Charting the extraordinary people involved in the history, foundation and development of the World’s finest subterranean railway. The original, oldest and greatest underground system on the planet simply wouldn't exist without this lot.
They've all played their part, some in a much bigger way than others, but either way;
...we salute them all!
George Shillibeer (1797-1866)
Entrepreneur, and pioneer of the London bus, Shillibeer established the first horse-drawn public omnibus service. This helped establish the new practice of 'commuting' to and from ones workplace, and paying a modest sum to do so. His route would be copied and eventually become that of the first underground line along the Euston Road from Paddington to Farringdon. Rather ironically, the Tube (along with heavy traffic) would go on to wreck his business model.
CHARLES PEARSON (1793-1862)
The godfather of the Tube.
A City of London solicitor and reformer who dreamt the whole mad thing up. Originally as a covered 'arcade' railway, but actually (at first) as a cut and cover section from Baker Street to Paddington.
Died the year before the first trains began running, but lived to see much of the construction work being undertaken.
EDGAR SPEYER (1862-1932)
One of the most famous and important figures in London Underground history. He is known for creating the first underground line, and for his efforts in connecting London's transportation system with the rest of Europe. Spyer had a vision for how to improve transportation in London: by building an underground rail system that would connect every major city centre with each other. This would allow people to travel more easily around the city, and could lead to new business opportunities as well as increased tourism.
The idea was not initially popular, but Spyer persisted, and even managed to enlist Queen Victoria herself in his cause. The queen was so impressed by the idea that she became involved, giving him funding and support through her advisors. Spyer's work on this project helped establish a precedent for modern transportation systems around the world: while it might seem like we take it for granted today, without his vision there would be no way for people who lived far away from each other to get around easily at all.
CHARLES GREY (1764 - 1845)
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (KG, PC) known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834. He was a descendant of the noble House of Grey and a member of the Whig Party.
He was Prime Minister at the time the RailwayAact was amended in 1823 crucially to allow passenger travel on railways.
A visionary and an innovator equally at home in the boardroom and on the ticket-collector's platform. Born a poor child, but by his mid-twenties already a millionaire. His wealth allowed him to travel the world and learn about other countries' transportation systems, which he then applied to his US transportation system.
In 1900 he opened one of the first underground lines in London, (all were privately owned until 1930). Soon after that he became involved in building a subway system across New York City.
His success with both led to him being called ‘The Father of Subways’ by Time magazine.
During his time as a civil engineer, Landmann conceived of the design and construction of of the London and Greenwich Railway line, built high above a swathe of south-east London. The railway was significant in many regards, not only London's first purpose built steam powered-commuter railway, but also the first railway to be built on viaducts and arches elevated above the ground. As this primarily using land owned by the church it was something that would just not have been be possible north of the river in central London. It also helped established the practice of living in one part of the capital and working in another.
WILLIAM HOWLEY (1766–1848)
As his role of Bishop of London and then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howley was instrumental in how the tube map still looks to this day. There are many theories as to why so much more of Tube network is north of the river. Many cite the high water table from where the river shifted over time, finance and sheer demand, all were factors, but the church is the most dominant cause. The church owned much of the land south of the river and allowed pioneering commuter-railways to be built overground on it. The opposite was true for much of central London north of the Thames, forcing the railways quite literally 'underground'.
MARC BRUNEL(1769 - 1849)
SIR ROBERT PEEL (1788-1850)
The twice Prime Minister of England is perhaps more famous for the introduction of the Metropolitan Police, but also played a significant part in the development of the Tube due to the Railway Act (1844) Guaranteed services at a fair price and quality/ safety for all, and helped enormously the idea of commuting to ones workplace.
peter barlow (1809-1885) and family
The Barlow family of engineers are notable for not only conceiving the idea for the second tunnel underneath the Thames; the 'Tower Subway' along with the tunnelling technology to make it all possible. Opened in 1869 the original idea was for small carriages to be pulled through its length using cables. It is still visible today, near the current site of Tower Bridge/ Tower of London and houses electricity cables.
James Szlumper (1834 - 1926)
James Weeks Szlumper was an English civil engineer who was born on January 29, 1834, in Westminster. He had a dual career as a railway engineer, laying out some of the key lines linking major routes to the wider countryside of Wales and the West. Szlumper was appointed surveyor to the county of Cardiganshire in 1853, where he served for 25 years. He was also the Chief Engineer on several key railway engineering projects during the Victorian era including much of the tube.
IRISH NAVVY - THE 'NAVIGATOR'
Dug a lot of tunnels, drank a lot, fought a lot.
The Navvy, was a term used to describe the thousands of Irish men who immigrated to Great Britain in the 19th century to work on construction projects, such as railways, canals, and roads. They were known for their hard work, toughness, and heavy drinking culture. Dug all of the earliest tube tunnels by completely by hand.
SIR EDWARD WATKIN (1819 - 1901)
British railway entrepreneur and Liberal politician. He was instrumental in the construction of the world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, and was also involved in the construction of the original Channel Tunnel, which was never completed.
Watkin was a controversial figure due to his grandiose schemes and financial difficulties.
SIR JOHN FOWLER (1817 - 1898)
British civil engineer who lived from 1817 to 1898 and a key figure in the construction of several major railway projects in the UK, including the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland. Fowler was also involved in the construction of the London Underground in the early years and was knighted for his services to engineering in 1890.
benjamin baker (1840 - 1907)
Feted for his engineering work on the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, which was the longest bridge in the world when it was completed in 1890. Baker also worked on several other major engineering projects, including the Aswan Dam in Egypt and the Metropolitan Railway.
John Wolfe-Barry (1836 - 1918)
Best known for constructing Tower Bridge over the Thames in partnership with Marc Brunel, but also was instrumental in building the first part of the circle and district lines. Wolfe-Barry also worked on the railway into Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations for Sir John Hawkshaw, through to the First World War. His father, architect Sir Charles Barry was renowned for designing the Houses of Parliament.
Henry tennant (1823 - 1910)
Henry Tennant (1823–1910) was a British railway administrator. He served as general manager of the North Eastern Railway from 1870 to 1891. He was chairman of the Central London Railway (now the Central Line) from 1895 to 1898 and subsequently a director of the company. During his tenure, Tennant oversaw the construction of the CLR's tunnels and stations, which form the central section of the London Underground's Central line which was established in 1889, and funding for construction was obtained in 1895 through a syndicate of financiers.
LESLIE GREEN (1875 – 1908)
Best known for his iconic designs of London Underground stations at the turn of the last century. His use of oxblood red faience blocks, semi-circular first-floor windows, and patterned tiled interiors created a distinctive visual identity for the Underground. Some of his notable works include the stations at Oxford Circus, Covent Garden, and Elephant & Castle.
Green's legacy continues to influence contemporary architects and designers around the world, and when the Bond Street Elizabeth Line station was finished a building close by was clad in modern oxblood red tiles as a lasting tribute.