Interviewer: Today we are talking to historian Mark Connor and writer Judith Monroe about the history of the London Underground railway, otherwise known as the Tube, which celebrated its 150th anniversary recently. Mark, what prompted the construction of the world’s first underground train system all those years ago?
Mark: Well, we tend to think that all modern problems were invented by us. But actually the 19th century also had traffic problems.  Okay, it was all horsedrawn transport in those days, but still the streets were jammed. London is an old city which grew organically. It never was designed for heavy traffic and so there are lots of narrow streets. Now there was once a guy called Charles Pearson who was stuck in what we’d now call a traffic jam, and he thought of the unique solution of having a transport system that could go underground. It was a brilliant idea – but it wasn’t until 30 years later that the first line was built.
Interviewer: So, Judith, how did they go about it, as an engineering project?
Judith: The first set of underground lines were built by a method called cut and cover, which was pretty crude because basically you cut open a big hole in the ground, preferably in an existing road rather than having to demolish a lot of houses – though a few houses were demolished – then you put in the railway, and covered it over again. That’s a pretty disruptive form of engineering, and it did cause chaos in the centre of London for a couple of years. But amazingly, they were started in 1860 and completed by 1863. You wouldn’t expect to finish a single metro line in that time these days.  Interviewer: And how was the first line received by the public when it finally opened, Mark?
Mark: Well, there was a big debate at first: Would people use it? Would they dare to go in it? What would they find down there? Would there be dog-sized rats and stinking sewers? I think people were quite brave, actually. The tunnels were pretty dark because they only had gas lighting at the time. In fact, on the day it opened, an incredible 30,000 people used the railway and the trains were completely full.  The whole thing was profitable from year one, encouraging investors to help continue developing it.
Interviewer: And let me ask both of you, as development continued, what effect did it
Judith: Oh, the effects were huge. As it grew, it provided work for thousands, both in the construction and the subsequent running of the system. And it was a great source of national pride. It’s hard to overestimate its importance in the way London grew – the city actually followed the spread of the underground lines, not the other way round. 
Mark: Don’t forget London was the pioneer of this. They did it 37 years before anyone else in the world. And yes, I would say that the Underground really helped create London. The lines spread out towards what were little villages at the time – and are now important areas of the city. 
Interviewer: And Judith, what about the stations?
Judith: If anyone wants to come and experience the Underground, I’d say use that extension of the Jubilee line opened in 1999. You’ll see how beautiful the stations can be. They were deliberately designed as big, cavernous places with an adventurous feel of going underground, massive escalators going everywhere, a bit like the 1920s film Metropolis where you get the sense of being in a really huge city with lots of people going different places.  A thrilling place to be. A lot of the stations on that stretch of the line are like that. They’re absolutely incredible feats of engineering.
Interviewer: And what about mapping the railway? Wasn’t that incredibly complicated?
Mark: Yes, what happened was, as more lines opened up, and the existing map became more complex, a guy called Harry Beck said, hang on, this map doesn’t have to be geographically accurate, so he made it geographically inaccurate – just a very simple diagram – made of straight lines and 45 degree angles. I think that’s one of the main ways it became something in people’s heads as a system, as an icon, of London.  London Underground have now made more money from the map through merchandising than they have through running trains.
I spent last weekend at a friend’s – his parents live on the coast. He went off somewhere on Saturday leaving me struggling with the history coursework I had to finish by Monday . I wandered into the town centre and saw the museum, and I remembered how my mother always used to say that local museums are often a mine of information  – and I needed inspiration. I bought my ticket from the affable guy on duty. There was plenty of material, well displayed – and a temporary exhibition of deep-sea fishing equipment – but more importantly all the stuff was closely associated with the town, and reflected its history as a once thriving fishing port. 
Going to museums is not something I often do – at the moment I get enough lectures and information overload at college – but Dad’s got himself a metal detector and become a treasure hunter. Last week he found this funny little brooch, and I said I’d show it to someone who’d know what it was . There were a whole lot of people there – maybe there was something special going on – and the staff kept me hanging about. So to fill the time, I tried out one of those tape machines and listened to a lively commentary which certainly made the displays and reconstructions more relevant.  I didn’t come back with any good news for Dad though. No treasure this time!
I’ve got a German friend staying at the moment, and last week I dragged him off to the town museum – I thought he might learn a bit of local history. A team of archaeologists have been working in the town-centre car park and unearthed an unusual bit of prehistoric pottery. It’s in the museum for now, and I was very keen to take a look and see what the experts were saying about it . My friend said he’d bring his new camera. The hoard has already been researched in detail, and the staff have produced an in-depth explanatory leaflet reflecting this  – I was really pleased to learn so much and my friend was pretty chuffed at how his new camera performed.
I remember going to our local museum when I was in primary school – it was very boring – but I hadn’t been back again until last week. I was really surprised to find they’d made several changes. They have those audio-guides now and weekly lectures, and the information boards have been updated. And to crown it all – instead of having everything in cabinets, they’ve built mock-up scenes – like a medieval kitchen for example – convincingly realistic and much more effective.  I managed to do some half-decent sketches of them – a friend in the States studying the period had asked me to do this for him.  There were a lot of people – I’m not surprised the place is more popular these days.
I was away on a course last week. We were kept busy – lectures all day, plenty of reading to catch up on in the evenings. I did manage to visit the local industrial museum at the instigation of a colleague who thought I’d find it interesting , ‘cos it was full of examples of nineteenth-century machinery, which you could get right up to. There were galleries full of huge, gleaming marvels of engineering. To be honest, the machines looked much the same and the vast amounts of technical information went straight over my head, though this was obviously a source of frustration for all the enthusiasts who seemed to come from everywhere, judging by the amazing number of different languages I heard.