Tube trivia: 9 things you may not have known

Tube trivia: 9 things you may not have known

The London Underground has had 150 years to rack up stories, records and stats. Here are the system's most compelling curiosities
Directors and engineers of the Metropolitan Railway Company on an inspection tour of the world's first underground line in 1862, a year before its official opening.

It’s been a century and a half since the opening of the world's first subterranean railway.

In celebration of London Underground, here's our compendium of curiosities about “the Tube” at 150.

1. Pioneering tunnel

The Thames Tunnel is the oldest underwater tunnel in the world.
The Underground may date from 1863, but the oldest part of the network, the Thames Tunnel -- the world's first underwater crossing and the debut project of gifted young engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel -- opened in 1843, two decades after work had begun.

Initially designed for horse-drawn traffic and dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” it was converted for railway use in 1869. Incredibly, it didn't require major restoration work until the 1990s.

They built things to last, those Victorians. For more information and details of tunnel tours check out

2. The Underground sound

Back in 1957, London Underground travelers gazed adoringly at buskers.
Travel on the tube and you might start thinking an ancient bylaw dictates the presence of an unkempt man of pallid complexion fumbling his way through “Wonderwall” at the foot of every escalator with no more than five pounds in small change in his guitar case.
In fact, busking has been legal in the Underground since only 2003, with performers auditioned by Transport for London svengalis.
The pedestrian tunnel at South Kensington draws quality musicians owing to the impressive acoustics and its proximity to the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal College of Music.

3. Pop art, Hitchcock, Roman walls

London Transport Manager Denis Hicks shows off new murals at Charing Cross station (1979).
Stare into some of the abstract colored tiles at Tottenham Court Road and you might see a saxophone -- renowned Scottish pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi's tribute to the nearby Soho jazz scene and a small part of his epic 1,000-square-meter mosaic covers the walls of the station.
Most stations have some sort of motif relevant to their history or location in their tile-work and some are worthy in themselves of a trip to Zone 3 -- for instance, Leytonstone's 17 murals depicting scenes from the movies of local-born Alfred Hitchcock.
Tower Hill station meanwhile includes an original section of London's Roman wall from the days when chariots rather than rickshaws plied their trade in the local streets.


4. 'Blitz spirit'

Londoners take shelter from air raids at Bound's Green Underground station during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Tube became a refuge for the residents of a city under nightly bombardment, with 177,500 Londoners recorded as sleeping in Underground stations on one night alone.
As a result, transport authorities installed 22,000 bunk beds, washrooms and even laid on trains supplying tea and cocoa every night.
American chat show host Jerry Springer claims he was born in an Underground station where his mother was taking shelter in 1944.
But the deadliest episode in the Tube's history occurred in 1943 at Bethnal Green station, when an air raid siren prompted mass panic and 173 people died in the subsequent crush.

Want to submit your own stories and photos of the Underground to CNN? Check out our latest iReport assignment: Your memorable Tube journeys

5. Mackerel mystery

What spoof panel game did this station inspire?
What’s the only tube station that doesn't share any letters with the word “mackerel”?
What are the only two stations that deploy all five vowels?
What station is an anagram of Pork and Hall?*
Who the hell comes up with this stuff?
The Underground has long inspired pedantic trivia and parlor-style games to while away the long schlep from Cockfosters, notably “Mornington Crescent,” a spoof panel game exclusively played by Oxbridge wits for an indulgent audience of middle class radio listeners in which the aim is to be the first person to say the eponymous Northern Line station.

No, we don't get it either. Must be a British thing ...

*St John's Wood; Mansion House and South Ealing; Holland Park

6. Boris calls last orders

This is one wild cocktail party that will never happen again: Londoners take one last drink at Liverpool Street station on the last night before alcohol is banned on London transport in May 2008.
The golden age of boozing on the Tube, when the bowler-hatted banker, Fleet Street hack and wino might share a carriage and a bottle of porter, are now a halcyon memory.
When London Mayor Boris Johnson finally banned alcohol on public transport in 2008, thousands took to the network to mourn the moment in an event celebrated as the “Last Round on the Underground.”
For inveterate drinkers there’s still the notorious Circle Line pub crawl taking in inns and taverns along to each of the route's 27 stations. It’s popular with students, Aussies and Kiwis (on their nights off from working behind London's bars).

7. Tube map or piste map?

The longest escalators on the tube network are located at Angel station.
The Northern Line isn't colored black for nothing. In footage that went viral on YouTube in 2007, a misguided Norwegian winter sports enthusiast took this all too literally by skiing the length of the 60-meter escalator at Angel station -- the longest on the network.
The stunt was condemned by Transport for London as “dangerous, stupid and irresponsible” -- and they should know. When the network's first moving stairway was installed at Earl's Court in 1911 a one-legged man called “Bumper” Harris was employed to ride it all day to demonstrate its safety.

8. Design classics

A 1927 tube poster by Alfred Leete. London Underground has long been admired for its utilitarian aesthetic, from the iconic roundel first introduced in 1908 to Harry Beck's revolutionary 1931 map, a bona fide classic of modernist design that’s remained the basis of the Tube map and an instantly recognizable and oft-mimicked symbol of London to this day.
But it's not just the iconography of the Underground that’s been recognized. Seventy-two of the network's stations are recognized as listed buildings by English Heritage, ranging from the distinctive Edwardian ox-blood facades of stations such as Oxford Circus and Covent Garden to the art deco architecture of St. John's Wood and Wood Green.
Buy Underground-themed memorabilia including classic posters and sofas featuring 1970s District Line fabrics at the London Transport Museum.

9. The Tube in numbers

London Underground carries more than 1.1 billion passengers a year with around 3.5 million journeys made every day. At peak times the Northern Line runs 91 trains an hour.
The longest continuous tunnel runs from East Finchley to Morden, a distance of 27.8 kilometers. The deepest part of the network is in Hampstead where the Northern Line reaches a depth of 68.8 meters below ground level.
The longest line is the Central Line, which runs 74 kilometers and serves 49 stations. Just 45 percent of the entire network is actually underground.

More on CNN: London Underground: 10 tips for Tube survival 

Simon Hooper has worked as a journalist covering international news, politics and sports for websites and publications including CNN, Al Jazeera, the New Statesman, Sports Illustrated, FourFourTwo and The Blizzard.

Read more about Simon Hooper