In 1863, in an effort to reduce street traffic, London opened the world’s first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway. Its birth can be traced back two decades before to the building of the world’s first under-river tunnel below the Thames, which swiftly became both popular with pedestrians and a huge tourist attraction.
Initially, what would become the London Underground consisted of tracks dug slightly below the surface and then covered over. But as the technology improved, and trains switched from steam-powered to electric, the lines went deeper. Now the ground beneath Londoners’ feet hums with an extensive network of Tube lines ferrying people about the city speedily, efficiently – and out of sight.
There’s a huge appeal to putting infrastructure underground, says Bradley Garrett, a cultural geographer at University College Dublin and author of Subterranean London. "Human beings tend to like those things to be operating in the background." It gives the illusion of seamlessness, he says. "There's almost something magical about it."
Along with trains, powerlines, pipes, cables and sewers, there’s another piece of infrastructure some have long wished to bury – roads.