SE London demands a new Tube line… in 1926

London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum
If you’re at a loose end in the West End between now and October, the Poster Art 150 exhibition at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is worth a look. It’s a diverting display of how the Tube has sold itself to Londoners since the first line opened 150 years ago.

Among the most fascinating advertisements is one featuring newspaper clippings from parts of London not served by the Tube. Here, we see civic worthies from the old south-east London metropolitan boroughs making the case for lines to run out to Lewisham and Woolwich.

London Transport MuseumIt wasn’t just the good councillors of Greenwich, Woolwich, Lewisham, Deptford, Camberwell, Southwark and Bermondsey who wanted to get on the Tube map – the poster also features pleas from Finsbury Park and Wood Green, describing mayhem and road deaths at the former location.

All these pleas were put to use to promote the new Northern Line link to Morden, which opened in 1926 – and a reminder that some things simply don’t change.

Six years later, the Piccadilly Line powered north from Finsbury Park to Wood Green and beyond; while 42 years later, the Victoria Line opened for business.

87 years later, SE London is stil waiting, three Jubilee Line stations not withstanding. The successors of those councillors in Greenwich and Woolwich don’t seem interested any more – preferring new roads and the DLR on stilts, deciding that in the future we’ll be as likely to want to go to the Royal Docks rather than central London.

But their neighbours in Camberwell, Southwark, Bermondsey, Lewisham and Deptford are still campaigning – with Southwark Council leader Peter John scenting victory on getting the Bakerloo Line sorted.

“We’ve got it at last right at the top of the Mayor of London’s agenda.

“That’s very exciting for the residents of Southwark and very exciting for the residents of Lewisham.

“It would be very exciting for the residents of Bromley but their Conservative leader is utterly opposed to extension of the tube to Bromley.

“He doesn’t want to see jobs and growth in his borough. Well shame on him!”

Pesky conservatives, not interested in new Tube lines, eh?

Want to know just how popular a new(ish) line can be? Take a look at this hypnotic video from Oliver O’Brien, showing Oyster card usage across London, across the day.

Right the way across London you can see the Tube lines stand out, particularly that southern bit of the Northern Line. What’s striking in the Tube-light south-east is just how busy both North Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal are right through the day, the latter almost overshadowing Lewisham. (Indeed, Canary Wharf aside, the rest of the DLR doesn’t really seem to figure much.) Six years from now, if the station at Woolwich actually opens, the impact of Crossrail will be one to watch.

Then the next thing that stands out is the London Overground, with New Cross Gate and (to a lesser extent) Brockley pulsing through the day. Build the new lines, and they’ll come.

Southeastern’s services barely seem to register at all – admittedly, that’ll partly be down to fewer passengers using Oyster, but the video shows that nearly nine decades on, the potential for a Tube to SE London is still huge.


  1. I’ve always thought it would be easy to add a branch to the Jubilee line that come down from North Greenwich to Charlton Station and on to Eltham Station with stops in between.

  2. Part of south London’s problem is perception – people navigate using the TfL map and places not on it don’t register. Use of the Silverlink Metro has shot up since it became the Overground and the places on it will benefit from being “on the map”. Its ashame the rest of south London continues to miss out as people don’t recognise the connections we already have. If Southeastern appeared on TfL’s map that animation would look very different – in theory, greater usage would then see greater investment and a better service.

  3. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that it was built with an eye on an extension to Thamesmead, the popularity of the Jubilee Line between North Greenwich and Stratford means branching it is very unlikely to happen.

  4. About extending Bakerloo line beyond Elephant and Castle: this too is an idea that has been mooted time and time again. As far as I can remember the geology is always the major problem to be weighed with cost/benefit and there is no Olympic type development to use as an excuse for the required investment (thank goodness). Don’t know why Peter John, Southwark Council is hopeful – didn’t he just sell off a large chunk of Elephant and Castle housing to an Australian developer for way way below it’s value (see Private Eye for coverage of this).

    Overground is my preference really but with the way in which the lines were butchered (understandably) for the link to Highbury & Islington (which meant loosing links and full services to London Bridge, Victoria and Blackfriars for my neck of the woods) I don’t think any sensible reinstatement or additional overground trains will be with us any time soon.

  5. That video animation is fascinating. But using Oyster touch in/out will seriously underestimate usage on Southeastern services. Oyster users on the tube (almost always) have to touch in/out, because stations have barriers. Many Southeastern stations are open, and season ticket holders don’t have to touch in/out.
    By the way, I’m not in any way defending service provision by Southeastern, there is scope for massive improvement – just pointing out that the video isn’t an accurate representation of passenger flows on all networks.

  6. I favour a Bakerloo line extension to Downham via Catford, I’ve even earmarked a site for a Hither Green cemetery stop. I’m sure the locals won’t mind losing their allotments 😉

    DLR extension to Catford would also be good, although getting across Loampit Vale could be tricky.

    I was hopeful of the conversion to Overground of the southeastern metro lines, but that now seems less likely.

    Maybe in 2026 we might have some progress. 🙁

  7. I saw a documentary a few years ago and an expert who was interviewed said that the reason there is not as much underground transport in south/southeast London is down to the fact that the ground south of the river is too soft to support a network as busy as that north of the river. Hence the Overground network, Southeastern and the trams. So it seems it might be less to do with politics than London’s geology.

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