By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator
Throughout 2019, Transport for London and the London Transport Museum are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the District line. As part of the celebrations we are featuring twenty District line related posters from our outstanding poster collection in a new Poster Parade on display from 28 June to 19 September 2019.
The District line opened in December 1868. Then known as the Metropolitan District Railway, it was the second underground passenger railway in the world after the Metropolitan line. Initially running only between Sloane Square and Westminster, seven more stations opened during the first year. The intention was to join up with the Metropolitan line at either end, forming an ‘Inner Circle’ linking all London’s mainline termini. However, rivalry between the two railways meant that the Circle wasn’t completed until 1884.
The District expanded its services to the western suburbs during the steam era to Hammersmith, Hounslow, Ealing and Wimbledon. But when the American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes first took an interest in the railway in 1899, it was in poor financial shape. Yerkes took over the District in 1901, and through his influence the Inner Circle and District were electrified.
The poster Light, power and speed by Charles Sharland features one of the new trains that were introduced during the electrification of the line. Electrification greatly improved conditions in the sections running underground, and the company promoted their new trains as offering comfortable, modern and technologically advanced travel.
In addition to the District line, Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) owned many other underground railways, including the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Hampstead (now part of the Northern line) and Central lines. To encourage off-peak travel the UERL used posters to promote destinations which could be reached by their expanding network. For the western section of the District line this meant attractions which are still popular today, such as Richmond and Kew Gardens. At the time Sudbury Town and South Harrow were promoted as rural destinations, easily reached in time to see a gorgeous sunset. Though originally served by the District line, these stations were transferred to the Piccadilly line in 1932.
At the eastern end of the District line, services from Whitechapel to Upminster opened in June 1902. The District Railway also ran through trains to the popular seaside resort of Southend. The Upminster Windmill and the Canvey Lady in Southend were both familiar local landmarks at the time, and whilst the Canvey Lady was pulled down after the Second World War, the windmill survives and is now a listed building. The process of electrification was slower at this end with Upminster served by steam until 1932, and Southend until after the Second World War.
Today the District line is being transformed once again, with air-conditioned, walk-through trains introduced on the line in 2014, and the Four Lines Modernisation programme due to deliver a new signalling system by 2023.
Check out our online exhibit on Google Arts & Culture to learn more about the history of the District line, and visit the Poster Parade (28 June – 19 September 2019) at the Museum to see our stunning posters up close.