Is there a more intense relationship in this world than that of a Londoner’s with the Tube? It’s a love/hate, stormy affair that makes Liz and Dick, Bobby and Whitney – hell, Cheryl and Ashley – seem little more than the histrionics of an emo adolescent.

On the one hand, we adore and depend on this knight in shining armour to whisk us away; on the other, we’re often left feeling let down and frustrated by an unreliable lothario. And among the innumerable tears and tantrums, there are regular (and quite literal) breakdowns.Still, this particular tempestuous hook-up is going the distance, as this week marks the 150th anniversary of the Tube in the lives of London commuters. It was January 9, 1863, that the first Tube journey, between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan line, made history, and we’ve been hooked ever since.

So while the city prepares to celebrate with a host of events (see P28), TNT charts the ups and downs of a century-and-a-half of our torrid liaison with the London Underground.

Hate: “It’s not me, it’s you”

Londoners’ complicated relationship with the Tube is nothing new. The network might cover a formidable 249 miles, helping us navigate a mammoth metropolis, but the idea that it is also a daily trauma inflicted upon commuters is nearly as old as the transport system itself. When the Circle line first opened in 1884, The Times newspaper described it as “a form of mild torture which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it”.

Today, the worst horrors endured underground stem from packing record numbers of passengers into a deeplevel system designed by Victorians. In 2011/12, 1.171 billion journeys were made on the Tube – 64 million more than the previous year, which itself had set a record. Phew.However, the station you’ll share with the most bodies is Aldgate. This east London stop is built on a plague pit where more than 1000 people were buried in 1665. And just when you thought a ride on the Underground couldn’t get any more like a horror movie.

%TNT Magazine% london underground world war 2

Perhaps an even greater evil visited on the general public by the Tube is that it brought crass TV kingpin Jerry Springer into the world. He was born at East Finchley station in 1944, during a Nazi bombing raid. While Springer marks the Tube’s part in the devolution of homo sapiens, the London Underground is also responsible for evolving an entirely new species. It’s said a new breed of mosquito has emerged from over a century of the tunnels’ dark, dank conditions, biting rats and mice instead of birds like their siblings above ground. They apparently relish the taste of human blood, too.

In 2002, another new life form was reported to have flourished on the Tube, after an email quoting the results of a University College London study into passenger seats went viral. The email claimed finds including vomit originating from at least nine different people, human semen and one previously unheard of fungus. Thankfully, the email turned out to be a hoax.Fast forward to the present day and the Tube’s major enduring irritation (not counting halfwits standing on the wrong side of the escalator) is that, come midnight, the capital’s revellers must cut their evenings short or face a fate worse than moving to Surbiton – aka the night bus. TfL tells TNT that a 24-hour service isn’t in the works: “Unlike some other Metros, we do not have twin tracks which would enable us to run services and carry out maintenance works continuously.” Humph.

Still, maybe it’s better there’s a curfew on our time spent in the tunnels, as it’s rumoured a 40-minute ride on the Tube is the equivalent of smoking two fags a day. TfL stops short of branding this hogwash, but does tell us: “Recent monitoring has shown that levels of tunnel dust on the Tube are stable and are less than a third of the Health and Safety Executive limit for general dust.” But you’ll still get black bogeys.

%TNT Magazine% underground article TNT

Love: “You complete me”

We like to complain about the Tube, but there’s no denying it’s an impressive feat. The idea for the world’s first underground railway came in 1845 courtesy of Charles Pearson, a solicitor and MP who campaigned for a subterranean connection between Farringdon and King’s Cross. Pearson argued it would solve congestion problems caused by Victorian London’s 250,000 commuters, but his ‘wacky’ ideas made him a laughing stock. And yet, sure enough, the oldest Tube line in the world opened to the public in 1863. Pearson wasn’t having the last laugh, though. He had died a month earlier, and never received any payment for his efforts. Bummer.

London’s revolutionary transport system continued to break new ground, operating the world’s first electric trains in 1890. However, riding the Tube wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences back then – carriages had only small slits for windows and were quickly nicknamed “padded cells”. Nowadays the Tube gets a bad rap for being antisocial despite the close quarters – the way no one makes eye contact in carriages; this quote from TNT reader Rebecca Hausler when we asked what you all love and hate about the Tube: “I hate most other passengers. That’s all.”

Aussie feminist Germaine Greer perhaps put it best when she said: “Even crushed against his brother in the Tube the average Englishman pretends desperately that he is alone.”However, it’s a phenomenon that may disappear in future, as there are signs of a more community feel developing in the present day.

%TNT Magazine% tales from the tube

YouTube phenomenon Modern Day Jester – a random guy who boards the trains with a beat-up keyboard and plays an epic tune with a touch of beat boxing to entertain passengers until the next stop – could be coming to a carriage near you any day now. We’ve caught one of his impromptu gigs, and it unites everyone in looks of “this is actually good” surprise and a round of applause. Think also of the camaraderie of communal drunkenness on the Waitangi Day Circle Line Pub Crawl and a Qype study that claimed 50 per cent of Tube users have swapped numbers with a fellow commuter.

And it’s not just the passengers who are feeling the love. TfL has made a concerted effort in recent years to woo us with an improved experience below ground. In 2001, a fresh, floral scent called Madeleine was introduced at St James’s Park, Euston and Piccadilly stations to make journeys more pleasant, but was discontinued after two days thanks to complaints from people who said it made them feel sick. There was more success in 2005 when a scheme to improve ‘station ambience’ with classical music reportedly resulted in a 33 per cent drop in abuse against Tube staff.

Looking to the future, TNT’s crystal ball hopes plans for tours of so-called ‘ghost stations’ will soon come to fruition. Talk of opening abandoned stations for the public to explore has been doing the rounds for some time, with a few even mooted as possible entertainment venues. For now, though, the only ghost station that can be legally explored is Aldwych, and only when the London Transport Museum runs tours (keep an eye on the website for the next round). We wouldn’t recommend attempting a bit of illegal urban exploration, however – a group who did just that at Aldwych set off a major terror alert in the days before 2011’s royal wedding. 

Tube Anniversary: Events

POSTER ART 150: Check out this exhibition at the London Transport Museum, charting the best poster designs from the Tube’s 150-year history. On from February until October.

THEATRE AT ALDWYCH: At the time of going to press, TfL revealed there are plans to host a programme of theatrical events at the disused Aldwych station. No further details were forthcoming, but this is one well worth keeping an eye on.

ART ON THE UNDERGROUND: This initiative has a wealth of goings on in the works, from a yet-to-be-revealed, high-profile artist bringing pieces into every station on the network, to special London Underground-themed film screenings at a Tube station. 

For more information on all of the above events, see ltmuseum.co.uk.