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The Vintage Guide To London | December 17, 2017

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Underground, Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube

Book review: Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube
Lena Weber

If you live in London you will probably have a love-hate relationship with the tube. Or maybe just a hate relationship. But is our current, often far from pleasant experience as tube passengers really unique? What was it like taking the tube in Victorian times or during the Twenties? Andrew Martin’s wonderful book Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube reveals the ups and downs of tube travel through the decades.

I have to confess I seldomly take the tube, such is my commitment to London buses, their cheaper fares and the bird’s eye view from the top deck. However, if anything or anyone has recently managed to change my mind and got me to take the tube, just for the sake of riding on it, it has been Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube (Andrew Martin, Profile Books, £8.99 on Amazon).

Although the book chronicles the development of the tube, from the cut-and-cover lines of the Metropolitan Railway of the 1860s to today’s Crossrail development, it is far more than a history of the companies and men – all largely driven by profit of course – who built it. Martin’s anecdotes and historical tales conjure up the steam filled, smoky Victorian tunnels (kept lit as to calm passengers’ nerves), the glamorous tube carriages of the Twenties and Thirties that would bring in revelers from the suburban Art deco tube stations of Metroland to the night hub of Soho and the Eighties tube of the city boys, who would stop for a pint in one of the customary tube station bars of the past.

Moreover, Martin has reminded me of some of London’s most fascinating overground places: the fake houses in Leinster Gardens hiding train tracks below them and the country-side feel of far-flung stations like Theydon Bois.

The book also addresses the many questions you might have asked yourself waiting for the next train, such as “will I die if I pee on the tracks” or “who is the voice behind the Mind The Gap recordings”. All will be revealed.