The Northern Line: Another World First

Learn more about the first electric tube railway in the world - not that we're boasting or anything!

The Northern line joins north and south London to the West End and the City.

Map of Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead and the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railways (1905-06-15) by Underground Electric Railways CompanyTfL Corporate Archives

Its origins are in 2 early tube railways – the City & South London Railway (C&SLR) and the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (CCE&HR)

The City & South London Railway opened in 1890 and was the first electric tube railway in the world. It’s circular, iron lined tunnels were shield driven through the London clay at a deep level. When the line was opened it operated a 5 minute service, and the windowless carriages with upholstery reaching almost to roof level, became known as ‘padded cells’. In its first 11 days it carried 165,000 passengers.

A wash drawing of the interior of King William Street station, City & South London Railway (1980)London Transport Museum

King William Street

The line was short, 3.5 miles, with stations at King William Street, Borough, Elephant & Castle, Kennington, Oval and Stockwell

An extension of the line, from Borough to Moorgate and then Angel, Islington, was opened in 1900, and in 1907 the line was extended north to Euston.

Golders Green (1908) by UnknownLondon Transport Museum

Charing Cross, Euston, and Hampstead Railway

Opened in 1907, from Charing Cross to Golders Green, with a branch from Camden Town to Highgate

It was opened by David Lloyd George, and was c.8 miles long, comprising 16 stations, which were designed by Leslie Green

Chalk Farm and Hampstead Underground stations, displaying typical Leslie Green architecture and design features

Diagram of Lots Road Generation And Distribution System (1948-03-24) by London Transport ExecutiveTfL Corporate Archives

Power was supplied by the Lots Road generating station

The signalling was automatic and operated by electrical track circuits where possible. Signalmen were only provided at termini and junctions, where train routeing decisions were needed

First Sods being Dug of Northern Line Edgware Extension (1922-06-12)TfL Corporate Archives


In 1915, the CCE&H (at this point known as the Hampstead Line) was extended to Embankment. Work on an extension from Euston to Camden Town started in 1922

Edgware Station (1924-06-15)TfL Corporate Archives

Edgware Station

In 1924, the CCE&H reached Edgware 

Diagram of Tunnels and Camden Town Junction (1924-06-15)TfL Corporate Archives

The junction at Camden Town included multiple grade separated junctions to reduce conflict between merging lines

Camden Town Junction Signal Box (1924-05-15)TfL Corporate Archives

Camden Town Junction Signal Box

Map of Underground Railways of London Showing the Extension from Clapham Common to Morden (1926-08-18) by Underground Electric RailwaysTfL Corporate Archives

Extension from Clapham to Morden started in 1923

During the construction, as many as 18 shields were in use simultaneously. The line was opened in 1926, the same year as the Charing Cross to Kennington link

The stations on this new extension were built in a style conceived by Charles Holden

It was around this time too that the joint Hampstead Line and C&SLR became termed the Edgware, Highgate and Morden Line, and later the Morden-Edgware Line. In 1937, it became known as the Northern line.

Publicity for Northern Line Extension to East Finchley (1939-07-15)TfL Corporate Archives

More Extensions

In 1939, it was extended from Archway to East Finchley, and in 1941 to High Barnet. This extension involved the taking over of several stations from the London and North Eastern Railway

The Archer of Finchley (1940)TfL Corporate Archives

The Archer of Finchley

Atop East Finchley station sits the 'Archer', designed by sculptor Eric Aumonier

Diagram of Angel Station Escalator (1987-04-15)TfL Corporate Archives

In 1988, work started on a £55m rebuilding of Angel station

The new station opened in 1993 with the Underground network's longest escalator. It has a rise of 27 metres and a length of 61 metres

Battersea Power Station Roundel Install (2020-02-10) by Transport for LondonTfL Corporate Archives

New Stations

The Northern line route remained unchanged until September 2021

Northern Line Extension Stations on Tube Map (2021-09-01) by Transport for LondonTfL Corporate Archives

Kennington to Battersea Power Station

A new extension from Kennington to Nine Elms and the redeveloped Battersea Power Station, was the first major extension to the Underground this century. It added 3km to the line

Did you know? Despite its name, the Northern line doesn’t go to the most northerly station on the network. However, it does serve the station furthest south – Morden! 

Credits: Story

Story compiled by TfL using information in records at the Transport for London Corporate Archives. The Corporate Archives seeks to preserve and make accessible records, not to interpret them. A wider range of material is available for physical consultation.

Permission is granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only.

This story has been enhanced using material from the collections of the London Transport Museum. All enquiries regarding this video should be made directly to that institution.    

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