Jonathan Makepeace looks at the building of the world’s first underground railway…

Junction at King's Cross of the Metropolitan and Great Northern Railways, London, 1861

Image (enlarge):Junction at King’s Cross of the Metropolitan and Great Northern Railways, London, 1861.
Source: Builder, vol. 19, 1861 Jan. 19, p. 41
© RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection
Image from RIBApix

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, the world’s first metro system, with the first trains running on the Metropolitan Railway in January 1863. Intended to relieve congestion in a rapidly growing London, the ‘Met’ was carrying 12 million passengers per annum within two years.

This image from the Builder (1861) shows the Met in the final stages of construction looking east towards King’s Cross. Engineered by Sir John Fowler, who was also one of the designers of the Forth Railway Bridge, this section of the line was built by the cut-and-cover method. Branching off to the left is the very short-lived ‘Maiden Lane Curve’ running to the east side of King’s Cross mainline station allowing the Great Northern Railway to run directly through to Paddington.

Jonathan Makepeace
Imaging Services Manager, British Architectural Library, RIBA


About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit

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