Apologies for the delay in posting this piece – next week we’ll post the final in this series!

The first underground railway system in the world, the London Underground – fondly known as the ‘Tube’ –  is this year celebrating the 150th anniversary of its creation. 

Born out of an idea to link the inner city with the various large rail termini on the outskirts, the first section of what is now the underground system – a six kilometre stretch between Paddington and Farringdon – opened on 9th January, 1863, and was run by the Metropolitan Railway, known less formally as the ‘Met’.

South-Kensington-stationIt was constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method in which streets were dug up and tracks laid in a trench before being covered by brick-lined tunnels and the street above replaced (the method was later abandoned, apparently due to the disruption it caused to traffic). The first trains were steam-driven locomotives and drew gas-lit wooden carriages behind them (the first journey was re-enacted earlier this year – see our earlier post here. Other events commemorating the 150th included a visit to Baker Street Station by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Cambridge).

The idea proved a success – 26,000 people used the new railway every day during the first six months of its operation – and the Metropolitan District Railway opened a new line between Westminster and South Kensington (station is pictured) in December, 1868, while the first Tube tunnel under the Thames, from the Tower of London to Bermondsey, opened in 1880, and what is now the Circle Line was completed in 1884.

In December 1890, the world’s first deep-level electric railway opened, running between King William Street in the City and passing under the Thames to Stockwell. Ten years later the ‘Twopenny Tube’, more formally known as the Central London Railway, opened between Shepherd’s Bush and Bank (it was from this that the use of the word ‘Tube’ to describe the Underground system caught on).

The uniting of the system began the following year with the creation of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London and by World War I, all but the Met were within a single group organisation. The name Underground first appeared on stations in 1908, the same year electric ticket machines were introduced.

In 1933, the Underground came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board – the same year that Harry Beck’s first diagrammatic map of the underground system appeared.

Stations in the system were used as air raid shelters during World War II – part of the Piccadilly Line was closed and used as a storage site for treasures from the British Museum. Following the war, the organisation running the system went through various name changes until the formation of London Underground in 1985.

The system has since expanded – the Victoria Line was opened in the late 1960s and the Jubilee Line a decade later – and now consists of more than 408 kilometres of railway lines and 275 stations which serve more than three million passengers a day – equating to more than a billion a year, the same as the entire national rail network.

For more on the history of the Underground, see our earlier 10 Questions with London Transport Museum curator Simon MurphyPoster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.

For more, check out David Bownes’ Underground: How the Tube Shaped London or Andrew Martin’s Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube.

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We’re getting down to the pointy end of the countdown now. Here’s numbers four and three in Exploring London’s list of our most popular posts for 2011…

4. Curious London Memorials – 4. The Suffragette MemorialOne of our series on curious London memorials, this looked at a memorial in St James, erected in the 1970s to mark the contribution of those who fought for women’s right to vote;

3. The Royal Wedding – London’s royal reception venue: Another of our Royal Wedding themed posts, this looked at the history of Buckingham Palace, location of the reception which took place after the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge.

Along with tens of thousands of others, Exploring London took up a post in The Mall to watch festivities surrounding the London wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Here’s some of what we saw…

Kate Middleton, newly titled Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, rides in a 1977 Rolls Royce Phantom IV from the Goring Hotel in Belgravia to Westminster Abbey via The Mall, greeting crowds along the way. Others, including Prince William, had already passed by.

The crowds cheered along The Mall throughout the morning, including after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heard over loudspeakers announcing that the couple were now man and wife. The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, delivered the address while James Middleton read the lesson.

After the ceremony, the newly married couple processed in the 1902 State Landau down Whitehall and The Mall through a sea of flag-waving well-wishers towards Buckingham Palace after the wedding ceremony. The Landau was the same used by Prince Charles and Princess Diana after their 1981 wedding.

The couple, along with other members of the royal family and Kate Middleton’s parents, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at around 1.30pm, waving to the crowd and exchanging kisses. Here they are flanked by Queen Elizabeth II (right) and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (left) along with bridesmaids and pageboys.

A Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires flew over the top of Buckingham Palace as part of an RAF flypast. They were followed by two tornados and two typhoons. The flypast brought official celebrations to an end after which the royal rejoined the champagne and canape reception already underway.

Crowds fill The Mall in the wedding’s aftermath. The newly weds later left Buckingham Palace driving a vintage convertible Aston Martin owned by Prince Charles. Overhead hovered a Sea King helicopter manned by some of Prince William’s colleagues.

PICTURE: Bunting in Regent Street ahead of the Royal Wedding tomorrow.

Ahead of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton tomorrow, here’s a look at some of the more curious and interesting facts related to London’s Royal Wedding past…

The first public Royal Wedding in modern times was that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) which took place on 26th April, 1923. Instead of being held at a royal chapel as was more usual, they were married at Westminster Abbey in a public display which was apparently staged to lift the national spirit in the aftermath of World War I.

Lady Diana Spencer (later Diana, Princess of Wales) memorably said Prince Charles’ name in the wrong order during their wedding ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981. Lady Diana accidentally called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of the correct Charles Philip Arthur George.

• Queen Victoria’s extravagant wedding cake was the first to feature a model of the bride and groom on its summit (with a figure of Britannia looming over them). The two tier cake measured nine foot across and weighed 300 lbs.

While white wedding dresses had been worn for some time, it was apparently after Queen Victoria wore a white dress at her 1840 wedding that the idea spread to the masses. (Interestingly, the first documented princess to wear a white wedding dress is said to have been Philippa of England, the daughter of King Henry IV, in 1406).

The first televised Royal Wedding was that of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, to Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) on 6th May, 1960. It attracted some 300 million viewers worldwide.

The tradition of a royal bride leaving her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey was started by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. She apparently did so in tribute to her brother Fergus who had died during World War I. Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, made a similar gesture at her wedding in 1922 – she left her bouquet at the Cenotaph in Whitehall after her wedding.

One of the most scandalous Royal Weddings was that of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) to Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace. Described as being “far from a love match” on the Historic Royal Palaces’ website, Prince George was said to have been drunk during the wedding and at one stage apparently even attempted to escape from the ceremony.

If the rain stays away, the newly married prince and his bride will be returning to Buckingham Palace in the 1902 State Landau. The open-topped carriage was constructed for King Edward VII’s coronation and apparently made roomy to accommodation him. The carriage was used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana when they left St Paul’s Cathedral after their 1981 wedding. If the weather it poor, it’s expected that the 1881 Glass Coach, bought for the coronation of King George V in 1911, will be used instead.

For more fascinating facts on Royal Weddings, see the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk/history/royal_weddings), or Historic Royal Palaces’ blog, The ‘other’ royal weddings (http://blog.hrp.org.uk). For more on the current Royal Wedding, see the official website (www.officialroyalwedding2011.org).

Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales). 

Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).

In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.

Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.

Choices for a permanent home in London for the soon-to-be married couple reportedly include Buckingham Palace (see yesterday’s entry), as well as Kensington Palace.

It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.

Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.

In the first of a series this week looking at aspects of royal weddings in London in days past, we canvas some of the venues which have hosted the sometimes glittering occasions.

First up is Westminster Abbey (pictured), the location of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding this Friday, which, despite its thousand year history, is only believed to have hosted 15 royal weddings.

Among them is said to have been the wedding of King Henry I to Matilda of Scotland on 11th November, 1100, as well as that of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of King Henry III, who married his second wife, Sanchia of Provence, there on 4th January, 1243, and Joan of Acre, daughter of King Edward I, who married Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, on 30th April, 1290 (her sister Margaret married John, Duke of Brabant, at the same venue less than three months later). The abbey also hosted the wedding of King Richard II to Anne, daughter of Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia, on 20th January, 1382.

The abbey church has become increasingly favored as a venue for royal weddings in more recent times. Among the most prominent hosted there last century were that of Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), who married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 26th April, 1923 and that of their daughter Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) who married Prince Philip of Greece (later the Duke of Edinburgh) there on 20th November, 1947.

Two of the current Queen’s children were also married there – Princess Anne, who married Captain Mark Phillips on 14th November, 1973, and Prince Andrew, who married Sarah Ferguson on 23rd July 1986. (For more on Royal Weddings at the Abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/weddings)

A notable break with the trend in recent times was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer – they were married in a fairytale ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29th July, 1981.

Other London locations for royal weddings have included the now non-existent Greenwich Palace (King Henry VIII married Katherine of Aragon on 11th June, 1509) and Hampton Court Palace (another of King Henry VIII’s marriages – that in which he was wed to Catherine Parr – was held here in a private chapel on 12th July, 1543).

Along with St George’s Chapel at Windsor, the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace  in London was particularly popular in Victorian times – Queen Victoria married Prince Albert there on 10th February, 1840, and their eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married Prince Frederick (the future German Emperor Frederick III) there on 25th January, 1858. On 6th July, 1893, the chapel also hosted the wedding of the future King George V and Princess Mary of Teck.

PICTURE: Copyright Dean and Chapter of Westminster