Today (April 30) in London History – the Jubilee Line

The Jubilee Line opened on April 30, 1979. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


It’s April 30th.

This one I’m dedicating to the London Underground – and with very good reason. The which very good reason will be revealed in a moment or two. But canapes first. Just to get us in the mood. You know, a favourite London Underground story or two.

My personal favourite is that tongue-in-cheek competition the New Statesman – the left-of-centre political and cultural rag – ran many years ago. Readers were invited to submit entries under the rubric Misleading Advice for Foreigners. Bit of British – bit of London – black humour, really. 

The winning entry would be the one guaranteed to get Johnny Foreigner into the worst possible pickle. And, as it happened, the winning entry was a piece of London Underground advice.

You ready? Here it is, the gold medal winner, the most appalling piece of misleading advice for foreigners:

“On entering an Underground train, it is customary to shake hands with all those present.”

As one judge put it, gaggles of well-meaning foreigners taking that advice to heart, intent on doing in London as they’ve been led to believe Londoners do, the results and the confused scene defy one’s imagination. 

So that’s one canape. Here’s another. Today, April 30th, 1979, we’ve got a Londoner, a gentleman in his early 30s, who last rode the Tube when he was a child. And he’s very excited because he’s the first person to ride the new Jubilee Line, which opened today. 

Ok, that’s enough cloying facetiousness. 

Get it said, David, and get on with it. Prince Charles opened the new Jubilee Line on April 30th, 1979. He was the first customer. And, yes, he did own up that the last time he rode the Tube was when he was a child. 

Some facts and figures for you. And then a bit of London flavouring. The Jubilee Line was very London in that it was a mix of the old and the new. Indeed, all-seeing, all-knowing Wikipedia puts the adjective ‘new’ – as in ‘new’ line – in inverted commas. Those inverted commas do a lot of heavy lifting. In short, the ‘new’ line in 1979 had been proposed 30 years earlier, had no new buildings, and served some stations going back to the 1860s. The only truly new part was the 4 kms of twin tunnels between Baker Street and Charing Cross. The new Jubilee Line cost 87 million pounds and it was very much a work in progress. Even when it was completed. Aside here: what was true of the Jubilee Line is true of London. London is a work in progress. London’s going to be a great place when they finally finish it.

But seriously, Londoners will of course recognise immediately that Charing Cross is no longer the end of the Jubilee Line. Indeed, Charing Cross is no longer a Jubilee Line station. From Green Park Station now the Jubilee Line goes to Westminster Station and then onwards on its great south and easterly swing, the famous Jubilee Line extension terminating in Stratford. And any whinging about not many new stations, no new buildings, etc. for the new line – well, the extension put paid to those complaints. The £3.3 billion pound extension is now over 20 years old and it hasn’t dated a bit – architecturally, aesthetically, engineeringly – if that’s a word – it’s the platonic ideal of futuristic.

A couple more brushstrokes.

The Jubilee line was originally going to be called the Fleet Line. In accordance with the original plan to extend it along Fleet Street. It was going to go to Fenchurch Street and then as far as Thamesmead. 

That didn’t happen. And if you think about it there was something a little bit belated about naming it the Jubilee Line. After all, the Queen’s silver jubilee was already two years in the past. But never mind. It’s the thought that counts.

What also counts, if you’re going to live in London, is learning to think like a savvy Londoner. Personal story by way of a case in point. I’m of course a Yank, And yes a Yank who’s lived here for nearly 50 years. But I’m certainly not as London savvy as the little English rose I’m married to. When we moved to West Hampstead I was a little disappointed, like every American I had my heart set on Hampstead. Mary did a quick bit of course correction. She said West Hampstead’s got far better transport infrastructure – that’s hugely important for us as Londoners. Hampstead has the Northern Line. I must have looked uncomprehendingly at her because she said, “the misery line, that’s what Londoners call it, because it’s old and it’s always breaking down. We’re much much better served in West Hampstead. You’ll see.” She was right of course. Extraordinary the way they just “know”, Londoners. The way they’re so savvy. Take things like this into account when they’re deciding on something as important as a place to live. 

Another bit of London flavouring. The April 30th opening of the Jubilee Line almost came a cropper because of industrial action. Industrial action of course means precisely the opposite of what it says. Industrial action means industrial inaction. Anyway eight signalmen were in a dispute with bosses over an ungrading complaint. They said as long as the matter was outstanding they weren’t going to operate new equipment. Which would have kiboshed the grand opening. In the event, they decided not to go ahead with their threat and everything went according to plan. 

In the words of Prince Charles, “I would like to congratulate London Transport for getting me onto the Underground for the first time since I was a child.”

Busy day for the Prince of Wales. He rode the Jubilee Line all the way to Stanmore where he opened the Graham Hill Rehabilitation Centre at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

And now, Today in London. A few weeks back I said this part of the podcast is not always going to be given over to recommending museums and walks and shows, just occasionally I’ll work a piece of London savvy into the weave. And on that day I explained the three-minute rule-of-thumb that Londoners use to estimate how long a tube journey will take. Well, a second instalment on those same lines, This from the aforementioned London lass, little Miss Mary.

It’s a tip how to change from the Jubilee Line to the Piccadilly Line at Green Park Station. Or vice versa, from the Piccadilly Line to the Jubilee Line. Mary says, “don’t follow the signs to the Jubilee Line – or to the Piccadilly Line – that way takes forever, involves a hopelessly long walk along a tunnel – no just follow the Way Out sign. If you’re changing from the Jubilee Line to the Piccadilly Line just take the escalator up as if you’re exiting the station and then walk the short distance to the Piccadilly Line escalator and take it down to the Piccadilly Line. Or vice versa if you’re changing from the Piccadilly Line to the Jubilee Line. It’s much faster, much more efficient, much less taxing. It’ll save you a ton of time. And there you go, that’s how a savvy Londoner does it. 

You’ve been listening to You’ve been listening to the Today in London History London Walks podcast. Emanating from – home of London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company, indeed London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

The reason for all those awards is the calibre of the guiding. With London Walks guiding is not summer job guiding. It’s not paint-by-numbers guiding. You will NOT be guided by a college student who’s memorised a script. You will be guided by accomplished professionals – barristers, doctors, Museum of London archaeologists, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, historians, distinguished academics, elite, professionally-qualified Guide of the Year Award-winning Blue Badge, City of London and Westminster Guides. Well-connected, experienced, savvy, assured guides – Guides who make the new familiar and the familiar new. It’s elementary my dear Watson: A top-flight guide is worth every penny. A mediocre guide is time and money wasted. 

And on that note, good night from London. See ya tomorrow. 

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