A Brief History Of The Jubilee Line

By M@ Last edited 7 months ago

Last Updated 20 December 2023

A Brief History Of The Jubilee Line

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Empty jubilee line carriage
Image: Matt Brown

The Jubilee line is London's newest tube line. Seems odd, doesn't it? But no other new tube line has opened since its 1979 debut (the Elizabeth line is regarded as a different mode of transport).

But that simple statement hides all kinds of history. Parts of the line are much older than 1979, while others are more recent. And for 10 years during its conception, the Jube was known as the Fleet Line.

Here, we've put together a quick-to-read, fact-filled history of the the only line to cross the Thames four times.

See also:
A brief history of the Central line
A brief history of the Bakerloo line

A jubilee line carriage with doors open
Image: iStock

1932: Although the Jubilee line is London's most recent tube line, its origins date back pre-war. In this year, a branch of the Metropolitan line opens between Wembley Park and Stanmore. It later changes allegiance, first to Bakerloo and then eventually to become part of the Jubilee.

1939: Stations at St John's Wood and Swiss Cottage, which would eventually become part of the Jubilee line, are opened as part of the revamped Bakerloo.

1965: The first intimations of what will become the Jubilee line are mentioned in the press. These early plans have the line running from Baker Street to Bond Street and Trafalgar Square, before heading east along Strand and Fleet Street into the City, and then on to southeast London. The line is tentatively called the Fleet line, after Fleet Street and the buried river of the same name. A proposed extension to Thamesmead gets the unimaginative handle of the "River line"

1971: Construction begins on the Fleet line. Although considered a whole new line, only three and a half new sets of platforms are built — westbound at Baker Street, both sets at Bond Street and Green Park, as well as those at the now-closed Charing Cross terminus.

1972: A 150 metre test tunnel is dug beneath New Cross, to try out a new form of tunnelling shield. The tunnel's location is along the route of a planned extension that is never built. It remains in place today; unloved, unused and almost entirely unknown. Of course, Ian Visits has photos.

A crane on Oxford Street constructing a metal raft
A metal 'raft' is constructed across Oxford Street to support road traffic while construction of the Jubilee line takes place beneath station. Image © Transport for London

1975: The name "Jubilee line" is first mooted, reportedly by London Transport Advertising manager, Geoffrey Holliman. It marks the 1977 Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Queen, of course, will go on to get her personal name on the Elizabeth line. The line's grey colour is partially a reflection of this silver anniversary, though grey had already been shortlisted.

1977: The name Jubilee line is officially adopted, despite strong opposition from the London Transport Passengers Committee. They argue that changing the name at this late date would cost tens of thousands of pounds and have less long-term resonance. "My committee feel that Fleet has permanent geographical associations whereas the Jubilee is a passing event," argues its chair, Fred Sturch. Greater London Council spokesman Harold Mote counters that "I think it is far better to commemorate the jubilee than a small river that is now no more than a sewer."

1979 (30 April): The line is officially opened by the Prince of Wales (now Charles III). The efficient prince isn't merely along for the ceremony. After making the debut journey from Green Park to Charing Cross, he then rides the line all the way up to Stanmore, where he goes on to open a rehabilitation unit at the nearby Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

Prince Charles in the driver's cab of a jubilee line train
Charles opens the new line before heading up to an orthopaedic hospital. Image (c) Transport for London

1979 (1 May): The Jubilee line opens to non-royal passengers. They find that the old Trafalgar Square station (Bakerloo) and the old Strand station (Northern) are now combined into one super station called Charing Cross, along with the Jubilee. If you've ever wondered why the tunnels between lines are so long at this station, it's because you're effectively walking between two separate stations that were later fused.

1989: Transport Secretary Cecil Parkinson announces a £1 billion extension to the line, heading out along the south of the Thames to reach Canary Wharf and then north up to Stratford. It will be in full use by 1996, promises Mr P. Labour's transport spokesman John Prescott brands the decision "totally irresponsible", as other infrastructure projects like Crossrail show greater promise at relieving congestion.

1993 (December): Work begins to extend the line eastward into the redeveloping Docklands, and then on to Stratford. The occasion is marked with an official ceremony at Canary Wharf, attended by then-Prime Minister John Major. The 11-stop extension includes totally new stations at Southwark, Bermondsey, Canada Water, Canary Wharf and North Greenwich, which are praised for their architectural merits.

1997: All change on the trains, as new 1996 stock carriages are introduced. I can still remember when they smelled all fresh and new. These carriages continue to be used today.

1999 (14 May): Deputy PM John Prescott (oh, hello again) opens the first section of the Jubilee extension, from Stratford to North Greenwich. One novelty is the platform-edge doors, which help regulate air flow, keep litter off the tracks and prevent passengers from falling or jumping onto the line. All stations also have step-free access to platforms.

1999 (17 September): The next bit of extension from North Greenwich to Bermondsey, via Canary Wharf, opens to little fanfare.  

Canary Wharf tube roundel
Image: Matt Brown

1999 (19 November): The final passenger trains pull into the Charing Cross Jubilee platforms, which will now be bypassed. The platforms still see regular use, however, as a popular film set (e.g. Skyfall and Thor: The Dark World). The platforms are also used as sidings to turn trains around during periods of engineering works.

1999 (20 November): The full Jubilee extension (except Westminster) is now open to the public. No celebrities, not even John Prescott, are asked to cut the ribbon. It's a quiet start to a project that's cost £3.5 billion and run 18 months late.

1999 (14 December): In a PR exercise, Prime Minister Tony Blair rides the tube to the Millennium Dome. In a masterful display of tube etiquette, the random stranger he chooses to stand beside completely ignores him. "I did realise it was him," Georgina Liketi-Solomon later told the press, "but it all seemed a bit overwhelming at quarter past nine in the morning. It's not exactly what you expect on the way to work."

Southwark tube station interior
Southwark tube station, one of several architectural masterpieces on the new extension. Image Matt Brown

1999 (22 December): The final station on the Jubilee line, Westminster, opens to the public — just in time for celebrations at the Millennium Dome. Many feared that work overruns and numerous strikes would delay completion into the new year. Keith Hill MP, Minister for London, does the ribbon-cutting which marks the end of the years-long project.

2003: The Jubilee line doesn't quite pass through Elephant, but it does contain one. In this year, Kendra Haste's wire sculpture of an elephant is placed in Waterloo's Jubilee line concourse. It had previously been on display at Gloucester Road underground station.

Kendra Haste's wire elephant at Waterloo
Image: Matt Brown

2005 (Dec): The whole line is closed for three days in order to convert six-car trains to seven-car. It's Christmas, though, so most people don't notice.

2012: Several Jubilee carriages are given faux-bunting and other adornments to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

2016: The Jubilee line is added to the Night Tube, with 24-hour services at weekends.

2020 (Mar): A large section of tunnel between Westminster and Canning Town becomes the first on the network to support 4G and 5G mobile reception. The introduction coincides with the start of the coronavirus pandemic, however, so few people notice.