If you’re at a loose end in the West End between now and October, the Poster Art 150 exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is worth a look. It’s a diverting display of how the Tube has sold itself to Londoners since the first line opened 150 years ago.
Among the most fascinating advertisements is one featuring newspaper clippings from parts of London not served by the Tube. Here, we see civic worthies from the old south-east London metropolitan boroughs making the case for lines to run out to Lewisham and Woolwich.
It wasn’t just the good councillors of Greenwich, Woolwich, Lewisham, Deptford, Camberwell, Southwark and Bermondsey who wanted to get on the Tube map – the poster also features pleas from Finsbury Park and Wood Green, describing mayhem and road deaths at the former location.
All these pleas were put to use to promote the new Northern Line link to Morden, which opened in 1926 – and a reminder that some things simply don’t change.
Six years later, the Piccadilly Line powered north from Finsbury Park to Wood Green and beyond; while 42 years later, the Victoria Line opened for business.
87 years later, SE London is stil waiting, three Jubilee Line stations not withstanding. The successors of those councillors in Greenwich and Woolwich don’t seem interested any more – preferring new roads and the DLR on stilts, deciding that in the future we’ll be as likely to want to go to the Royal Docks rather than central London.
But their neighbours in Camberwell, Southwark, Bermondsey, Lewisham and Deptford are still campaigning – with Southwark Council leader Peter John scenting victory on getting the Bakerloo Line sorted.
“We’ve got it at last right at the top of the Mayor of London’s agenda.
“That’s very exciting for the residents of Southwark and very exciting for the residents of Lewisham.
“It would be very exciting for the residents of Bromley but their Conservative leader is utterly opposed to extension of the tube to Bromley.
“He doesn’t want to see jobs and growth in his borough. Well shame on him!”
Pesky conservatives, not interested in new Tube lines, eh?
Want to know just how popular a new(ish) line can be? Take a look at this hypnotic video from Oliver O’Brien, showing Oyster card usage across London, across the day.
Right the way across London you can see the Tube lines stand out, particularly that southern bit of the Northern Line. What’s striking in the Tube-light south-east is just how busy both North Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal are right through the day, the latter almost overshadowing Lewisham. (Indeed, Canary Wharf aside, the rest of the DLR doesn’t really seem to figure much.) Six years from now, if the station at Woolwich actually opens, the impact of Crossrail will be one to watch.
Then the next thing that stands out is the London Overground, with New Cross Gate and (to a lesser extent) Brockley pulsing through the day. Build the new lines, and they’ll come.
Southeastern’s services barely seem to register at all – admittedly, that’ll partly be down to fewer passengers using Oyster, but the video shows that nearly nine decades on, the potential for a Tube to SE London is still huge.