“Mind the gap, please.” Loving these articles about the 150s anniversary of the London underground!
The name Central line was formally adopted in 1937, at the same time as the line was being extended east and west as part of a London-wide integration and expansion programme, though many of the stations built in the late 1930s were not opened until after the second world war. For the duration of the war, those stations – especially in heavily bombed east London – served as air-raid shelters, and the tube tunnels became the sites of factories and warehouses. From 1942-45, armaments company Plessey had a factory producing aircraft components in the 2.5-mile twin tunnels between Leytonstone and Gants Hill. The Central line really has seen it all, and continues to be a touchstone of life in the capital.
I stop briefly at Stratford, the shiny, energetic new face of east London, home of the Olympic park and Westfield shopping centre. I like Westfield – the brashness, the anthemic music, the ice rink where the struggles of the young to stay upright feel like a metaphor for life. I also like the fact that across the road from Westfield the old 1970s Stratford Centre, with its poundshops and market stalls, is still going strong, a haven for elderly East Enders banging on about the war. Two eras side by side.
Those elderly locals have good reason to obsess. The second world war had a profound effect on the East End, and on the Central line itself. A bomb hit Bank station in January 1941, killing 56 people, and on 3 March 1943, in the worst civilian disaster of the war, 173 people died atBethnal Green station. They had been rushing to seek shelter after the air-raid sirens had sounded, when a woman fell at the bottom of the set of stairs that led down to the station from the street. Those behind fell on top of her, and in the panic that followed many were crushed or suffocated. According to John Day and John Reed’s The Story of London’s Underground, 146 of the 173 who died were women and children.
A plaque with the names of the dead was unveiled to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 1993, and a more elaborate memorial is now being constructed by the Stairway to Heaven Trust. The first phase is complete, but there are posters next to the station entrance appealing for funds to complete it. This is a locally driven act of remembrance. For all the yuppification of the East End, many people have lived hereabouts all their lives and were children during the blitz. They lost friends and relatives in the disaster, and the collective memory is long. - The Guardian