How many tube lines does London have? A riposte

Some trains. Image: Chris McKenna/Wikipedia.

In this week’s CityMetric podcast, Jonn and I fell out over how many Tube lines there were.

TfL believes there to be 11 – the Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, Waterloo & City lines. 

In my view, there are 14 – those 11 plus the Docklands Light Railway, the London Overground and Thameslink lines. (Keen Skylines listeners will know that I forgot the existence of Thameslink and argued for a mere 13, but that’s by the by.)

In Jonn’s view, there should be 13 lines. Besides the canonical 11, he believes that the District and Northern lines should be treated as four lines, not two.

Now he has written a lengthy piece explaining his thoughts on the number of Tube lines at greater detail. I’ll take those in the reverse order to Jonn, who deals first with his eccentric beliefs about the District and Northern Lines and then onto his view that the DLR, Thameslink and Overground do not count as Tube lines.


To take the Tube lines point first: Jonn’s argument is a good one, but, regrettably, not for the case he wishes to make. He correctly identifies two internally consistent definitions of what constitutes a Tube line. The first, what you might call the “Narrow & Nerdish” definition restricts the meaning of what a Tube line is to the “deep-level” trains, that is, the one that look like Tube.

That definition would restrict the number of Tube lines to seven: the Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines. 

This makes sense. These trains can run interchangeably on their routes without modification (mostly - ed.), have the same technical limitations and designs, and look the same. This is a perfectly reasonable definition of the Tube.

The second definition, what you might call the “Generous & Geeky” reading of how many Tube lines there are expands to include a number of routes that are not, strictly speaking, deep-level Tube lines. Under the guise of following this second definition, Jonn defines the Tube lines as the canonical 11, plus his additional District and Northern Lines, on which subject I’ll go into further detail below.

This makes no sense.  Both in terms of its speed, design, capacity and abilities, a Metropolitan, District or Hammersmith & City Line train has more in common with the Thameslink or Overground fleets than the Central Lines. There is no case to count the Metropolitan Line but not Thameslink or the District Line.

You can make a passable case for not including the Docklands Light Railway as it is a different type of rolling stock entirely, but once you have expanded the definition you might as well include the DLR as well.

There are two definitions that work: one that counts only the deep-level lines and one which counts any of the subterranean railways on TfL’s map. Jonn is trying to have his cake and eat it, proving that he who battles Brexiteers must take great care, lest he become a Brexiteer himself.

What about Jonn’s other argument, that the District and Northern Line are not two lines, but four?

Let’s take the case for splitting the District Line first. Here, for reference, is the District Line as it is:

 

Jonn argues that it should be split into two. Let’s call this one the Stephen’s Supreme Line. It’s just a name.

 

Click to expand.

And the second, which would look like this, which we’ll call, for argument’s sake, the Elledge’s Egregious Express Railway:

Click to expand.

The thing about the Egregious Express is it makes sense if you live on the Edgware Road and commute to Wimbledon, or vice versa. But for Jonn’s argument to work, someone living at Wimbledon and working at Westminster would, currently, have to get off at Earl’s Court and change from the Egregious Express to the Stephen Supreme.

But of course, they don’t. They carry on on a regular District Line train. It makes far more sense to think of this route as a series of interweaving branches, rather than a full-fledged line.

(Editor’s note: Stephen seems unaware that trains from Wimbledon run to Edgware Road and Westminster. I put this point to him during the editing process, but he didn’t want to hear it, so I left this in.)

(Further editor's note: A reader points out that I'd misread Stephen's original point. He's right. That's really annoying. On the upside, I did at least correct his earlier contention that 11+3=13.)

What of the Northern Line? This argument is rather better than the case for two District Lines. In practice, the Northern Line operates almost as two lines now, a divide that TfL expects to formalise. So there is, at a pinch, a case to be made for the number of train lines being seven or 14 – but not the 13 that Jonn believes.

There's a whole podcast on this if you fancy it.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL