Underground London: Its railways, subways and sewers

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'Underground London: Its railways, subways and sewers', in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) pp. 224-242. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp224-242 [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section



"Thus far into the bowels of the land
Have I rode on."

Proposal of a Scheme for Underground RailwaysDifficulties and Oppositions it had to encounterCommencement of the UndertakingIrruption of the Fleet DitchOpening of the Metropolitan RailwayInflux of Bills to Parliament for the Formation of other Underground LinesAdoption of the "Inner Circle" PlanDescription of the Metropolitan Railway and its StationsThe "Nursery-maids' Walk"A Great Triumph of Engineering SkillExtension of the Line from Moorgate StreetThe East London RailwayEngines and Carriages, and Mode of LightingSignallingVentilation of the TunnelDescription of the Metropolitan District RailwayWorkmen's TrainsThe Water Supply and Drainage of LondonSubways for Gas, Sewage, and other Purposes.

As we are now at Paddington, which is the common centre of three railways, and, in a certain sense, was the birth-place of the Great Western and the Metropolitan lines, it may be well to descend the steps which lead to one of the platforms of the latter company, and to ask our readers to accompany us, mentally, of course, in a "journey underground."

The overcrowding of the London streets, and the consequent difficulty and danger of locomotion, had been for many years a theme of constant agitation in the metropolis. Numberless plans were propounded for the relief of the over-gorged ways in connection with the vehicular circulation of the streets. New lines of streets were formed, and fresh channels of communication were opened; but all to little purpose. The crowd of omnibuses, cabs, and vehicles of all descriptions in our main thoroughfares remained as dense and impassable as ever. At length it was proposed to relieve the traffic of the streets by subterranean means; and in the end a scheme was propounded "to encircle the metropolis with a tunnel, which was to be in communication with all the railway terminiwhether northern, or eastern, or western, northwestern, or south-westernand so be able to convey passengers from whatever part of the country they might come to whatever quarter of the town they might desire to visit, without forcing them to traverse the streets in order to arrive there."

"Such a scheme," writes a well-known author, "though it has proved one of the most successful of modern times, met with the same difficulties and oppositions that every new project has to encounter. Hosts of objections were raised; all manner of imaginary evils were prophesied; and Mr. Charles Pearson, like George Stephenson before him, had to stand in that pillory to which all public men are condemned, and to be pelted with the missiles which ignorance and prejudice can always find ready to their hands. The project was regarded with the same contempt as the first proposal to light our streets with gas; it was the scheme of a 'wild visionary:' and as Sir Humphrey Davy had said that it would require a mound of earth as large as Primrose Hill to weigh down the gasometers of the proposed new gas-works, before London could be safely illuminated by the destructive distillation of coal, so learned engineers were not wanting to foretell how the projected tunnel must necessarily fall in from the mere weight of the traffic in the streets above; and how the adjacent houses would be not only shaken to their foundation by the vibration caused by the engines, but the families residing in them would be one and all poisoned by the sulphurous exhalations from the fuel with which the boilers were heated."

After years of hard work and agitation, confidence in the undertaking at length gained ground, and the scheme was set on foot about the year 1860. The Great Western Railway, with the view of obtaining access for their traffic to the City, came forward with 200,000 as a subscription to the enterprise; while the Corporation of the City of London, finding that the new lines of streets were comparatively useless as a means of draining off the vehicles from the main thoroughfares, also agreed to subscribe a similar sum to ensure the accomplishment of the object. Up to this time the shares in the undertaking had been at a low discount; and the low price, indeed, continued even after both the City and the Great Western Company had subscribed. The shares gradually attained higher prices as the prospects of opening the line increased; but after the opening they rose so rapidly as to promise an enormous return to the promoters.

From a brochure, entitled "The Metropolitan Railway," published in 1865, we learn that "during the construction of the Underground line, the meandering stream of the Fleet ditch had to be crossed at least three times, before its cloacinal flood was diverted from its previous course. Bellmouthed tunnels had to be made, so as to bring two subterranean borings into one; and stations, which were merely enormous cellars built deep underground, had to be illuminated by the light of day. Moreover, new forms of engines and carriages had to be designedengines which would evolve neither smoke nor steam, and carriages which could be lighted by gas, so that the usual unpleasant atmosphere and obscurity of railway tunnels might be avoided. Further, it was necessary to devise a special system of signals in connection with the line, upon which it was intended that train after train should succeed one another, with but a few minutes' intervals, throughout the day." In spite of a variety of difficulties, including an irruption of the Fleet ditch in the neighbourhood of King's Cross, the permanent way was opened for passenger traffic from Paddington to Farringdon Street on the 10th of January, 1863. It was calculated that over 30,000 persons were carried over the line in the course of the day. Indeed, the desire to travel by this line on the opening day was more than the directors had provided for, and from nine o'clock in the morning till past midday it was impossible to obtain a place in the up or Cityward line at any of the mid-stations. In the evening the tide turned, and the crowd at the Farringdon Street station was as great as at the doors of a theatre on the first night of some popular performer. At first the directors of the Great Western undertook the management of the line, but such differences soon arose between the two companies that, some seven months afterwards, the Great Western directors gave notice that in two months they would cease to continue their carriages upon it, and on the 1st of August following they reduced the notice as to their secession from the management of the line to ten days. In the short interval left to the Metropolitan Company to undertake the conduct of the traffic, engines and carriages had to be hired from what other railway companies were able and willing to supply them. Accordingly, on the 10th of August, 1863, the Metropolitan Company commenced working the line themselves, and have since continued to do so. "The traffic, indeed, by the Underground Railway," says the writer of the abovementioned work, "is of so special and peculiar a character as to cause it to differ totally from all other railways, and to make it require a distinct management. The attention of the authorities in connection with large systems of railways is devoted chiefly to what is called the 'long-traffic' element; whereas, the Metropolitanbeing essentially a 'short-traffic' line, and the numbers carried upon it being so great, as well as the trains so numerous throughout the dayneeds an amount of care and continual supervision in its working, which could not possibly be given by the officers of those lines where trains are in the habit of succeeding one another at comparatively lengthened intervals. It is, therefore, much to the public advantage that the Underground Railway should be worked by the company itself, and that an organised staff of officials should be specially trained and maintained for the duty."

So great was the success of the Metropolitan Railway, from the very day of its inauguration, that in the next session of Parliament there was such an influx of bills for the proposed formation of railway lines in connection with the new form of transit in the metropolis, that it was found that "nearly one-half of the City itself would have to be demolished if the majority of the plans were carried out, and that almost every open space of ground or square in the heart of the metropolis would have to be given up for the erection of some terminus, with its screaming and hissing locomotives. The consequence was that a Committee of the two Houses was formed to take the whole of the metropolitan schemes into consideration, as well as to determine what general plan should be adopted, in order to unite together the various threads of the railway lines converging towards the capital, and forming the principal fibres of that great web of iron highways which had been spun over the country since the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line in 1830. Accordingly, after deliberating for some time upon the matter, the Legislature came to the determination to adopt what is now known as the 'inner circle' plan of Mr. Fowler (the engineer of the line of which we are treating), and to recommend the carrying out of an 'outer circle' also."

On the first opening of the Underground Railway the line extended only from Bishop's Road, Paddington, to Farringdon Street; and in the course of a twelvemonth the number of passengers by it amounted to nearly 9,500,000, or, in round numbers, more than three times the entire population of the capital; but this number was almost doubled in the course of two years. Since the extension of the line, which we shall presently notice, the number of passengers who have availed themselves of this means of transit has amounted to nearly fifty millions annually.

The number of trains running upon this line is about 350 on week days, and 200 on Sundays; and they travel at intervals of five to ten minutes, between the hours of 5.15 a.m. up to midnight.

The original terminal point of this railway, as we have stated above, was at Bishop's Road. The station here adjoins the terminus of the Great Western line, and there is a covered way for passengers leading from the one station to the other. Between Bishop's Road and Edgware Road the Underground Line, being extended westward, now takes a semi-circular sweep round the western extremity of London, by way of Notting Hill Gate, Kensington, Sloane Square, and Westminster, and so on by a tunnel along the Victoria Embankment to Blackfriars and the Mansion House Station in Cannon Street.

Passing eastward from Bishop's Road, the line, in the course of half a mile, reaches the Edgware Road Station, where are workshops for the repair of the company's engines and carriages. Unlike most of the stations on this route, that at Edgware Road has the advantage of being open and above ground. From Edgware Road another half-mile or so of tunnel eastward brings the passenger to the Baker Street Station. The entrances to this station are in Baker Street, on either side of the Marylebone Road, broad flights of stairs leading down to the platforms; this part of the station, with the line itself, being immediately under the roadway. Great ingenuity is displayed in the construction of this station, for although so deep underground, it enjoys the advantage of daylight, which is made to glance down from the roadway above through long shafts lined with white glazed tiles. From Baker Street a branch line of the Underground Railway conveys passengers northward, by St. John's Wood and Marlborough Road Stations, to the Swiss Cottage, within a few minutes' walk of the outskirts of London, and a short distance of the breezy heights of Hampstead.

Resuming our course towards the City, the next station from Baker Street, which is reached through another tunnel about half a mile long, is at Portland Road, near the top of Portland Place. This is at what is called the "summit-level" of the line, and two large circular openings have been constructed over the line for the purpose of ventilation. Smaller openings for the ventilation of the tunnel have been made between other stations. Large numbers are conveyed to this station, on their way to the Regent's Park and the Zoological Gardens. "It is a peculiarity of this district," says the author above quoted, "that, between the semi-circular enclosure of Park Crescent and the quadrangular space within Park Square, a tunnel under the New Road has been for a long time in existence, as a means of uniting the two enclosures. This was familiarly known as the 'Nursery-maids' Walk,' and was the means by which the children of the residents in Park Crescent could avail themselves of the extra accommodation afforded them by the enclosure of Park Square; and such was the resistance offered by the inhabitants of this part to the progress of the railway, that ascending and descending gradients, to the extent of 1 in 100, had to be introduced, so as to carry the line under this subterranean thoroughfare, for the benefit of the nursery-maids and children of this highly-genteel neighbourhood."

From Portland Road the line is continued, by a tunnel rather under half a mile long, to Gower Street. The station here is very similar in construction to that of Baker Street, being originally lighted by the reflection afforded by white glazed tiles from the roadway above. Since its construction, however, it has been opened up very much to the upper air with very decided advantage both to its light and ventilation. This is a convenient outlet for the country immigrants arriving at the Euston Square Station of the London and North-Western Railway; and it is also available for those residing in the densely-populated district of Tottenham Court Road. A tunnel, three-quarters of a mile in length, next brings the passenger to King's Cross Station, which is one of the finest in point of construction of any on the line; the roof especially is worthy of notice, for the length and proportion of its span. Within the station itself, the up and down lines from the Great Northern and Midland Railway enter the King's Cross Station, and thence to Farringdon Road pass through a separate tunnel running parallel with the Metropolitan line. In the formation of this second tunnel immense engineering difficulties had to be met, and were successfully accomplished, the union of the two tunnels being effected upon the "bell-mouth" principle, similar to that between Edgware Road and Bishop's Road. The Midland Railway, as we shall hereafter see, when we come to Camden Town, was carried out by a triumph of engineering skill, under the Grand Junction Canal. Shortly before reaching King's Cross, the great Fleet sewer crosses both the junction lines; and during the construction of the aqueduct through which it was ultimately to pass, it was necessary that the sewage should not be interrupted for a moment; moreover, in addition to the difficulties connected with such a work, it may be stated that the whole of the sewage had to be conducted under the roadway; it now passes through an immense wrought-iron tube, some dozen feet in diameter, bedded in brickwork.

The line, on leaving King's Cross, takes a curve in a southerly direction, and shortly afterwards passes under the Fleet ditch a second time, by a short piece of tunnelling, and then, after passing through an open cutting, and another tunnel about half a mile in length, the line passes under a bridge, which serves as a viaduct to Ray Street, Clerkenwell, and carries the traffic over the railway. Once more the line passes under the Fleet ditch; the contents of this, which is within the stationyard of Farringdon Road, are conveyed across the line in one span in a capacious wrought-iron tube, and in the formation of the line at this point considerable difficulty was experienced in consequence of the sewer on two or three different occasions bursting its bounds, and thereby greatly impeding the progress of the work. Close by this sewer is another bridge for carrying the traffic over the railway; it is constructed mainly of iron, and was built in 18756, in order to form part of the new direct thoroughfare which is designed to connect Oxford Street with Old Street, St. Luke's.

It should be stated here that shortly before emerging into the light of day at Farringdon Street, the tunnel of the Midland and Great Northern lines is made to dive from north-east to south-west under that of the Metropolitan, which here is some thirty feet below the surface, revealing the fact that "even in the lowest depths there is a lower still," and displaying one of the greatest triumphs of the engineers' art to be seen in the neighbourhood of London. This gigantic "tunnel under another tunnel" was carried into effect without the stoppage of a single train on the Metropolitan Railway. The illustration on page 229 represents the passage of a Metropolitan train over the Great Northern and Midland lines near Farringdon Road Station.

Farringdon Road Station is very spacious, and, with the goods dept of the Great Northern Railway, cover a large space of ground between the main road and Turnmill Street. This station was at first the utmost limit of the line Citywards; but by degrees the railway has been gradually extended eastward, the intention of the Metropolitan being ultimately to form a connection with the other end at the Mansion House Station. After leaving Farringdon Road the line passes, by means of a short tunnel, under the Metropolitan Meat Market at Smithfield, and then, after once more coming into daylight, enters the large and well-built station of Aldersgate Street, the lines being duplicated. Here there is a junction of the main line with that of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, which passes under Smithfield, then on under Holborn Viaduct, and so on to Ludgate Hill in its way southward. From Aldersgate Street, the Metropolitan Railway continues by a short tunnel and an open cutting on to Moorgate Street, which was for some time the farthest extent of the line in this direction. In 1875 the line was continued to Liverpool Street, where it forms a junction with the Great Eastern Railway; and in November, 1876, the line was further extended to Aldgate. After passing under Finsbury Circus towards the Bishopsgate Station in Liverpool Street, the railway tunnel is carried between the chapel of St. Mary's, Moorfields, and Finsbury Chapel, and in the construction of this portion of the line considerable engineering difficulties had to be surmounted.

In the meantime, other subterranean works in connection with the modern system of locomotion had been going on farther eastward; and by this means the northern and south-eastern hemispheres of London, so to speak, have been banded together by the iron girdle of the East London Railway, which, passing on through Whitechapel and Shadwell, and then through the old Thames Tunnel to Rotherhithe and Deptford Road, terminates at New Cross, where it joins the Brighton line.

Throughout the whole length of the various systems of Underground Railways, it may be safely asserted that the works are signal instances of modern engineering skill and ingenuity. The rails on the Metropolitan Line were originally laid on the mixed-gauge principle, the rails themselves having steeled surfaces given to them; but these being found to be not of a very durable character, were gradually replaced with others of solid steel, which, although much more costly to lay down, have been found to be more lasting, and consequently cheaper in the end. Within the last few years, the broad-gauge rails have been taken up, and only the narrow-gauge is now used.


So far as the engines and carriages are concerned, but little need be said here. The former are fine, powerful machines, specially designed by Mr. Fowler, the engineer-in-chief; and they are arranged either to exhaust the steam through the chimney in the ordinary way, or else to condense it in tanks which are placed on either side of the engine, and contain 1,000 gallons of watera supply sufficient for the double journey. The carriages are extremely large and roomy vehicles, the united bodies being no less than forty feet long. The first-class carriages are luxuriously fitted up, and are constructed to carry sixty passengers; whilst the second and third classes carry as many as eighty persons respectively, and very frequently more. The mode of lighting the carriages is by gas, which is carried in long india-rubber bags, within wooden boxes, arranged on the tops of the carriages, and extending from one end to the other of each set of vehicles composing the train. "These gas bags," says the writer of the work above referred to, "are weighted on the top, and, as the weights descend, an indicator, at the side of each box, points either to E or F, to show how near the india-rubber reservoirs are to being either empty or full. The jets in the carriages are supplied by means of a gas-pipe in communication with the bags on the roofs, and extending from the back of the vehicles themselves, while along the lower part of each portion of the train runs the 'main,' as it were, by which the bags are replenished from the gasometers established at either end of the line. The gasholders are kept charged with supplies from the neighbouring gas-works, and are so heavily weighted that the elastic bags along the top of the carriages can be filled (by means of 'hydrants' and flexible tubes in connection with the gasholders) in the short space of two or three minutes. The light thus afforded to the passengers is so bright as to utterly remove all sense of travelling underground, and entirely dissipate that nervousness which the semi-obscurity of ordinary oil-lighted railway carriages gives to the sensitive during their transit through the tunnels on other lines."

From the rapid rate at which the trains are dispatched one after the other on this line, it will be readily conceived that the system of signalling must be one of the greatest exactitude in order to ensure perfect safety. The system, however, is so simple, and at the same time so certain, as "to require no exercise of skill on the part of the signal-man, but rather to bring the official working them down to the level of the unerring machine upon which he has to operate." The following extract from the Railway News gives all that need be said on this subject:


"We will suppose," says the writer of a clever article upon "Underground Signals," in the publication before mentioned, "the signal-man to be at Baker Street; on the down line he will have possession of the line to the Edgware Road Station, on the up line possession of the length to Portland Road Station. In the front of each dial there is an opening, in which appears, as the case may be, the words 'Line clear' on a white ground, or, 'Train on line,' on a red ground. Below this are two keys, one red and one white, having over them corresponding words to those which appear in the opening on the face of the telegraph dial. Press the white key, and the words 'Line clear' are shown on the instruments; press the red key, and the words 'Train on line' appear. There is no movement of needles to the one side or the other, which may be liable to be mistaken; there is no sound of a bell, which may be misunderstood. The needle of the dial does not point to a communication which it wishes to make, but it carries on its back the actual message, and presents it to the sight of the person for whom it is intended.

"Let us see how this system is carried into actual practice. A passenger train is about to start from Edgware Road on the up-line. The signal-man presses down a key, which rings a bell at Baker Street to call attention. This bell has a conducting wire, entirely separated from that connected with the signalling instruments, so that no mistake can occur in the transmission of signals. The beats on the bell are made to describe the approaching train, whether it be a Metropolitan, Great Western, or Great Northern one. Having thus called attention, he presses down the red key, and at Baker Street is instantly shown the signal 'Train on line.' Baker Street replies by repeating the beats on the bell, and pegs down the key which corresponds to the signal shown. Edgware Road puts the signal to 'Danger,' to prevent any up-line train from following, and Baker Street keeps the signal pegged down until the train has not only reached him, but has actually passed out of the station. After the train has left Baker Street it is signalled on to Portland Road, just as it had previously been sent on from the Edgware Road. The Baker Street sends back to Edgware Road three beats on his bell, re-pegs his red key, presses down a white key, which shows 'Line clear.' The signal is acknowledged, the white key pegged down by the signal-man at Edgware Road, who thus takes possession of the line up to Baker Street. When the train has left Portland Road Station, Baker Street is signalled to, just as Edgware Road had been, and the up-line is clear to the next station. And so the work goes on from station to station throughout the day, and trains may run with safety at intervals of two minutes, whereas, without these signals, it would not have been possible to run more frequently than every quarter of an hour."

The question of ventilation of the Underground Railway gave rise to considerable discussion at the time of the formation of the line, and, indeed, long afterwards, and various means were adopted by which that "vexed question" could be set at rest. Instead of the coal used on ordinary lines the company have used coke made from the best and finest Durham coal, and burnt in the ovens for a very long time, in order to deprive it of every trace of sulphur and other objectionable exhalations. We have already seen how that the engines are specially constructed to exhaust the steam during the transit of the trains. By these means the engines may be said to "hold their breath," as it were, whilst travelling through these lower regions, and thus little or no foul sulphurous fumes are evolved from the chimney, nor waste steam discharged. One part of the line, nevertheless, from some cause or other, remained in which the foul air continued to cause annoyance and discomfort to passengers. This extended from the Portland Road to the Gower Street Station. Between these stations the arch of the railway tunnel is crossed nearly at right angles by the tube of the old Pneumatic Despatch Company. In a lucky moment the "happy thought" arose that this tube might be made subservient towards the removal of the foul air in the tunnel beneath, and the more efficient ventilation of the railway in its immediate vicinity. In 1874 this idea was most successfully worked out and practically applied in a very ingenious manner to the desired purpose by Mr. De Wylde, the engineer to the Pneumatic Despatch Company, who was materially assisted in his labours by Mr. Tomlinson, the engineer of the Metropolitan line.

From the above description of the Underground Railway, it will be at once perceived that there is scarcely any part of London or any of its outlying districts which cannot now be reached by rail, and by trains that are arriving and departing every few minutes. The Metropolitan Railway is, indeed, a mighty underground undertaking, by which, in half an hour, the heart of the City is reached with comfort and safety from Hammersmith or Notting Hill, Kensington or Brompton, and nearly all round London. Travelling seems to have reached its climax, when what was half a day's journey twenty years ago, is done now in a quarter of a hourfor it requires but some such interval of time as that between shaking hands with friends in parting at the Mansion House, and doing the same with others on meeting in Camden Town. The Metropolitan Railway service appears to be capable of almost indefinite extension. There are now six companies which are exclusively devoted to the metropolitan railway trafficthe Metropolitan, the Metropolitan District, the Metropolitan and St. John's Wood, the North London, the East London, and the London, Chatham, and Dover.

The "District Railway" owns nearly half of the whole line, and has the advantage, in one respect; its portion of the stations being all open to the daylight, and the tunnels not so frequent. Its terminal station, the "Mansion House," within a few minutes' walk of the Exchange, the Bank, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the heart of the City, is a handsome, light, commodious building, spanned with an iron and glass roof. The space is necessarily somewhat cramped in a spot where land is said to be more valuable than anywhere else in the world. There are only three lines of rails, and the same number of platforms; but although, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., thirteen trains run in and out every hour, this is found sufficient accommodation, even when there is an unusual pressure of business; and occasionally three trains have entered the station, discharged their passengers, been re-filled, and supplied with gas, in six minutes.

On leaving the Mansion House Station, the line passes westward along under Queen Victoria Street, to Blackfriars Bridge, where there is a station, which, although the platforms are considerably below the level of the outer roadway, is open to the light of day. In the neighbourhood of Blackfriars Bridge, the railway is crossed by a tramroad for the conveyance of coals from the river to the works of the City Gas Company; and nearly at the same point the subway of the Embankment rises to the surface. The low-level sewer crosses obliquely beneath the railway; and the Fleet Ditch also crosses beneath it at right angles, previous to joining the low-level sewer. The "Fleet" formerly opened and discharged its contents into the river under the first arch of the bridge.

At various points of the railway sewers pass beneath it to enter the low-level main sewer; and the summits of these sewers, as originally constructed, would rise somewhat above the permanent way. It was, of course, impossible to lower them, and the difficulty was surmounted by giving a depressed shape to portions that pass under the line. The original sewers presented elliptical sections, with the major axis vertical, and the new portions have their major axis horizontal. In this way the necessary area is preserved, and the line is only so far interfered with that the sleepers are carried over the sewers on a bridge of iron plates. The railway itself is drained by a barrel-drain along the "sixfoot" space, and this drain is carried below each sewer and back to its former level by four rectangular bends. The original opening of the Fleet Ditch was immediately to the westward of Blackfriars Bridge, and under the management of the Board of Works its new opening has been made beneath the bridge. Beneath the station it was found necessary, at the construction of the works, to lower the level and contract the area of the diversion of the Fleet which had to be made, by which it emptied its contents into the river on the east side of the bridge; for this purpose another diversion was made to the eastward of the first, leaving it to the north, and re-entering it at the south of the station. When this was completed, the portion of the first diversion that passed under the station was converted into a barrel-drain by iron tubing seven feet in diameter; and then the second diversion was closed. The low-level sewer at first passed beneath the barrel-drain, but was eventually connected with the Fleet channel, so as to relieve the latter of some portion of the contents. The tramroad to the City gas-works passes under the roadway of the Embankment, and over the railway; and the subway of the Embankment is also carried over the railway. Close by Blackfriars Station, in Earl Street, nearly equal difficulties were encountered on a smaller scale, from the number of gas-pipes, water-pipes, and other channels that crossed the line near together, and at all possible levels. These pipes, however, have all been re-arranged in a regular and orderly manner. The difficulty of finding room for all these requirements was extreme, as may well be imagined.

A short piece of tunneling along the Victoria Embankment brings us to the Temple Station, which is the nearest outlet for the eastern parts of the Strand. Within the precincts of the Temple, as a precautionary measure against the interruption of legal studies by noise and vibration, the sleepers rest upon a layer of tan, six inches in thickness, placed immediately below the ballast. This plan had already been adopted, with good results, in the neighbourhood of Westminster Abbey, and the Benchers of the Temple made its employment one of the conditions of their approval of the line.

The Embankment, beneath which the line passes on by Somerset House and Charing Cross (where there is another station) to Westminster Bridge, is, we need hardly say, one of the most successful pieces of engineering skill which this country has ever produced; but it was not effected without considerable risk and danger to surrounding property; indeed, owing to the undermining of the foundation of King's College, which adjoins Somerset House, the roof of the hall gave way, and fears were at one time entertained as to the safety of the building. Besides the railway tunnel there are other immense subways passing along it, some of which serve the purposes of the main drainage, the low-level sewer of the northern system, as we have already shown, passing this way in its course from Pimlico towards the east of London. The railway also passes under the first arch of Waterloo Bridge. For some portion of the distance between Charing Cross and Westminster Bridge the line is covered in by iron girders, placed obliquely, and connected by brickwork; this was so arranged in order to support a garden attached to the offices of the Board of Control.

The distance from Blackfriars Station to Westminster Bridge Station is 2,200 yards, and the stations are very nearly equidistant. Instead of the semi-circular arched roof usually found in other tunnels, that in the Embankment is flat, formed of transverse iron girders placed about eight feet apart, with shallow brick arches between them, and supported on brick walls, about fourteen feet in height, the south of which is in contact with the concrete of the Embankment.

At Westminster there is a branch tunnel or subway which passes under the roadway at the foot of the bridge to the Houses of Parliament. In the construction of the tunnel between Westminster Bridge and the St. James's Park Stations, great difficulties presented themselves from the irregular nature of the soil, but these were in the end surmounted; and in the course of the excavations at this point quantities of bones of animalssupposed to be those of the mammoth and other antediluvian animalswere unearthed. Another difficulty arose from the fear of the excavations weakening the foundations of the Abbey. The line passes almost close under the walls of St. Margaret's Church and Westminster Abbey, and emerges into daylight close by Queen Anne's Gate, near the St. James's Park Station. The next station is Victoria, which is situated close to that of the Brighton and the London, Chatham, and Dover Railways. Leaving this station the line proceeds, by a short tunnel, under Eccleston and Ebury Streets, Pimlico, to Sloane Square, where there is a large and commodious station. A few minutes' ride next brings us to South Kensington Station, which, with its farstretching roof of iron and glass, is light and open. Here we may be said to have got clear of "underground London," for although the line passes on for some distance before it reaches Paddington, which we made our starting point, a considerable portion of it is open to the light of day. The stations passed before arriving at Praed Street, Paddington, are the Gloucester Road (whence there are branches to West Brompton, Addison Road, and Hammersmith); High Street, Kensington; Notting Hill Gate; Queen's Road, Bayswater.

One feature of the Metropolitan and of the District Railway is the facility which it gives to working men who, through the demolition of small dwelling-houses in London, or from other circumstances, may have taken up their abode in the western suburbs. When the Metropolitan Company obtained their extension to Moorgate Street, the Act of Parliamentobtained mainly through the instrumentality of the late Lord Derbyimposed upon them the condition that one train daily should run to the City in the morning, and one train from the City at night, "for the convenience of workmen living in the environs," and that the fares should be one penny for each single journey by such trains. The experiment was tried before the formation of the line between Farringdon Road and Moorgate Street; and in one of the trains so run, the author of the brochure quoted from above thus gives us his experiences of the class of men he met with:

"Our object was to ride in the train with the workmen themselves, and to hear from them what benefits they derived from the institution. Early as was the hour, we found the platform all of a bustle with men, many of whom had bass baskets in their hands, or tin flagons, or basins done up in red handkerchiefs. Some few carried large saws under their arms, and beneath the overcoat of others one could just see a little bit of the flannel jacket worn by carpenters, whilst some were habited in the grey and clay-stained fustian peculiar to ground labourers. There was but little time for the arrangement of plans with the general manager ere the whistle screamed, and we were thrust into a third-class compartment, which we found nearly filled with plasterers, joiners, and labourers.

"The subject of our mission was soon opened. All present agreed that the cheap and early trains were a great benefit to the operative classes. The labourer assured us that he saved at least two shillings a week by them in the matter of rent only. He lived at Notting Hill, and would have to walk six miles to and from his work every day if it were not for the convenience of the railway. He had two rooms now, almost in the open country, for the same price as he would have to pay for one in some close court in the heart of London, besides what he saved in medicine for his wife and family. A plasterer, who had to go all the way to Dockhead to his work, who was a fellow-passenger, took up the matter, and said that 'it was impossible to reckon up how much workmen gained by what is called the Workmen's Trains, especially if you took into account the saving in shoe-leather, the gain in health and strength, and the advantage it was for men to go to their work fresh and unfatigued by a long walk at the commencement of the day.' The plasterer, too, was great on the moral effects (it is astonishing how working men delight in the morality of a question), and urged, with some force, that the best thing in connection with such institutions was, that it enabled operatives to have different sleepingrooms for themselves and their young children.

"As the train stopped at Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road, and, indeed, every other station, fresh crowds were waiting on the platform, ready to avail themselves of it; and when we reached Gower Street, we and the manager got into another carriage, so as to be able to consult as many working men as possible on the matter. Here we found a butcher on his way to the meatmarket, a newsvendor going to fetch his morning papers, and others connected with the building trade. We spoke to a carpenter in a grey slouch hat, and with the brass top of his foot-rule just peeping out of the side pocket of his trousers. He was one of those strange growling and grumbling characters so often met with among the working classes. For his part, he didn't see that working men were in any way gainers by the cheap trains, as it cost them is a week for travelling. All he knew was, that he paid about the same rent out at Paddington as when he lived in Clerkenwell; for landlords were landlords, all the world over. If a man did save Is. a week, what was it? Only a pint of beer a day. Besides, the company hadn't kept faith with the public; they had made grand speeches in Parliament about the great benefits they were going to confer on the working classes by giving them penny trains, and directly they got their bill passed, by such humbug, they began by charging them twopence. What was a working man to save upon that, he should like to know?

"'Come, come, mate,' said another workman, 'fair's fair. Just think of what these here trains save you at night after your work's over. If a man gets home tired after his day's labour, he is inclined to be quarrelsome with his missus and the children, and this leads to all kinds of noises, and ends in his going off to the public for a little bit of quiet; while if he gets a ride home, and has a good rest after he has knocked off for the day, I can tell you he is as pleasant a fellow again over his supper. Besides, if a chap's on piece-work, as I am, it makes a good bit of difference in his earnings at the week's end, whether he goes to his work fagged with walking a long way to it, or comes fresh to it after a ride.'

"On our way to Farringdon Street we passed the early down-train; and this, we could just see, was full of costermongers coming from the Saturday morning's market. At a later part of the same day we travelled from the City to Bishop's Road, in company with other men returning from their work. Many of these lived out at Silver Street, Notting Hill. One man in particular was very communicative, and delighted to go into all the details of what he saved by being able to live in the suburbs. 'He had a six-roomed house, with a kitchen,' he said, 'and for this he paid 28 the year, rent and taxes. He let off four rooms for 8s. the week, so that he stood at about 3s. a week rent for himself, and for the same accommodation as he had now he would have to pay from 6s. to 6s. 6d. the week in some wretched dog-hole in town.' He certainly found that things were very dear out at Kensington, where he lived; but this made hardly any difference to him, for he did all his marketing at Newgate Market after his work was over, early on the Saturday. 'See here, sir,' said he, spreading open the bass-basket on his knee, 'there's a prime bit of ribs of beef for the young ones to pitch into to-morrow. I gave 7d. the pound for it, and where I hang out it would have cost me 10d. or 11d. There ain't so much difference in vegetables, and bread's pretty well the same price everywhere. It's mostly people in the building trade as comes up by these trains to the heavy jobs in the City. No one can say what benefit the trains are to men like us. Why, I've made seven and a half days this week, and if it wasn't for the convenience of them, I shouldn't have done six.'"

So much for the Underground Railway. This, however, although a very gigantic work, is but a fraction, so to speak, of the intricate and almost inexplicable labyrinth of arteries and sinews that go to make up the great body of "Underground London." Mr. Charles Knight, in his "London," has pithily remarked:"Could we imagine that this great capital of capitals should ever be what Babylon isits very site forgottenone could not but almost envy the delight with which the antiquaries of that future time would hear of some discovery of a London below the soil still remaining. We can fancy we see the progress of the excavators from one part to another of the mighty but, for a while, inexplicable labyrinth, till the whole was cleared open to the daylight, and the vast system lay bare before them, revealing, in the clearest language, the magnitude and splendour of the place to which it had belonged, the skill and enterprise of the people. Let us reflect for a moment upon what this system accomplishes. Do we want water in our houses? We turn a small instrument, and the limpid stream from the springs of Hertfordshire, or of Hampstead Heath, or from the river Thames, comes flowing, as it were by magic, into our vessels. Do we wish to get rid of it when no longer serviceable? The trouble is no greater; in an instant it is on its way through the silent depths. Do we wish for an artificial day? Through that same mysterious channel comes steaming up into every corner of our chambers, counting-houses, or shops, the subtle air which waits but our bidding to becomelight! The tales which amuse our childhood have no greater marvels than these." Yet, as the very nature of a system of underground communication prevents it from being one of the shows of the metropolis, we seldom think of it; unless, indeed, when passing through the streets we at times come across an open sewer that has been laid bare for repairs or some other purpose; or when we see an artisan at work in repairing a breach in a telegraph wire, when the fibrous substance which forms the means of transmitting the electrical communication is lying gathered up in coils from its receptacle beneath the pavement. The sewage, the gas and water supply, and the electric telegraph, then, are the matters which we have to consider in the present chapter.


The Fleet Ditch, of which we have given an account in a previous volume, (fn. 1) was for centuries the principal channel for conveying the sewage of the metropolis into the Thames. Its commencement was from springs on the southern slopes of the ridge of Hampstead and Highgate Hills; and in its course towards the Thames at Blackfriars it received the drainage of parts of Hampstead and Highgate, of all Kentish Town, Camden Town, and Somers Town, of parts of Islington, Clerkenwell, and St. Sepulchre, and nearly all that part of the Holborn division lying south of the Euston Road, from Paddington to the City. The private drains from each house entered the main sewer in all cases about two feet from its level; and these drains carried off every description of refuse, with the exception of such as was conveyed away by the London dustman. Scientific experiments were made to discover the best and most economical mode of cleansing the sewers, the deposit at the bottom of which averaged one and a-half inches yearly, and an ingenious apparatus was invented for using water in flushes, by which the sewers were effectually scoured. "The water used for forming a head was contracted for with the water companies, and amounted to about 20,000 hogsheads yearly. When a sewer was to be cleansed, the water was backed up, and when let off, it cleansed the sewer to an extent proportionate to the quantity of head-water, the fall of the sewer, and the depth of the deposit. The breaking-up of streets to cleanse the sewers, when their contents were deposited on the surface, was avoided by means of a flushing apparatus. Under the old system, the deposit accumulated at the bottom of the sewer, until the private drains leading into it became choked; and it was only from the complaints arising from this circumstance that the Commissioners of Sewers became aware of the state of the main drain, and that smaller drains, connected with the main sewer, were generally choked also."

In 1847, the eight boards of commissionerscomprising those for the City, Westminster, Holborn and Finsbury, Tower Hamlets, Poplar and Blackwall, Surrey and Kent, Greenwich and St. Katherine'swere superseded by one commission, termed "The Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers," whose members were nominated by the Government, and during the nine succeeding years six new and differently-constituted commissions were successively appointed; but throughout this period they appear to have been unable to mature and carry out works of any magnitude with the view of remedying the evils arising from the sewage flowing into the Thames. In 1854, Mr. Bazalgette, the chief engineer to the Commissioners of Sewers, was directed to prepare a scheme of intercepting sewers, intended to effect the main drainage of London, and Mr. Haywood was associated with him for the northern portion. These plans remained under consideration until the formation of the Metropolitan Board of Works, two years later, when fresh plans for the drainage of the metropolis were drawn up by Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Bazalgette. After some further delay, these plans were eventually adopted, and the works were commenced in 1859. The chief object sought to be attained by the main drainage works was the interception of the sewage, so as to divert it from the river near London. New lines of sewers were accordingly constructed, laid at right angles to those already existing, and a little below their levels, so as to intercept their contents and convey them to outfalls about fourteen miles below London Bridge. These outfalls are situated at Barking Creek, in Essex, and at Crossness Point, in Erith Marshes. As large a proportion of the sewage as practicable is by this means carried away by gravitation into the salt water, and for the remainder a constant discharge is effected by pumping with powerful engines and machinery. At the outlets the sewage is received into reservoirs, situate on the banks of the Thames, and placed at such a level as will enable them to discharge into the river at or about the time of high water. By this arrangement the sewage is not only at once diluted by the large volume of salt water in the Thames at high water, but is also carried by the ebb tide to a point in the river some twenty-six miles below London Bridge, and the possibility of its return by the following tide within the metropolitan area is by this means effectually prevented.

SECTION OF THE HOLBORN VIADUCT, SHOWING THE SUBWAYS. (Taken by permission from Mr. Haywood's Report.)

The drainage of London on the north side of the Thames is effected by three lines of sewers, the High Level, the Middle Level, and the Low Level. The first of these commences by a junction with the old Fleet sewer, at the foot of Hampstead Hill, and passes through Upper Holloway, Stoke Newington, and Hackney Wick, to Abbey Mills pumping-station, near Plaistow; the second commences at Bayswater, and skirting Hyde Park, passes along Oxford Street, High Holborn, and by the railway-station in Farringdon Road, and Old Street Road, and joins the High Level sewer at Old Ford; whilst the Low Level sewer, with its branches, extends from Chiswick and Acton to Abbey Mills, passing on its way by Chelsea and Pimlico, where we have already noticed the large pumping-station, (fn. 2) and so on by the Houses of Parliament, and along the Victoria Embankment. From the pumping-station at Abbey Mills the drainage is conveyed across Plaistow Marshes by the outfall sewer to the reservoir at Barking Creek. On the south side of the Thames the intercepting sewers extend from Upper Norwood, Clapham, and Putney, in three main lines, to Deptford, where they unite, and thence pass on through Charlton and Woolwich, and across Plumstead Marsh to the pumping-house and reservoir at Crossness Point.

It need hardly be mentioned that during the formation of this vast net-work of sewerscomprising, as it does on the whole, something over 1,300 milesa large number of ancient remains of animals, coins, and curiosities, were found; they consisted chiefly of the bones of elephants, whales, and horns of deer and oxen, with some flint implements of war, and human skulls, stone and leaden coffins, and a number of Roman coins.

It must not, however, be supposed that the various railway tunnels are all, or nearly all, the wonders of subterranean London, for the arrangements for supplying the metropolis with gas and water, and for carrying off the drainage from the streets and dwellings of the entire metropolis, are equally wonderful; and as these present a terra incognita to most readers of the educated classes, they may well claim a brief notice here.

Any one who has seen London at night from some elevation in the neighbourhoodsay Hampstead Heath, or Sydenham Hillwill readily understand how minute, as well as extensive, must be the network of pipes overspreading its soil a few feet below the surface, to afford an unfailing supply of gas to illuminate such a vast space as is spread out before him. Thirty years after the general introduction of gas for the lighting of the metropoliswhich took place in 1814there were no less than eighteen public gas-works in London and its immediate vicinity, and twelve public gasworks companies; the capital employed in works, pipes, tanks, gas-holders, apparatus, &c., amounted to the sum of 2,800,000, and the yearly revenue derived represented nearly 500,000. 180,000 tons of coal were annually used in the making of gas; 1,460,000,000 cubic feet of gas were made in the year; 134,300 private burners were supplied to about 400,000 customers; there were 30,400 public or street consumersabout 2,650 of these were in the City of London; 380 lamp-lighters were employed; 176 gas-holders, several of which were double ones, capable of storing 5,500,000 cubic feet; 890 tons of coal were used in the retorts in the shortest day, in twenty-four hours; 7,120,000 cubic feet of gas were used in the longest night (say 24th of December); and about 2,500 persons were employed in the metropolis alone in this branch of manufacture. Between the years 1822 and 1827 the consumption of gas was nearly doubled; and within the next ten years it was again nearly doubled; and since 1837 these figures must be trebled. Since 1841, when the above statistics were taken, many of the gas companies have amalgamated; and in 1872 their number was reduced to nine, a number which has since been slightly increased. One advantage of the amalgamation of the different companies is that the consumer's interests are more effectually provided for, and that the gas is supplied at a lower price and better in quality.

In a previous chapter we have spoken of the pipes that were laid from the conduit at Bayswater (fn. 3) in order to supply the City with water. We learn from Stow that this arrangement dated from the time of Henry III., when" the river of the Wells, the running water of Walbrook, the bourns, and other the fresh water that were in and about the City, being in process of time, by encroachment for buildings, and otherwise heightening of grounds, utterly decayed, and the number of the citizens mightily increased, they were forced to seek sweet waters abroad"at the request of the king, powers were "granted to the citizens and to their successors by one Gilbert Sanford, to convey water from the town of Tyburn, by pipes of lead, into the City." Besides the conduits which were set up in Cheapside, Leadenhall, Fleet Street, and other public places, "bosses" of water were also provided in different parts, which, like the conduits, in some places drew their supply from the Thames. The conduits and water-heads, as we have already had occasion to show, used to be regularly visited in former times by the Lord Mayor "and many worshipful persons, and divers of the masters and wardens of the twelve companies." During these early days the water had to be brought from the conduits to the dwellings of the inhabitants in pitchers or other vessels. It was not until 1582 that any great mechanical power or skill was applied in providing London with water; in that year, however, Peter Morris, a Dutchman, made at London Bridge a "most artificial forcier," by which water was conveyed into the houses. We are told how that, on the Lord Mayor and Aldermen going to view the works in operation, Morris, to show the efficiency of his machine, caused the water to be thrown over St. Magnus' Church. The water-works at the bridge were famous for a long time as one of the sights of London. In 1594 water-works of a similar kind were erected near Broken Wharf, which supplied the houses in West Cheap and around St. Paul's, as far as Fleet Street. This was all that was accomplished in the way of supplying London with water up to the appearance of Hugh Middleton, "citizen and goldsmith," upon the scene, early in the reign of James I. It seems that power had been granted by Elizabeth for cutting and conveying a river from any part of Middlesex or Hertfordshire to the City of London, with a limitation of ten years' time for the accomplishment of the work; but the man to accomplish it was not forthcoming. James I. confirmed the grant; and then it was that Middleton came forward with the offer of his wealth, skill, and energy. After long search and deliberation two springs rising in Hertfordshire were fixed upon, and in 1608 the work was actually commenced. Of the difficulties and obstacles with which the worthy "citizen and goldsmith" met in the accomplishment of his self-imposed task, and also of the "New River," which he formed, we have spoken in our account of Islington. (fn. 4)

When London, however, mustered beyond a million of inhabitants, even the "New River" failed to give an adequate supply of water to the mouths and the houses which required it, and other companies were formed for the purpose of supplying different parts of the great metropolis, and the Chelsea and other water-works were started by various companies in succession. Of some of these we have already made mention.

In 18334, the quantity of water daily supplied by the eight different water companies of London was upwards of 21,000,000 imperial gallons. By far the greatest portion of this was drawn from the Thames, a small quantity from the springs and ponds or Highgate and Hampstead, and the rest from the River Lea and the New River. The capital expended on the works of these companies then amounted to more than 3,000,000, and their gross rental to nearly 300,000. The number of houses or buildings supplied by them was nearly 200,000, each of which had an average supply of about 180 gallons, at a cost, also, on the average, of about 30s. yearly. It is not easy to ascertain the capital now sunk in the water-supply of the metropolis. But in 1876 the average daily supply of the following eight companiesChelsea, East London, Grand Junction, Kent, Lambeth, New River, Southwark and Lambeth, and West Middlesexwas rather more than 120,000,000 gallons, upwards of 60,000,000 being taken from the Thames, and the rest from other sources. The Thames supply is drawn from various points, extending up the river as far as Hampton and Ditton; the rest comes to Londoners from the River Lea, and from the chalk-wells in the neighbourhood of Crayford, Chislehurst, Bromley, and Dartford, in Kent. The net-work of pipes underground to convey the water to almost every house in London, must indeed be something surprising; and it presents a striking contrast to the state of things which must have existed when the ancient conduits were the only sources of supply.

From the Report of the Examiner appointed by Government to test the purity of our water, as published by him in September, 1876, it appears that the number of miles of streets which contain mains constantly charged, and upon which hydrants for fire purposes could at once be fixed, is 667. The total number of hydrants erected at the above date was 4,211, of which 2,695 were for private purposes, 541 for street watering, 500 for public use, and 475 for Government establishments. Of the average daily supply of water in the metropolis one-fifth was delivered for other than domestic purposes. There are 398 acres of reservoirs with available capacity for the subsidence and storage of 1,041,550,000 gallons of unfiltered water, and covered reservoirs capable of storing 106,187,000 gallons of filtered water within the radius prescribed.

From an analytical report, made by Dr. Frankland, of the state of the Thames water supplied to the metropolis during the month of October, 1876, we learn that, taking unity to represent the amount of organic impurity (on this occasion) in a given volume of the Kent Company's water, the proportional amount in an equal volume of water supplied by each of the other metropolitan companies was as follows:New River, 0'9; East London, 2'4; West Middlesex, 2'8; Grand Junction, 3'3; Lambeth, 4'1; Chelsea, 4'2; and Southwark, 4'5. The water delivered by the five companies drawing their supply exclusively from the Thames, compared with that delivered in August and September, showed a marked deterioration in quality, the proportion of contamination with organic matter in solution having increased. The West Middlesex Company delivered the best of the Thames waters. The sample of the Southwark Company's water was "slightly turbid from insufficient filtration, and contained moving organisms." The other samples of Thames water were, however, clear and transparent. The water supplied by the New River and the East London Companies was much superior in quality to that drawn from the Thames; indeed, the New River water, in chemical purity, is said to surpass even the deep well water delivered by the Kent Company, which rises in the chalk hills about Crayford.

Previous to the completion of the Main Drainage works, the system of drainage that had been adopted in London for several years gave an amount of sewerage almost equal in extent to the length of every street, lane, and alley in the metropolis. On the north side of the Thames there were about fifty main sewers, measuring upwards of a hundred miles; about twenty of equal magnitude, extending some sixty miles, were on the south side of the river. Add to these the private sewers, turnings, alleys, subways, &c., the mileage of sewerage might have been found of sufficient length to reach from London to Constantinople. Through these secret channels rolled the refuse of London, in a black, murky flood, here and there changing its temperature and its colour, as chemical dye-works, sugar-bakers, tallow-melters, and slaughterers added their tributary streams to the pestiferous rolling river. About 31,650,000,000 gallons of this liquid was poured yearly into the Thames, in its course through London, and even this enormous quantity has only partially drained the great city, leaving some parts of it totally undrained for eight hours out of every twelve. The river of filth struggling through its dark channel sometimes rose to a height of five feet, but generally from two to three. The system of "flushing" the sewers, which we have already described, tends greatly to purify them; and by means of the artificial waterfalls thus secured much of the filth is swept away which would otherwise never be removed; and then, again, the sewers are better ventilated by the introduction of iron gratings, down which the daylight faintly struggles. Consequently, those whose business leads them to descend into the sewers are not now, as they formerly were, exposed to great risk of health and life.

Another important feature of "Underground London" is its "subways." These are among the latest advances which have been made in engineering skill, and have resulted from the peculiar formation of some of the new streets, where, the roadway being of a higher level than formerly, owing to its construction upon arches, an opportunity has been seized upon for their erection. Mr. Haywood, in his Report on the Holborn Valley Improvement (1869), says:"The public advantage resulting from the construction of subways has long been acknowledged; but, at the same time, it is well known that the Gas and Water Companies showed at first considerable hesitation in using subways; and in the case of those of Southwark Street, constructed under the direction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, it was not until the Board succeeded in obtaining an Act of Parliament that the respective companies placed their pipes in such subways."

In a previous volume (fn. 5) we have given a general account of Holborn Viaduct, and of the improvement effected in the surrounding locality by the wholesale demolition of small and crowded houses, and the formation of new, broad, open streets; but we may here say something on a part of that mighty undertaking, which, from its being below the surface of the roadway, is passed over unseen and unthought-of by the majority of individuals who cross over the Viaduct. The work of construction extended from Fetter Lane to Newgate Street, between which points the new surfaces of the Viaduct and roads, as compared with the former lines of thoroughfare, may be thus summarised:At Hatton Garden, and in front of the tower of St. Sepulchre's Church, the street surface is now three feet higher than formerly; at Shoe Lane it is upwards of twenty-four feet; and at Farringdon Street Bridge there is a difference of more than thirty-two feet.

From Fetter Lane to the Viaduct Circus, the width of Holborn varies from 86 feet to 107 feet; the Viaduct, from the Circus at its western end to Giltspur Street at its eastern end, is 1,285 feet long and 80 feet wide, the carriage-way being 50 feet and the two footpaths each 15 feet in width. The centre of the Viaduct is formed of a series of large arches, and on both sides are subways for gas, water, and telegraph pipes, and vaults for the use of the houses. At the western end, between Fetter Lane and the Circus, and at the eastern end, from Snow Hill to Giltspur Street, the new levels were made by filling up the ground removed from the excavations for the foundations of the Viaduct. Between Snow Hill and the Circus, the central portions of the Viaduct are formed of a series of arches, similar to those employed in railway viaducts; each arch is twenty-one feet in span, and forty-five feet in width, and the series is interrupted only by the three bridges which had to be erected on the line of the Viaductnamely, one over Shoe Lane, another over Farringdon Street, and a third over the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway. A line of carriage-way, upwards of ten feet in width, is left throughout the whole length of these vaults, and entrances to them are provided from Farringdon Street and Shoe Lane. The vaults, which are immediately adjacent to Farringdon Street and Shoe Lane, are lighted by windows looking on to those streets, and can be used for office purposes by those having possession of them; arrangements are also made by which access can be given to each separate compartment, arch, or vault, by forming a passage-way, beneath the subways and over the sewers, from the houses on either side of the Viaduct, so that the vaults can either be let singly or in a group, as may be expedient. Each vault is ventilated on to the surface of the roadway by iron gratings, and in the spandrils are lines of pipes, through which the water is conveyed into the sewers below.

The "subways" extend along the Viaduct beneath the pavement on either side, and between the larger vaults above described, and the vaults of the houses on the outer sides of the Viaduct. They are for the most part seven feet wide, and rather more than eleven feet high, and their coverings are formed of semi-circular arches in brickwork. The internal faces of the subways are of white brick, and the floors are of Yorkshire stone landings, built into the walls on each side, and laid with inclinations nearly the same as those of the surface of the Viaduct. On the sides next to the central vaults are channels cut in the landings, and at intervals of twenty-four feet are openings, covered with bell-traps, which communicate with the sewers beneath. Immediately above these trapped openings to the sewers are iron pipes, which connect with the drain-pipes in the spandrils of the central vaults, and convey the water which may leak through from the street surface into the sewer; by means of these trapped openings, the rain water which falls into the subways through the ventilators in the footways, and the water used in washing the subways, escapes into the sewers.

Owing to the difference between the old and new levels, and to the three bridges on the line of the Viaduct, the subways necessarily vary in design at about every eighty feet of their length; they are carried over the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway by an iron construction; on both sides of Farringdon Street Bridge they are connected with the Farringdon Street level by vertical shafts, which terminate close to their entrances in Farringdon Street; at Shoe Lane they descend by shafts, and are carried beneath that street, and are there eight feet high and seven feet wide, formed with brick sides, stone floors, and iron coverings. The entrances to the subways at Farringdon Street are by large iron gates, eight feet wide, and varying from twelve feet to fifteen feet in height; in their rear are wooden doors, which can be closed as occasion may require. There are also entrances, closed by iron doors, with open gratings over them, in Shoe Lane; and at the eastern and western ends of the Viaduct there are openings, very similar in character to those ordinarily used over the entrances to the sewers, but larger, beneath which are flights of steps for the entry of workmen; means are also provided by which pipes of large size can be lowered into or taken out of the subways.


The ventilation of the subways is effected by shafts rising from the crowns of the arches, terminating by large open gratings, let into the pavements; secondly, also, by circular flues, which start from the crowns of the arches, and, passing over the house vaults, are carried up in the party walls of the houses, and terminate at the roofs; and thirdly, by openings in the crowns of the arches connecting with the lamp-posts on the public way, the lower part of each post being perforated to afford ventilation. The length of subway on the southern side of the Viaduct, between Farringdon Street and Shoe Lane, is lighted by gratings, filled in with glass lenses, placed at intervals of forty feet, which render it sufficiently light by day for the purposes of inspection and work; the others have no daylight, excepting that obtained through the ventilating gratings in the footways, but provision is made for artificial lighting throughout the whole lines of subways by burners suspended from the crowns of the arches, and connected with the gas mains in the subways. To afford a supply of gas and water to the houses, square iron tubes are built into the walls, between the subways and the house vaults, through which the service-pipes, after being connected with the mains, are passed. The provision made in the subways for carrying the gas, water, and other pipes, consists of chairs and brackets, which are either let into the stone floor or project from the walls.

SECTION OF THE THAMES EMBANKMENT, 1867. Showing (1) The Subway. (2) The Low-Level Sewer. (3) The Metropolitan District Railway. (4) The Pneumatic Railway.

As we learn from Mr. Haywood's Report, to which we are indebted for much of the information here given, it is some years since subways were first constructed in various parts of London and elsewhere, and pipes of various character have been laid in one or other of them; but the Viaduct subways were the first in which gas, water, and telegraph pipes, with all the appliances necessary to a complete system, were placed in one and the same subway. The subways of the Viaduct have been on several occasions lighted up with gas and exhibited to the public; workmen have executed repairs, and performed their ordinary work in them; and no special precautions have been found necessary as regards the use of lights or fires, no explosions have taken place, nor has such contraction or expansion of pipes resulted from the variations of temperature, as materially to affect either the gas or water supply; and the system may be said to be successful.

Another important feature of "Underground London" which we have not mentioned is the Electric Telegraph. The old Electric Telegraph Company, which for many years carried out the entire system of telegraphy in England, formerly had its head-quarters in Lothbury, in the heart of the City, and, as such, became the originators of that particular portion in the works of "Underground London" to which we have already incidentally referred. The company was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1846, and immediately on its incorporation became the possessor, by purchase, of all the patents previously granted to Sir W. Fothergill Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone, the inventors or the introducers of the electric system of telegraphy into England. "As these patents gave the company an exclusive right to the use of those essential principles on which all electric telegraphs are based, we may attribute much of the subsequent success of the undertaking to the possession of this important right." In an interesting article in Once a Week, in the year 1861, entitled "The Nervous System of the Metropolis," by the late Dr. Wynter, we read that"It is anticipated that for a considerable time the new telegraph will be principally confined to the use of public offices and places of business. Thus the principal public offices are already connected by its wires; and, if we might be permitted the ugly comparison, the Chief Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard, spider-like, sits in the centre of a web co-extensive with the metropolis, and is made instantly sensible of any disturbance that may take place at any point. The Queen's Printer, again, has for years sent his messages by one of these telegraphs between the House of Commons and his printing-office near Fleet Street. The different docks are put en rapport with each other, and it will be especially applicable to all large manufacturing establishments requiring central offices in the City. Thus, the Isle of Dogs and Bow Common, the grand centres of manufacturing energy, are practically brought next door to offices in the centre of the City." About the year 1864, the business of the Electric Telegraph Company was taken in hand by the Government, and transferred to the Post Office; since the erection of the new General Post Office, this department has had its head-quarters in St. Martin'sle-Grand, as we have already stated when describing that locality. (fn. 6)

Whilst we are on the subject of Underground London, it may be desirable here to place on record the fact of the establishment of a Pneumatic Despatch Company about the year 1868. Its headquarters were in High Holborn, near the Little Turnstile, and its object was the rapid transmission of letters, newspapers, and small packages of goods, by tubes laid under the street, and worked by pneumatic agency. These tubes were laid between the office and the Euston Square Station, and also between Holborn and the General Post Office; but the scheme was "in advance of the age," and it failed to answer; there was not enough demand for its services to make it "pay" commercially; and so, after about eighteen months of trial, it was abandoned. The traffic in the tube was worked by alternate atmospheric pressure and suction, the carriers, containing mails and parcels, being by turns propelled to and drawn from Euston Square by the pneumatic apparatus at the Holborn station of the company. The same process was, of course, followed with regard to the length of tube between Holborn and the General Post Office. Taking advantage of the proximity of the tube to the tunnel of the Metropolitan Railway in the vicinity of Gower Street, and of the fact that air had to be drawn into the tube after every carrier that was suckedso to speakfrom Euston to Holborn, it was determined to open a communication between tube and tunnel, and to utilise the exhausting power of the pneumatic machinery for ventilating this portion of the Metropolitan Railway, and, as we have stated above, this was ultimately accomplished. The tubes are still in situ, and the scheme, doubtless, only sleeps for a time, to be revived when London is ripe for its services.


  • 1. See Vol. II., pp. 416423.
  • 2. See p. 41, ante.
  • 3. See p. 183, ante.
  • 4. See Vol. II., p. 266.
  • 5. See Vol. II., pp. 5012.
  • 6. See Vol. II., pp. 21516.