Why The Hammersmith & City Is (Arguably) London's Newest Tube Line

By M@

Last Updated 10 April 2024

Why The Hammersmith & City Is (Arguably) London's Newest Tube Line
Hammesmith and City line dot matrix

Welcome to the Hammersmith and City line, London's newest tube line.

Sounds nuts, doesn't it? The Hammersmith & City is a slow, creaky old thing. Part of its route dates back to the very dawn of the Underground network. And yet the H&C as we know it is the newest tube line on the map. Here's how... with a long list of caveats.

The Hammersmith and City Railway, as it was originally styled, opened on 13 June 1864. The line ran from Farringdon to Hammersmith, with a later branch off to Olympia. It was the second major section of 'underground' railway to open, following fast on the heels of the Metropolitan (whose tracks it partly shared). So, in one sense (and probably the most meaningful sense), the H&C is the network's second oldest line.

BUT... the branding didn't last long. In 1867, the Metropolitan Railway took a major stake in the railway. The Hammersmith and City name gradually faded from use, until the route was considered as just another arm of the Metropolitan. You can see this on early tube maps:

A 1908 tube map

This famous map above is from 1908. At the time, the Metropolitan Railway was shown in bright crimson. As you can see, there is no distinction between the line we'd today call the Metropolitan, and the extensions round to Hammersmith and Olympia (as well as a few other sections that came under the Metropolitan purview at that time). There is no Hammersmith & City Railway indicated in the key. It didn't exist.

And that's how things remained until 1990. In that year, the tube map was given its biggest shake-up since the creation of the Jubilee line in the 1970s. The Hammersmith to Barking route was budded off as a separate entity to the Metropolitan and given the name "Hammersmith and City line". For the first time, the tube map featured a salmon pink colour.

A Hammersmith and City line sign
You wouldn't have seen this before 1990.

The modern name wasn't a sure-fire thing. Tube bosses batted around various alternatives, including the Crescent line, the Portland line, the Premiere line, the Western line and the Regency line... but the good old historic name was decided upon. The choice of salmon pink caused a few eyebrows to leap at the time. As the Telegraph noted: "Foreign businessmen should not be fooled — the line goes nowhere near the FT's Southwark Bridge offices" (for the benefit of overseas readers, a reference to the Financial Times's pink hue). The new-look line opened on 30 July 1990 with little fanfare, save for the release of "hundreds of balloons".

The launch involved no new track, stations or trains. It was pure rebrand. But on naming merits alone, the Hammersmith & City line is London's newest.

Notes and caveats

1. Although the Hammersmith & City name wasn't used in public communications or on maps between 1867 and 1990 it did linger on as an informal name, especially among those working on the route. It never fully went away.

2. You could say that the Jubilee extension came later, or point to the recent appendix to the Northern line at Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station. However, neither is an entirely new 'line' — just extensions to existing ones.

3. The best challenge is to say that the Waterloo & City line is newer, having transferred to London Underground ownership in 1994. That claim certainly has merit. However, the name and identity of "Waterloo & City line" was in use for many decades before that. It even appeared on the tube map. This was neither a new name nor a new route when it joined the underground in 1994, merely a change of ownership. Hammersmith & City, by contrast, was a new name for a new route concept. I think that trumps the W&C claim, but you can argue either way.

4. What about the Elizabeth line? That certainly is a new line, and ushered a new colour unto the Tube map. All true, but the Elizabeth line is officially considered as a separate mode of transport to the tube lines (which is why it isn't always affected during tube strikes). You won't see TfL describing it as one of the tube lines, so we won't either.

5. You might be wondering about the 'East London line', which was also long considered part of the Metropolitan. It broke brand to become a separately named line in the 1980s, ahead of the H&C (though it remained functionally part of the Met). It was later absorbed into the Overground network and lost its individual identity (though plans are now advanced to once again give bits of the Overground separate titles).

6. Finally, our title called it the newest "tube line". Pedants dislike this, because none of the route was tunnelled like a proper 'tube'. It's either scooped out from above (cut-and-cover), or else runs overground or on viaducts. I'll bet you $5 that someone raises this on Facebook as a reason we're wrong, and we'll refer them back here. In the present context, we're happy using the phrase "tube line" as that's the long-established practice in TfL's own documentation (e.g. they use phrases like 'Tube Map' and 'Tube lines' not 'Underground Map' or 'Underground lines', even when talking about the cut-and-cover lines.).