Saturday 10th January 1863 was the day when the first section of the London underground – the 4 mile line of track between Paddington and Farringdon Street – was opened to the public by Prime Minister Gladstone.
The project had begun 9 years earlier, in 1854, that the Metropolitan Railway had been granted permission to build an underground line at an estimated cost of £1 million. However, the Crimean War had begun in October 1853 and the company found it hard to raise the capital needed so construction did not start until March 1860. The railway was to run from Paddington to King’s Cross using a ‘cut and cover’ construction method – although to the east of King’s Cross it was built by tunnelling.
It was hailed as a success. By borrowing trains from other railways to supplement the service it carried some 38,000 passengers on the opening day. In the first twelve months 9.5 million passengers were carried and in the second twelve months this increased to 12 million.
The trains used steam locomotives and hauled gas-lit wooden carriages. It was claimed that the journey would take 33 minutes which means it travelled at around 8 miles per hour. While that might seem an age by modern standards but probably much quicker than over ground travel at that time!
The Yorkshire Gazette of this Saturday had a very brief reference that implies that they had had a trial run: THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY. The inauguration of the Metropolitan Railway took place today. The travelling is smooth and easy, but the tunnels are cold, and render warm clothing necessary.’
Reynold’s Newspaper of Sunday 11th gives us a fuller story:
‘The long talked of Metropolitan Underground Railway has at last been opened. Some six hundred invited guests assembled on Friday by one o’clock at the west end of the line to assist in inaugurating the great undertaking. At that hour the first train, drawn by two engines, and driven by Mr Nuxamore, the locomotive superintendent, left the Bishop’s-Road Station and, by slow degrees, stopping at all the stations to enable visitors to inspect the appointments of the railway, approached the Farrington-Street terminus. Here a sumptuous luncheon was prepared in a saloon extemporized over a portion of the line, and the visitors drank the health of the new line with great good-will.’