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HomeThe TubeTube of Wonder: Top Ten London Underground Mysteries

Tube of Wonder: Top Ten London Underground Mysteries

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The world below the surface has always been a place of mystery, and the same goes for the London Underground.  Built in 1863, it was the first underground metropolitan railway in the world.  Of course, over time, the Tube has developed its own sub-culture (pun intended), including many urban legends and forgotten lore.  From wondering who that mysterious voice is to mass panic caused by fiction, we’re having a look at ten bewildering mysteries of the London Underground and what answers exist…if any…

Murders on the District Line?

At least, that was the subject of John Oxenham’s serialised horror novel, A Mystery of the Underground.  Published in 1897 in To-day magazine, a series of slayings in the first-class carriage every Tuesday on the District Line prompted real-life Londoners to avoid the Underground ‘lest they meet the same fate.

Who are the Ghosts of the Underground?

London is a very haunted city and this extends to the Tube.  Many deaths have been connected to the Underground, whether by their own hand or another’s, or building and maintaining the railway, or even from natural causes, it’s been said that some of the poor souls never leave.  Phantom footsteps have been heard in the Aldgate station late at night.  The Bakerloo line passengers sometimes see a ghostly figure sitting next to them in the glass reflection that isn’t there when they turn to look.  The South Kensington station even once reported a phantom train in 1928.  These are but the tip of the iceberg.

A Station that Closed Before It Ever Opened?

There are many Underground stations that have been closed as ridership declined or new routes made them obsolete.  One that never even got a chance is known to staff as Bull & Bush, though its original name was North End.  It’s name comes from the Bull & Bush Pub nearby and it was supposed to be part of the Hampstead Heath extension at the turn of the century.  However, plans changed after the platforms and lift tunnels had already been constructed, so everything was just bricked up and never used as a station.  The station has seen other uses as it was a storage site for government records during World War 2 and part of London’s civil defense preparations during the Cold War.

Who is that Mysterious Voice?

The iconic phrase “Mind the Gap” was introduced in 1968 as a short automated warning chosen due to limited data storage capacity.  Sound engineer Peter Lodge had hired an actor to read that line and the command “Stand clear of the closing doors”, but the actor wanted royalties, so Lodge recorded his own voice instead.  Other stations use different voices, including Emma Clark and Tim Bentinck.  Ten stations supplied with announcement systems by PA Communications Ltd. have the voice of Keith Wilson, the firm’s industrial sales manager in 1990.  The Northern Line used the voice of actor Oswald Laurence until it was gradually phased out.  A request from the actor’s widow kept his voice at Embankment station so she could still hear it.

What New Creatures Exist in the Underground?

Scientists discovered Culex pipiens f. molestus, a new species of mosquito, in the underground in 1998.  Living in the tunnels, it mostly prays on rats and mice, and the unfortunate workmen who get bitten occasionally.

Who is Inspector Sands?

Sometimes you may hear an announcement asking for Inspector Sands.  The name is actually a coded signal for staff to investigate a fire alarm that has gone off so they can determine the severity rather than create a mass panic.  The code originated with the theater, but it raises a question of what other codes may exist.

What’s Really on Your Seat?

A forensic investigation of something you use everyday can be both fascinating and disgusting.  In 2000, scientists in the Department of Forensics at University College London took a row of passengers seats from the Central Line and subjected it to testing.  On the surface of the seats, they found the following:  four types of hairs (human, mouse, rat, and dog), seven types of insects (mostly still-alive fleas), vomit from nine different people, human urine from four different people, human excrement, rodent excrement, and human semen.  Taking the seats apart, they found:  the remains of six mice and four rats as well as a brand new type of fungus.

Where’s the Sense of Humour?

It’s been said that Tube staffers never smile, but they do have their own sense of humour, as sometimes heard by the train announcers.  Announcers may occasionally do an American style announcement to alleviate the boredom.  Other times, they may tell off the passenger who doesn’t obey the warnings, such as the announcer who proclaimed, “To the gentleman wearing the long gray coat trying to get on the second carriage, what part of ‘Stand clear of the closing doors’ don’t you understand?”  If they’re feeling particularly cheeky, they may act like an airline pilot instead.

What Caused Panic Attacks on the Circle Line?

One urban legend states that the Circle Line, one of the oldest on the Underground, began experiencing major electrical problems in the 1990s.  Underground officials and maintenance workers were baffled by the occurrences as they could find nothing wrong.  A passenger who’d been riding the Tube for 15 years said that he noticed the disturbances began after leaving the Baker Street station but prior to arriving at Edgeware Road and that the journey between coincided with a rise in general uneasiness and panic attacks.  Consulting the British Museum, officials discovered that the area had contained a massive Black Death burial pit.  The Underground’s solution?  A blessing and some holy water, asking workers to refrain from swearing in the area, and replacing the electrical work for the second time in a year.  After this, it’s said that the disturbances sharply decreased.

What’s Behind the Townhomes on Leinster Gardens?

23 and 24 Leinster Gardens may look like a pair of ordinary houses from the front, but they’re totally fake.  In the days of steam driven Tube trains, the facade was built to hide the smoke as the train emerged from the tunnel to the surface.  The BBC programme Sherlock made use of this feature in 2014, revealing a fictional hiding space.

John Rabon
Author: John Rabon

John is a regular writer for Anglotopia and its sister websites. He is currently engaged in finding a way to move books slightly to the left without the embarrassment of being walked in on by Eddie Izzard. For any comments, questions, or complaints, please contact the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's haircut.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. What’s Really on Your Seat gives you a perfect excuse not to participate in No Trousers Day!

    Re Emma Clark: I googled her and found that she does announcements for Classic FM as well. I used to listen to that station online– I thought her voice on the tube sounded familiar!

  2. Re the following:
    Who are the Ghosts of the Underground?

    London is a very haunted city and this extends to the Tube. Many deaths have been connected to the Underground, whether by their own hand or another’s, or building and maintaining the railway, or even from natural causes, it’s been said that some of the poor souls never leave. Phantom footsteps have been heard in the Aldgate station late at night. The Bakerloo line passengers sometimes see a ghostly figure sitting next to them in the glass reflection that isn’t there when they turn to look. The South Kensington station even once reported a phantom train in 1928. These are but the tip of the iceberg.
    – – –
    Howzabout letting us in on more than “the tip of the iceberg”? Are there any books or other accessible media or other sources that can give us more on the subject, especially for we on the other side of the pond who may have to do some searching?

Comments are closed.