Happy 150th Birthday London Undergound!

Love it or hate it, it gets 1.1 billion passengers around London every year

The Tube turns 150 years old today - so you can't blame it for being a bit slow, rickety and smelly, not on its birthday anyway.

Known in cockney rhyming slang as the 'Oxo' (cube - tube) the Underground has had a rich and fascinating history. During the Second World War it served as an air raid shelter, a fighter aircraft factory, and even as safe storage for the British Museum artefacts stored in the empty spaces.  

It was during this time it also served as a bed for the 177,500 Londoners that were found to be sleeping there. Nowadays you won't find people, but more than half a million mice who like to call the Tube home. The humans did come back briefly in 2005, causing a problem with their loitering. This was soon sorted out with some classical music blasting through the sound system at problem stations.

A few for the fact fans out there: there are 4,134 carriages in the London Underground train fleet. Each one will travel an average of 114,500 miles per year through the 270 stations the network serves at 60mph tops. Over 1.1 billion passengers were told to 'mind the gap' in 2012 as they prepared to board and 57,000 of these go through the busiest station, Waterloo, every morning.

Fairly macabre, but quite interesting all the same, around 50 passengers commit suicide on the Undergound every year. The most popular time is at 11am. This was such a problem in 1926 that suicide pits were installed beneath the tracks. More recently the Jubilee Line had glass screens fitted to deter the jumpers.

If you're a tourist visiting the Big Smoke we know you love the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Covent Garden - it's the most popular route for visitors - but save your £2.40 and walk the 260 metres why don't you? As a tourist you'll also recognise the iconic London Underground map - although poor old creator Harry Beck was paid just 10 guineas (£10.50) for his work.

London tube map

A key symbol of the London Underground is the escalators - every week they travel the equivalent distance of twice around the world. The longest one is at Angel at 60m/197ft, with a vertical rise of 27.5m.

A recent air quality study revealed the air on the Underground was 73 times worse than up on street level. Twenty minutes on the Northern Line apparently has 'the same effect as smoking a cigarette'. Bad news for the reigning Tube Challenge champions Andi James and Steve Wilson. They hold the record for visiting all the stations on the London Underground network in the fastest time, 16 hours, 29 minutes and 13 seconds on May 27 2011.

My top 5 facts doing the rounds on this epic anniversary include:

  1. There is only one Tube station which does not have any letters of the word 'mackerel' in it: St John's Wood.
  2. Aldgate Station, on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines, is built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies are buried.
  3. The deepest station is Hampstead on the Northern line, which runs down to 58.5 metres.
  4. The Tube's logo is known as 'the roundel' (a red circle crossed by a horizontal blue bar)
  5. The American talk show host Jerry Springer was born at East Finchley during the Second World War: his mother had taken shelter in the station from an air raid.

Finally, guess which line has the most stations? No prizes for the winner, but plenty of glory...