the-mansion-houseMansion House, perhaps best known as a tautological-sounding Tube station, is actually the name of the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (a suitable subject, we felt, given the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show in November).

mh2Designed by George Dance the Elder and built between 1739 to 1753 (many years after the idea of an official residence for the Lord Mayor was proposed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London), the Palladian-style property – located a stone’s throw from the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on a short stretch of street named after the property – has been the home of the Lord Mayor since the latter date.

It was built on the site of what was known as the Stocks Market (it had previously been the location of some stocks – used to punish people for various misdemeanours), the name isn’t actually as repetitive as it looks but actually means “official residence” and was previously used to designate homes which went with particular ecclesiastical jobs.

As well as accommodation for the Lord Mayor, the interior of the Grade I-listed property features two halls known as the Egyptian Hall and what was initially known as the Dancing Gallery but is now the Ballroom (we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the property at a later date).

The Tube station opened in 1871 as the eastern terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway. Interestingly, Bank station is actually closer to the property with Mansion House station located to the south-west down Queen Victoria Street.

We finish our series looking at notable English Heritage blue plaques with a look at a plaque which not only commemorates a prominent Londoner but, unusually, also displays there for all to see the reason (well, an important part of it, anyway) for his prominence.

Edward-Johnston1Yes, we’re talking about Edward Johnston (1872-1944), a master calligrapher who was not only credited with starting the modern revival of the art but is also noted for having created the famous Johnston typeface which he developed for London Transport in the early 20th century.

In a lovely touch, the sans serif typeface he created is that used on the plaque – located at premises at 3 Hammersmith Terrace in Chiswick where he lived from 1905-1912 – itself.

The plaque, which was erected on the building in 1977 by the Greater London Council, was the first to feature the typeface but isn’t the only one: in fact there are four, all of which commemorate people related to London Transport.

The other three commemorated include Frank Pick (1878-1941), a London transport administrator who steered the development of London’s corporate identity – he’s commemorated with a plaque on his former property at 15 Wildwood Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, with a Greater London Council plaque erected in 1981).

They also include Albert Henry Stanley, Lord Ashfield (1874-1948), the first chairman of London Transport (placed on his former home at 43 South Street, Mayfair, in 1984 by London County Council); and, the most recent plaque commemorating Harry Beck (1902-1974), designer of the London Underground map (placed by English Heritage in 2013 on his former property at 14 Wesley Road in Leyton).

PICTURE: Edwardx/CC BY-SA 4.0

Archio-Plantotype-Workshop-1The London Festival of Architecture kicked off this week with more than 200 events planned for the capital across the month of June. Highlights include “open studios” in which 50 architectural practices across London open their doors to the public, a series of film showing at the BFI concerning the portrayal of the built environment in documentaries and hosted tours through some of London council estate’s green spaces and private gardens. The festival, which centres around three key themes – housing renewal and regeneration, creative workspaces and community engagement, also features a range of exhibitions, installations, talks and workshops including the Archio Plantotype Workshop on 25th June in which participants are asked to help design and build model prototype planters to grow compact and hybrid plants (pictured). For the full programme, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org.

1997-14154-Booklet;-The-Passenger's-Guide-to-London-Transport,-issued-by-London-Transport,-March-1962The design of London’s transport system – from posters, maps and signage to the styling of trains and stations – is the subject of a new exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Designology – Shaping London explores the role design has played in London’s public transportation systems, spanning the period from the system’s Victorian origins to today. Among the objects on display are an 1834 Shillibeer Woolwich Omnibus timetable, original architectural drawings by Charles Holden of Arnos Grove and Sudbury art deco stations, and a 1994 magnetic ticket hall station model. There are also case studies on key design features found across the transport network such as the New Johnston typeface and the design of Moquette fabric used on the Underground and buses. Visitors are also encouraged to design their own bus stop sign (and share it on social media with the hashtag #pimpmybusstop) and visit a pop-up design studio to find out more about contemporary design innovation. There’s an accompanying programme of events. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk. PICTURE: The Passenger’s Guide to London Transport, issued by London Transport, March, 1962./The London Transport Museum.

The “worst day” in the history of the British Army – 1st July, 1916, when almost 60,000 died during the Battle of the Somme – is being commemorated in an exhibition marking the battle’s centenary in Guildhall Yard. Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: Somme 1916, features a series of evocative photographs by Michael St Maur Sheil of the battlefields as they look today contrasted with images taken at the time. The outdoor exhibition is being accompanied by a display of Somme-related artefacts in the City of London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Admission to the display is free. Runs until 5th July.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Serpentine-2015This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, marking the 15th anniversary of the annual summer commission by the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens, is a polygonal multi-coloured structure designed by Spanish architects selgascano. Made from a fluorine-based polymer, the pavilion has multiple entry and exit points and takes as its inspiration the site itself as well as the way in which people move through London, notably via the web-like network of the London Underground. Say selgascano: “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a pavilion which incorporates all of these elements.” The architects say the pavilion was also designed as a tribute to the previous pavilion commissions, designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha Hadid. For more, see www.serpentinegalleries.orgPICTURE: © Iwan Baan

Lego-Tube-map

Six-year-old James Apps gets a close-up look at a map of the Tube as it will look in 2020, one of five LEGO Tube maps currently on display in London. The maps depict the evolution of the Tube network from 1927 through what it will look like in 2020, including Crossrail, and the proposed Northern Line extension and proposed Croxley Rail Link. The maps – each of which contains more than 1,000 bricks and took professional LEGO builder Duncan Titmarsh four days to build – can be found in the ticket halls of the following stations – South Kensington (1927), Piccadilly Circus (1933), Green Park (1968), Stratford (2013) and King’s Cross (2020). Visit the Transport for London website for more on the Underground’s 150th anniversary here (the website includes downloadable instructions for building your own Underground roundel out of LEGO bricks). PICTURE: Transport for London.

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.

Simon Murphy is a curator at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden – the museum is currently celebrating the 150th birthday of the Underground with a series of events including a landmark exhibition on the art of the Tube (Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs)…

Underground-2How significant was the construction of the London Underground in world terms? And how does it stack up 150 years later? “The Metropolitan Railway was a true world class pioneer, but like all pioneers it made mistakes that subsequent operators learned from. Similarly the first tube railways tested the ground for others to follow. But these pioneering lines are still part of today’s world class Tube network, and some of the original stations, like King’s Cross, are still amongst the busiest, so they must have been on the right track.”

I understand the initial stretch of line ran between Farringdon and Paddington. How quickly were other sections opened? “The Metropolitan Railway’s first extension was authorised by Parliament in 1861, two years before the original line even opened. The railway made a profit in its first year, so financial backing was relatively easy to find, and the extension east to Moorgate opened in 1865, with a westward extension to South Kensington following in 1868. The Met’s main competitor, the Metropolitan District Railway, opened its first section from South Ken to Westminster in 1868. The plan was for the two companies to work together to create an Inner Circle service, but their respective directors fell out and the Circle was not completed until 1884.”

How many miles of line is the Underground composed of today? “The first underground started with less than four miles of track and seven stations; today’s system has 250 miles of track, serving 270 stations.”

When were steam trains on the Underground replaced? “Steam trains worked in central London until 1905, but were still used on the furthest reaches of the Met until 1961.”

When did the Underground take on the name ‘Tube’? “The Central London Railway opened with a flat fare of 2d in 1900, and was promoted as the Twopenny Tube – the name caught on, although the Underground has only been referring to itself officially as the Tube since the 1990s.”

Underground1It’s fairly widely known that Underground stations and tunnels were used as air raid shelters during World War II. Do you know of any other different uses they have been put to? “The station at South Kentish Town on the Northern Line closed in 1924, but the surface building, still looking very much like a station is now occupied by a branch of Cash Converters. During the war unfinished tunnels on the Central line were occupied by a secret factory run by Plessey Components. Also during the war, paintings from the Tate Gallery were stored in  a disused part of Piccadilly Circus station for safe keeping.”

Stylish design has always been an important part of the Underground’s appeal. What’s your favourite era stylistically when it comes to the Underground and why? “Most people admire the golden age of the 1920s and 30s when the Underground’s corporate identity and personality reached its peak with Charles Holden’s architecture, the roundel, Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map and the amazing posters issued in that era, but personally I find the earlier period from 1908 to 1920 more interesting. You can trace the roots of each element of today’s brand being developed at this time, under Frank Pick’s critical eye, starting with the early solid-disc station name roundels, the joint promotion of the individual tube railways under the UndergrounD brand and the introduction of Edward Johnston’s typeface. You can see the company gaining confidence and momentum, especially in relation to the increasingly sophisticated posters and promotion that Pick commissioned.”

Can you tell us a bit about how the London Transport Museum is marking the 150th anniversary? “
We started the year by bringing steam back to the Circle line, after restoring an original Metropolitan Railway carriage and overhauling an original Met steam locomotive, and have just opened our fabulous overview of the 150 best Underground posters at the museum in Covent Garden, which runs until October. We are opening our Depot store, near Acton Town station in April for a steam weekend, and have a range of lectures and evening events at Covent Garden linking to the history of the Underground and its poster art heritage. There’s also our comprehensive new history of the Tube published last year and a wide range of new products and souvenirs in our amazing shop.”

Underground3What are some of your favourite Underground-related objects on display at the museum? “The Design for Travel gallery on the ground floor is the literal and metaphorical heart of the Museum for me. Packed with close to 300 objects including signs, posters, models, leaflets and other documents, it’s hard to single out individual items, but I love the simplicity of the small ‘Platform 2’ hanging sign (pictured right) – it’s a real example of the design consistency and attention to detail that I associate with the Underground.”

And lastly, can you tell us a couple of little-known facts about the Underground? History is more than a chronological list of facts, and what one person finds fascinating sends another to sleep, so it’s quite a challenge to choose something that is little known, but genuinely interesting, but I’ll try: I grew up near Brent Cross station so I might be biased, but I reckon that if there was a top trumps for Underground lines, the Northern line would win. It has the longest escalators (at Euston), the deepest lift shaft (at Hampstead), the highest point ve sea level (on a viaduct near Mill Hill East), the longest tunnels (between East Finchley and Morden – 17 miles) and has had more names than any other line – it only became the Northern line in 1937.”

IMAGES: Top: Steam engine at Aldgate (1902); Middle: Platform 2 sign, 1930s design; and Bottom, Angel Underground Station (1990s). © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 

Poster 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.

A new exhibition celebrating the art of the Underground opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs showcases 150 posters with examples taken from each decade over the past 100 years. Artists include the likes of Edward McKnight Kauffer, Paul Nash and Man Ray. The posters were selected from the museum’s archive of more than 3,300 by a panel of experts. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to vote on their favorite poster as well as online with the most popular poster to be revealed at the end of the exhibition. The last major exhibition of Underground posters – the first commission of which was in 1908 – was held in 1963 to celebrate the system’s centenary. The exhibition is based around six themes – ‘Finding your way’, ‘Brightest London’, ‘Capital culture’, ‘Away from it all’, ‘Keeps London going’ and, ‘Love your city’. Runs until 27th October. Admission fee applies. For more on the exhibition and surrounding events, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

National-Gallery The external facade of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square was decorated with artworks last Friday night (pictured right) in celebration of the completion of Your Paintings – a website which hosts the UK’s entire national collection of oil paintings (more than 210,000!). The projections – which were happening in 28 UK cities simultaneously – featured two National Gallery paintings – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews. To see the website, head to www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/. PICTURE: © The National Gallery, London.

• On Now: Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901. This exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House on The Strand tells the story of Pablo Picasso’s break-through year as an artist – 1901 – when the then 19-year-old launched his career in Paris at a summer exhibition. The display follows Picasso from his debut and into the start of his Blue period. Works exhibited are among the first to bear his famous signature. Runs until 26th May. There is an admission charge. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/index.shtml.

On Now: Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch. This free exhibition of 30 works at the National Gallery focuses on the work of Frederic Church (1826-1900), a member of the Hudson River School of artists and considered by many to be the greatest of the American landscape oil sketch artists. Works on display include those made at exotic locations such as Ed Deir, Petra, painted in Jordan in 1868, and Distant View of the Sangay Volcano, Ecuador, painted in 1857, as well as the paintings created closer to home, such as Hudson, New York at Sunset, painted in 1867. The exhibition is held in Room 1. Runs until 28th April. For more see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

London-Underground1

Metropolitan Locomotive No 1 recreated the first London Underground journey, which took place on 9th January, 1863, on the Metropolitan Line between Paddington and Farringdon, as part of the network’s 150th anniversary celebrations last Sunday. The newly restored locomotive was the last to be built at Neasden in 1898 by the Metropolitan Railway. It was pulling the Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage No 353, the oldest operational underground carriage in existence. Ex Metropolitan Railway electric Locomotive No.12 Sarah Siddons also formed part of the train. The train will also be running this coming Sunday (20th January) and on special occasions throughout this year and is just one of a series of events planned by the London Transport Museum to mark the anniversary of what is the world’s oldest underground railway. They include an upcoming exhibition of London Underground’s poster art (more on that to come). For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk. PICTURES: © Transport for London from the London Transport Museum collection.

London-Underground3

While the Greenwich foot tunnel may these days be more well-known due to the fact it is still open to pedestrians, London’s oldest under-Thames tunnel (also credited as the oldest underwater tunnel in the world) actually runs between Rotherhithe on the river’s southern bank and Wapping on the northern.

Thames_Tunnel-in-2010First opened in 1843, the Thames Tunnel (pictured left during a brief reopening to pedestrians in 2010) was the first major project of star Victorian engineer (and delightfully named) Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who, at the age of just 19 started work on the job with his father, a French engineer named Marc Isambard Brunel) and was known for a time as the eighth Wonder of the World.

It was constructed after demand grew for a way to transport goods across the crowded Port of London to the east of London Bridge. Given the height of the masts of larger ships, a bridge was deemed impracticable with the ramps required to take wheeled transport to the necessary height far too long (although this problem was overcome at the end of the 1800s by the use of new bascule technology in the construction of Tower Bridge).

Following several failed attempts to dig a tunnel under the Thames, Marc Brunel was given permission to build the new tunnel in the mid 1820s. The project relied on the use of a ‘tunnelling shield’, a then state-of-the-art technological solution to under river tunnelling which had only a few years earlier been patented by Marc Brunel and Thomas Cochrane, and Brunel initially thought the project would only take three years (it ended up taking as many as 18).

Construction by the newly formed Thames Tunnel Company, which had the support of none other than the Duke of Wellington, commenced in early 1825 at the Rotherhithe end. The shield enabled miners to dig out the tunnel while bricklayers came along behind them. While it significantly reduced the risk of a collapse (although several floods still did occur, taking the lives of six men – a fact which didn’t apparently much deter the sightseers who paid for the privilege of seeing the shield in operation), working conditions remained terrible with the men constantly showered with water from the river which was at that time the city’s main sewer. How many died indirectly as a result of working on the project is unknown.

Brunel-plaqueIndeed, such was the stress of the project that Marc Brunel, later knighted for his efforts in building the tunnel, himself suffered a stroke during its construction. Isambard Brunel, who took over as the project’s engineer when the resident engineer fell ill in 1826, himself came close to being killed when he had to flee the flooding tunnel.

After much delay (including seven years in which the unfinished tunnel was left untouched) and several more disasters, the tunnel was finally completed in November, 1841.

After being fitted out with lighting, spiral staircases and roads in the following years, it was finally opened to pedestrians only on 25th March, 1843. While it was originally envisaged that the primary purpose of the tunnel would be to transport goods under the river, this never occurred.

Still, it did capture the public’s attention and as many as 50,000 people walked through the tunnel on the opening day (among the initial visitors to the tunnel was Queen Victoria herself). Within 10 weeks of its opening, a million people (a figure equal to what was then half the population of London) had reportedly passed through it.

Despite the number of people initially using it, however, the tunnel was still not a financial success and over the ensuing years became noted as a gathering place for unsavoury types. In 1865 it was purchased by the East London Railway Company which subsequently incorporated the tunnel into its railway network with both the Wapping and Rotherhithe entrance shafts converted into stations. It later become part of the London Underground network – the  – and since 2010 has been part of the London Overground.

Both stations are still in use and you can get a good sense of what the tunnel was like by riding the overground between Rotherhithe and Wapping. The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe – actually housed within a building originally used to house machinery for draining the tunnel – see plaque above – is also a great place to find out more about the project and Brunel. Visit www.brunel-museum.org.uk for details.

PICTURES: Top – Lars Plougmann (Wikipedia)/Other – David Adams

For more on the life of Brunel, see Steven Brindle’s Brunel: The Man Who Built the World.

We take a break from our regular series this week to bring you some images from the second half of the Olympic Torch Relay as it made it’s way around London toward tonight’s Opening Ceremony…


Day 67 (24th July): Tennis player Oliver Golding holds the Olympic Flame in between the Olympic Rings at Kew Gardens, London.

London Underground employee John Light carries the Olympic Flame onto an underground train at Wimbledon Station.

Day 68 (25th July): Former World Cup winning footballer Gordon Banks carries the Olympic Flame down Wembley Way, at Wembley Stadium.


Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, pose with  young entrepreneur Jay Kamiraz and Paralympian Scott Moorhouse as they kiss together Olympic torches in Tottenham.

Day 69 (26th July): Disaster mapping charity volunteer Wai-Ming Lee passes the Olympic Flame to mountain rescue team leader John Hulse in front of Buckingham Palace in the presence of Prince William, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

Wheelchair basketballer Ade Adepitan carries the Olympic Flame on Millennium Bridge.

Student Ifeyinwa Egesi holds the Olympic Flame inside the Globe Theatre.

For more on the Torch Relay, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/

ALL PICTURES: LOCOG.

The city’s first underground line – and the first underground line in the world – was the Metropolitan Line, which opened in 1863 with the aim of helping to reduce London’s growing traffic congestion problem.

Running for three miles, the new railway, constructed by the Metropolitan Railway Company, ran for three miles under New Road, from Paddington to Farrington Street and took three years to build.

It was constructed using a technique known as “cut and cover” which involved digging a trench and building a tunnel inside before covering it back up.

Almost 40,000 passengers journeyed between Paddington and Farringdon on the day it opened, with the journey taking about 18 minutes.

The success of the new railway sparked a flurry of interest and in 1868, the first section of the District Line was opened, the same year the St John’s Wood Railway Company opened a line from Baker Street to Swiss Cottage.

Having grown substantially since it’s earliest days, today only six miles (9.7 kilometres) of the Metropolitan Line’s 41.5 miles (66.7) kilometres actually run underground.

The line now carries about 53 million passengers annually and 49 trains operate on it during peak periods.