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Metropolitan Railway, Paddington to Farringdon
Metropolitan and Circle Lines, London Underground, London., UK
associated engineer
Sir John Fowler
date  February 1860 - 9th January 1863
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  TQ314819
ICE reference number  HEW 2273
The Metropolitan was the world's first underground passenger railway, and ran originally from Paddington to Farringdon Street via King's Cross. The 'London Underground' idea came from the demand for fast travel through London from the various main line termini, which was not possible in horse-drawn vehicles on congested streets.
The Metropolitan Railway Company (MRC) was formed in 1854 by Act of Parliament, with Sir John Fowler as engineer. Raising the necessary funds proved difficult until solicitor Charles Pearson persuaded the City of London Corporation to invest in the project. Construction began in February 1860.
The railway was at very shallow depths by modern standards, and most of the excavation was begun at the surface, rather than by tunnelling. The chosen route followed existing roads as much as possible to minimise the demolition of buildings and the associated compensation payments, but did caused traffic chaos.
From Paddington to King's Cross, tunnels were constructed using the cut-and-cover method. The tunnel trench was lined either side with brick walls, before the roof was added and backfilled as required. From King's Cross to Farringdon, the railway is in an open cutting except for a 222m long tunnel beneath Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell.
Where depth allowed, the tunnel roof was formed from an elliptical brick arch spanning between the brick walls. Elsewhere the roof structure was cast iron girders supporting brick jack arches.
The shallow depth of the railway meant that passengers could access the stations via stairways rather than lifts, but services such as water, gas, sewers and telegraph lines had to be diverted.
In 1862, Sir John Fowler appointed Benjamin Baker as a junior assistant, with a Mr Greathead as resident engineer. On 18th June that year, a few weeks after the first trial over the full length of the line, the Fleet Ditch sewer near Farringdon Street burst its banks and flooded the tunnel heaving aside a section of brick wall 90m long, 9m high and 2.6m thick.
The railway line was laid throughout with three rails, so that it could accommodate both the broad gauge (2.14m between rails) used by Brunel's Great Western Railway (GWR) and the standard gauge (1.435m between rails) used by other companies. Initially, only GWR rolling stock was used as the MRC did not actually own any trains.
One of the major problems associated with frequent trains and closely spaced stations underground was the slow dissipation of dirty smoke and water vapour produced by the steam engines. New engines, designed by Daniel Gooch, had pipework to divert exhaust steam into a water tank beneath the boiler. This heated (boiling) water was then replaced with cold water at the termini.
The MRC directors opened the line formally on 9th January 1863, celebrating the event with a banquet at Farringdon Street terminus. Public services began on 10th January, stopping at Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road (Great Portland Street), Gower Street (Euston Square) and King's Cross. The maximum speed allowed was 40km per hour, and trains covered the 6km route in 18 minutes. Some 30,000 people used the railway on its first day.
There were connections to the GWR tracks at Paddington and the Great Northern Railway (GNR) tracks at King's Cross.
After a dispute with GWR, who withdrew their rolling stock, the MRC borrowed and purchased rolling stock from GNR and was able to run its own trains and services from August 1863. Relations with GWR improved and the line was shared from October 1863 until 1869, when the broad gauge was removed.
In May 1864, the MRC set a precedent in London by introducing cheaper workmen's fares for travel on early trains.
Services were soon being extended across London, the first from Farringdon Street to Moorgate Street opened in December 1865. Then followed Paddington to South Kensington (1868), Moorgate via Liverpool Street to Bishopsgate (1875) and Bishopsgate to Aldgate (1876). This formed the west, north and east parts of a line then called the Inner Circle.
Many subsequent additions have been made to the original underground railway. Part of it formed a loop around central London that would become the Circle Line, while the western end became part of the modern Metropolitan Line.
Assistant engineer: Benjamin Baker
Resident Engineer: Mr Greathead
Main contractor (Paddington to Euston Square): Smith & Knight
Main contractor (Euston Square to the City): John Kay
Research: ECPK
Obituary, Sir Benjamin Baker
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, 1907
"Underground to Everywhere" by Stephen Halliday
Sutton Publishing Ltd, London, 2001
reference sources   CEH Lond

Metropolitan Railway, Paddington to Farringdon