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The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How it Changed the City Forever [Paperback]

Christian Wolmar
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Sep 2005
Since Victorian times, London's Underground has made an extraordinary contribution to the economy of the capital and has played a vital role in the daily life of generations of Londoners. This wide-ranging history of the Underground celebrates the vision and determination of the Victorian pioneers who conceived this revolutionary transport system and the men who tunnelled to make the Tube. From the early days of steam to electrification, via the Underground's contribution to twentieth-century industrial design and its role during two world wars, the story comes right up to the present with its sleek, driverless trains and the wrangles over the future of the system. The Subterranean Railway reveals London's hidden wonder and shows how the railway beneath the streets helped create the city we know today.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; New ed. edition (15 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843540231
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843540236
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 251,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster, principally on transport matters. He writes regularly for a wide variety of publications including the Independent, Evening Standard and Rail magazine, and appears frequently on TV and radio as a commentator. His previous books include the widely-acclaimed The Subterranean Railway, a history of the London underground and Fire and Steam, a history of how the railways transformed Britain.

Product Description


"'A masterful account.' Michael Binyon, The Times; 'Wolmar... is a Pullman among story-tellers... I can think of few better ways to while away those elastic periods awaiting the arrival of the next east-bound Circle Line train than by reading it.' Tom Fort, Sunday Telegraph; 'The Subterranean Railway captures the enthusiasm of the early years... using a deft selection of facts and anecdotes.' John O'Connell, Time Out"

From the Inside Flap

'A subterranean railway under London was awfull suggestive of dark, noisome tunnels, buried many fathoms deep beyond the reach of light or life; passages inhabited by rats, soaked with sewer drippings, and poisoned by the escape of gas mains. It seemed an insult to common sense to suppose that people who could travel as cheaply to the city on the outside of a Paddington bus would ever prefer, as a merely quicker medium, to be driven amid palpable darkness through the foul subsoil of London...' THE TIMES, 30 NOVEMBER 1861 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting and Intelligent Book 17 Nov 2007
By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This excellent and intelligent book charts the history of the London Underground from the early 1870s until the present day. Naturally the period of early development and expansion up to the establishment of Herbert Morrison's London Transport in 1933 is given most space with the Victoria Line and Jubilee Extension being briefly covered. The building of the cut and cover Metropolitan and the District Railway and the intense rivalry of their respective chairmen Edward Watkin and James Forbes is most interesting. The simultaneous relating of the story of the deep line electric railways, the technological developments and the always interesting roles of the great characters and engineers involved is the strength and pleasure of this book. The complex story is related with a speed and clarity that gives the feeling of excitement and wonder that must have existed at the time. The contribution of American technology brought over by Charles Yerkes, the station designs of Leslie Green and the later Art Deco of Charles Holden, the administrative genius of Ashfield and Frank Pick who between them formed the look of the Underground system that we now take for granted as 'naturally' correct, are all covered with immense flair in this excellent book. Read this and then rush to buy Wolmar's 'Fire and Steam'.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creating The Gap of "Mind the Gap!" 24 Nov 2008
"The District (Line) ... attracted considerable negative (press) coverage with various mechanical failures and, in particular, its primitive air-operated doors which apparently had a tendency to tear off ladies' skirts, something particularly shocking to the Edwardian psyche." - from THE SUBTERRANEAN RAILWAY

Disclaimer: If you've never visited London and/or fallen in love with the Underground, or at least have no interest in how such mass transportation evolves, then you're likely to find THE SUBTERRANEAN RAILWAY excruciatingly boring. So, as is advised at the stations, just "pass along the platform", so to speak.

Having had the good fortune to enjoy Britain's capital many times, I've found the Tube to be both indispensable and an inseparable adjunct to any visit. Thus, for me, Christian Wolmar's volume about the evolution of this below-ground railway, from its inception in the mind of visionary Charles Pearson in the first half of the 19th century to the present day, was as enthralling as any couldn't-put-it-down thriller. OK, so I need to get a life.

THE SUBTERRANEAN RAILWAY includes two sections of black and white illustrations and photographs of the Underground both then and now, but mostly then. There's also a color section that comprises two route maps of the system from the early 20th century that are geographically correct - something I've never seen before - plus the more familiar schematic rendering of the network conceived by Harry Beck in 1931 and based on an electric circuit diagram. The version of the latter, current as of about 2006, spreads over two pages. Unfortunately the central fold of the volume rests squarely on the route of the Northern Line from Camden Town to Kennington and several stations are lost in the crease.
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91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
By Heather
This book deserves to be enjoyed well outside trainspotting or railway enthusiast circles. Charting the foundation and growth of one history's boldest engineering projects, it is full of fascinating revelations about London, its people, its politics, its demands and its ever-increasing needs. That sense of a secret world beneath our feet was never conveyed better. I read much of this book while travelling on the Underground itself, and emerged a good deal more appreciative of the visionary men who built it. Perhaps more commuters should do the same!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wolmar takes you down under. 3 April 2008
Christian Wolmar is a journalist who happens to have an interest in trains and this is one of many books he has written on the subject over the last 10 years.
Subterranean Railway focuses on the London Underground and how it grew to what we travel on today in our millions year on year.
Now personally I can just about tolerate the Underground in off peak times but when it comes to the peak hours it has to been one of the worse traveling experiences known to man or woman.
So with that in mind this book made me sit up and take notice of what a great feat on engineering the London Underground really is and still remains, the photo of Piccadilly Circus in chapter thirteen illustrates this point very well indeed.
In Chapters 1 to 13 Christian takes you on a journey from the Underground's construction during the 1850's and the subjacent creation of the first underground line the Metropolitan, then he goes on to explain the building and politics behind all the lines and finishes this part of the book with the story behind the creation of what is know as Metroland or to use another term, suburban London.
In Chapter 14 Christian goes onto explain the use of the underground during the war years and how it helped save many lives during the German bombing raids.
The London Underground is not without its problems by any means and in the last chapter Christian briefly explains why a lack of investment since the 1960's lead to a sad decline which was only turned around after the Kings Cross fire in the 1987.
Christian has done his research and because of this his book introduces and brings alive in your mind all the people that have played their part in the history of the Underground.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Financed by American money, all Londoners ought to read this - government ministers too.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. G. P. Emsden
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Mr Glyn J Childe
4.0 out of 5 stars Mbknees
Most interesting read. One off those books you can put down and pick up at random. Many facts about the start and formation of our underground system that has lead to what it is... Read more
Published 3 months ago by mbknees
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
Being a regular underground user and curious about its history this book is a real insight into the reasons for the network we see today and how a mix of politics and business... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent!
Another excellent and upgraded volume from that master of the railway history, Christian Wolmar!
This is a "must have" book for your collection!
Published 6 months ago by S M DIX
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is an excellent book for anyone interested in railways.
The only slight criticism is that Christian Wolmar needs to get his head around how the building of successful... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dave Wetzel
5.0 out of 5 stars The best type of popular history
This is the best type of accessible history by the best type of popular historian. Wolmar manages to tell you everything you want to know about the Underground without burying you... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Simon Jarrett
5.0 out of 5 stars its a great book
a old book I still loveit gets going from first page and gets even better as you get into book
Published 12 months ago by mrs d slater
4.0 out of 5 stars London Tube - a good history
I have been familiar with Christian Woolmer through the media, as he is often interviewed in connection with railways. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Kevin Boyd
5.0 out of 5 stars the subterranean railway
An extremely interesting book clearly laying out the Underground as we know it now. It does concentrate on the politics and finances but I suppose that is inevitable. Read more
Published 15 months ago by R. W. Pullan
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