According to capital folklore, cabbies used to refuse to go to the depths of south London. Those days might be behind us, but south of the river remains short-changed on the tube front. With a measly 29 stations (compared with 241 the other side of the Thames) southerners have slim pickings. The Northern line at least extends as far as zone 4, but otherwise the Jubilee, Bakerloo, District and Victoria lines all make half-arsed efforts at serving south London.
‘It’s often said that the Underground didn’t venture into south London because of the dangers from digging up seventeenth-century plague pits,’ says Simon Murphy, curator at London Transport Museum. Sounds grisly but it’s actually not true. ‘The majority of mass plague graves are north of the river and they proved no obstacle to the growth of the tube running far beneath them.’
The real reason comes down to cold, hard capitalism. Long before tubes, lots of private railway companies carved up the city and established loads of suburban railways, with great connections south of the river and beyond. When the first private tube companies began operating after 1863, they focused on north London, where there was more opportunity. ‘The Underground chose to run extensions into the open semi-rural districts to the north instead, where they’d have less competition and sell more tickets,’ says Murphy.
So the lack of south London tube stations came about because, once upon a time, that side of the river was actually better connected. Just remember that next time your train gets delayed. Again.