 1863, concurs.
Yesterday the Metropolitan (underground) Railway was opened to the public, and many thousands were enabled to indulge their curiosity in reference to this mode of travelling under the streets of the metropolis.
Meanwhile Wikipedia can't decide if it's the 9th or 10th, so lists both
The Metropolitan Railway opened on 9 January 1863
Began operation 10 January 1863
And yet TfL hasn't always been so set on the 9th. This confirmation of the 10th is from a press release in 2005...
The Metropolitan Railway, forerunner of the Metropolitan line, was the first Underground railway in the world. The original section between Paddington and Farringdon opened on 10 January 1863 and is now part of the Hammersmith & City line.
...and this is a tube map cover from six years ago.

You might think this cover art was a vote for 9th January 1863, but you'd be wrong. The tube map design is entitled The Day Before and "shows the words of the date of the last day in London without London’s famous Underground network: Friday 9 January 1863. London Underground commenced services the following day on 10 January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon."

That's right, in 2007 TfL published hundreds of thousands of tube maps with an artwork on the cover declaring that on 9th January 1863 the Underground hadn't yet started. Now they've changed their mind and say that 9th January 1863 is The First Day after all. How strange.

Oliver Green from the London Transport Museum, who ought to know what's what, is giving a free lecture at Gresham College on the 9th January which he's advertising as the actual day.
The London Underground today is one of the world is largest and busiest urban metros. Exactly 150 years ago, on 9 January 1863, when the inaugural train left Paddington for Farringdon with invited guests, the Metropolitan Railway was hailed as an amazing pioneer.
Meanwhile the Royal Mail are bringing out some rather lovely anniversary stamps on Wednesday 9th, like so.

But staff in the control room at Farringdon station seem sure it's the 10th. Maybe they missed the internal email.

And here's a plaque outside Baker Street station, bolted to the wall in front of the taxi rank, unveiled for the Underground's centenary in 1963. Surely this is convincing proof that January 10th is the definitive opening date... or was.

It seems that at some point in the last fifty years, more likely in the last five, someone at TfL has decided to switch the official Underground anniversary from the 10th of January to the 9th. A deliberate decision, an approved choice, a rolling back to the day before. And I wonder why.

Clearly there are two possible anniversaries for the birth of the London Underground. One's the day passengers were first allowed on board in their thousands, which is the day I'd pick as the launch date. And the other's the day the directors rode alone, which might technically be the start, but somehow feels wrong. How telling, and how sad, that TfL has shifted from the public to the private.

So when the anniversary trumpet sounds next Wednesday 9th, do raise a glass for one of the finest innovations London ever saw. But raise a bigger glass on Thursday 10th, the true 150th anniversary of the day Londoners began to travel beneath the capital, and never looked back. Let's celebrate...

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