Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Old London Underground Company and The American Investor

The American investor Charles Tyson Yerkes is very similar to some of the investors the The Old London Underground Company is in contact with today. Forthright, hard working and visionary in their concept of suitable investments.

Who knew that this name would go down in the annals of London Underground history when this American financier arrived here in 1898, took one look at the chaos of London's streets, and promptly bought a large interest in the District Railway.

This was a man who had cut his transport teeth in Chicago where he'd developed the tramway and suburban railway systems, but where his dubious business practices (for want of a better description) also meant he'd left that city in a hurry and with $15 million in cash in his pocket.

For Yerkes, the electrification of the underground railways was his goal and it was his vision that accelerated the development of what is today's Tube service.

In 1900 he added another interest to the District line, this time in the yet unbuilt deep-level underground line, the Charing Cross Euston and Hampstead Railway company (now the Northern Line), paying £100,000 to the company, obtaining parliamentary authorisation and become the company's chairman. The following year he had full control of the District line and formed a new company, the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company in 1901, raising most of the £1 million investment in America, the Brits still being rather wary of this new-fangled electrification idea and its American proponent. Six months later, the MDET gained the Brompton and Piccadilly railway, followed by the Baker Street and Waterloo line (now known as the Bakerloo Line) in March 1902.

Along the way, Yerkes had serious competition from another American financier, J P Morgan, who was also trying to make a fortune from the London Underground railways. But Morgan's aims were to be thwarted, as further investment raised by shares in a new company created the latest of Yerke's businesses: the Underground Electric Railways of London.

It was to take another three years before the first successful trial run of an electric train was to take place in 1905, from Mill Hill Park (Acton Town) along the southern section of what later became the Circle Line. But this was just the start.

This American's visionary and ruthless approach revolutionised the development of the London Underground, and in less than 10 years. Sometimes it takes an outsider's energy and nerve to show us what needs to be done, and this is certainly true of Charles Tyson Yerkes. London's transport system owes a huge debt to this American who saw the wisdom of investing in this key element of the city's infrastructure.

Today, The Old London Underground Company is asking others to see the possibilities that exist to renew the historical legacy of a vision like Yerkes's and create a whole new opportunity for London.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

1908 and the London Underground

The 1908 Olympics were scheduled to be held in Italy, but after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906, they were transferred to London and held at the newly built White City Stadium.

But it wasn't the only big event in London in 1908. The Franco-British exhibition, also held at White City, attracted 8 million visitors.

London is no stranger to large events, and the London Underground has always played a big part.

Scroll forward to 2011 and all the preparations for next year's Olympics in London, along with the city's extensive new Crossrail Link. Scroll back and it's interesting to note the numbers of 'missing' Tube stations that have closed during the 103 years between 1908 and now.

White City, which opened as Wood Lane (Exhibition) Station on May 1st 1908, temporarily closed between 1914 and 1920, then reopened at Wood Lane (White City) before being renamed White City on November 23rd 1947, before finally closing on October 25th 1959. It wasn't until 2003 however, that the last remnants of the station building were demolished.

In contrast to today's Tube map, the one above for 1908 looks barely recognisable from Harry Beck's 1931 diagrammatic version still in use today. In 1908 the Northern Line hadn't yet made it further than Golder's Green and Highgate and, looking closely, it's easy to see that many of the old stations are gone...

For example, York Road and Down Street (on the old, yellow Piccadilly line); Chancery Lane and British Museum (on the old, blue Central line); and South Kentish Town (on the Hampstead, now the Northern line).

The Tube has an extraordinary legacy of engineering, architecture and innovation, and it is this legacy that The Old London Underground Company is working towards revitalising, planning to utilise an extraordinary resource for the benefit of Londoners and its visitors.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Mayor of London's pledge to The Old London Underground Company (BBC Parliament TV)

At the State of London debate on June 24th 2010, Mayor Boris Johnson said to Ajit Chambers:

"This guy has a brilliant plan to open up disused underground stations... My pledge to you is that we will do it if it doesn't cost a penny of tax payers' money..."

See the full exchange between Ajit Chambers and Boris Johnson in the video above.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Old London Underground Company

It has captured the imaginations of native Londoners, and those who visit the city, since it first opened almost 150 years ago. Its huge infrastructure of tunnels and underground stations has shored up the capital and sustained it during peacetime and war.

Today it's known as the Tube.

But there are currently 26 disused stations around London, with an initial 12 that lend themselves to the innovative use for music, arts, theatrical and fashion events, proposed by The Old London Underground Company (TOLUC), the brainchild of entrepreneur Ajit Chambers.

"The idea is, there's an adventure just below our feet. It's fantastic down there, and one of London's assets that should be exploited for everyone."

Two years in the planning and consultation, TOLUC has designed a business model that will realise the untapped potential of these resources. TOLUC's business plan show a consortium of companies with agreements that form an achievable delivery plan.

TOLUC will achieve
  • Sound commercial use of a currently unused business opportunity
  • Creation of investment and finance opportunities for London, in keeping with the Mayor's stated aims
  • Capture of London's largest unused asset within a proven robust economic recovery twin sector - Leisure & Tourism
  • A sustainable investment model collaborating with TfL/LU international consultancy strategy
  • Investor inclusion in the proven financial methodology with global recognition across Reuters, Bloomberg and the FT
This is a win-win opportunity for a city currently balancing the effects of a global economic recession while having to accommodate the demands of a Royal Wedding and next year's Olympic Games, while maintaining a system that serves 3.5 million daily journeys.

Without financial risk, the Mayor of London and TfL can utilise this unique asset that will provide much needed income for London, create positive publicity and opportunities for investment and jobs, while helping support the Leisure & Tourism industry (a growth area) during a global recession.

The Old London Underground Company meets The Camden Railway Heritage Trust

The Old London Underground Company meets with The Camden Railway Heritage Trust to assist with the Camden Catacombs. The subterranean chambers were traditionally built for the burial of bones and many cities have them, snaking along underneath the streets, often open to the public as tourist attractions. You can find catacombs in Lima, Odessa, Paris, Palermo, Alexandria and even Edinburgh. But you won't find ancestral bones in the ones in Camden, they were designed for a very different purpose.

These underground chambers were built in the 19th century to house the horses and pit ponies that used by the railways to deliver and pick up goods for transportation. An extensive network of tunnels, from Euston mainline station all the way up and under Camden Lock market, and the Primrose Hill rail depot. You can trace the route via iron grills set into the roads, allowing light and air into the network of underground tunnels.

There is even an underground lake, or canal basin, providing water and - probably unintentionally - access to urban adventurers who like to enter the tunnels in this way and do their own, unauthorised, exploring.

The Camden Catacombs - another example of London's extensive portfolio of underground spaces that The Old London Underground Company are assisting.

The Old London Underground Company - meets the Director of the Brunel Museum.

The Old London Underground Company have offered assistance with sponsorship and financing to the Brunel Museum to make sure that this feat of engineering is protected historically and not solely used as a transport link.

The first tunnel, the Thames Tunnel, which opened on March 25th 1843, was hailed as the "Eighth Wonder" of the world. It connected Rotherhithe with Wapping, and was built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel, father of the more famous Isambard.

The tunnel measures 35 feet (11 metres) wide by 20 feet (6 metres) high and is 1,300 feet (396 metres) long and runs at a depth of 75 feet (23 metres). Its excavation was extremely hazardous: the tunnel was prone to flooding, and six men died in 1828, it also exposed its workers to "foul air" which caused fevers. The work was then abandoned for seven years, until in 1834 Brunel succeeded in raising sufficient money to start work again. It cost a fortune to build and was never a financial success. Designed initially for use by horse-drawn carriages, lack of funds meant that it ended up as a foot tunnel only.

In 1865, it was bought by the East London Railway Company and was eventually absorbed into the London Underground (Tube) network and is today, after its re-modelling and reopening in 2010, as part of the East London line extension - and, bizarrely, an underground part of the new London Overground.

The Thames Tunnel is, however, one of at least 20 tunnels that run under the river today -more than in any other country or capital. There are 12 London Underground tunnels (9 in use, and 3 disused), three road tunnels, two foot tunnels (the Woolwich foot tunnel and the Greenwich foot tunnel), eight service tunnels, and two BT tunnels.

In the beginning...

It's easy to forget that there was a time before the London Underground transport system, when traffic was even more congested than today, and pollution from horse droppings and industrialisation meant that 19th century London was a filthy city almost at a standstill.

London has always had an underground life, from its many crypts and tunnels to its numerous underground rivers, since the Romans, and this can be seen in the remains of a military fort beneath the Museum of London. To go underground in an attempt to ease the disastrous effects of the post-industrial revolution on London, when as a city its population more than doubled from under 1 to over 2.5 million in 50 years between 1800 and 1850, seemed an obvious solution.

Historically, the person credited with the first idea for underground transportation in London was one Charles Pearson who, in 1845, published a pamphlet that suggested using the Fleet River, which runs underground from Hampstead via Kentish Town and Farringdon to join the Thames at Blackfriar's Bridge. In fact, Farringdon Road is the Fleet valley under which the river runs, and Holborn Viaduct was built to cross it. Pearson's idea was that passengers would be transported by trains in some sort of fantastical glass tunnel.

Engineering was a big feature of progress in Victorian England. Following the "Big Stink" of 1858, civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette designed an underground sewage system of 450 miles of main sewers, and 13,000 miles of interconnecting local sewers, which remains the mainstay of our system today. Bazalgette, by then knighted, went on to work on the Blackwell tunnel, now borrowing under the Thames itself.

The scene was set. Finally, the parliamentary bill received Royal Assent, but funding was still to be found. The work was to be executed by one John Fowler, from Sheffield who had cut his teeth on the railways of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and finally in 1860 work began on the world's first underground railway system, the Metropolitan line.

Using a system of "cut and cover" roads were literally dug up, railway tunnels cut out, and then covered up and the roads replaced. Hugely labour intensive and disruptive, it took three years to complete the first track which ran from Bishop's Road, Paddington to Farringdon Road, finally opening to the public on Saturday January 10th 1863.

Friday, 11 March 2011

The Old London Underground Company start proceedings with The Kingsway telephone exchange

The Old London Underground Company started proceedings regarding the future of The Kingsway telephone in 2009.

The exchange didn't start life as a telephone exchange. It started life as the Chancery Lane station on the Central London Railway underground line, built between Shepherd's Bush and Bank, and opened on July 30th 1900. Forty years later, Chancery Lane station was designated one of the city's "deep shelters" designed to withstand the onslaught of the Blitz during WW2, opening in March 1942 and providing safe shelter for up to 8,000 people at a time.

In 1945 it became the home of the Public Records Office until they ran out of space two years later, and had to find an alternative home. So in 1949 it was agreed that what had been the Chancery Lane station/deep shelter should become a new home for the Post Office's main telephone exchange. This required more excavation, extending the tunnels and enlarging the premises to accommodate what was called "a telephone city under London".

Opening for business in 1954, 100 feet below street level, the Kingsway trunk exchange was a fully self-contained, air-conditioned home for its 200 workers complete with restaurant and bar. It had its own water supply from an artesian well, and fuel tanks that held enough to keep the generators going for six weeks. Automatic routing was provided for over 6,000 calls at any one time, and also provided the "hot line" that connected US and Russian presidents during the Cold War.

What's more, between its opening in 1954 and 1966, the Kingsway exchange remained completely secret. Even in the 1980s its full use remain discreet, and it wasn't until the late 1990s that it was decommissioned and finally, in 2008, became surplus to BT's requirements.