Explained: Why north London has so many more Tube stations than south of the river

There are currently only 31 Tube stations in south London, compared with 250 stations north of the river Thames.

While there are many reasons why south London is a great area to live, connections to the Underground is unfortunately not one of them.

The argument whether north or south London is better usually centres around pros and cons of the number of Tube stations.

South Londoners often get frustrated that projects like Crossrail provide more London Underground links for the east and west, but largely ignore the south.

William Ewart Gladstone with officials of the Metropolitan Railway Company, on an inspection tour of the world's first underground line in May 1862. Picture: Getty

South London has been boosted by the extensions to the Northern, Victoria and Jubilee lines, but despite that there are still only 31 Tube stations in south London, compared with 250 stations north of the river.

And the Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines don’t extend to south London at all.

But as Youtuber and London transport enthusiast Jago Hazzard explains it’s not as simple as saying the north has been favoured over the south.

There are several political, geographical and economic reasons behind why south London has fewer Tube stations.

South London already had lots of railways

The first reason is that before the Underground lines were built, south London already had an abundance of railway lines in operation.

So when the first private Tube companies began operating after 1863, they focused on north London, where there was more opportunity.

“South London had an abundance of railways,” Hazzard explained.

circa 1923: London Bridge Station is the South Bank terminus of the Southern region. It was built in 1836 for the London and Greenwich railway and partly rebuilt in 1851. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

“There were four major rail companies behind this, the London and Southwestern, the London, Brighton and South Coast, the London, Chatham and Dover and the Southeastern.

“The southern rail companies embraced commuter travel more than the northern ones as they didn’t have as much heavy freight.

“The London, Chatham and Dover and the Southeastern railways were rivals which caused them to build a number of stations in direct competition with each other.

“There were also lots of trams in south London due to cheap fares so when the Underground was being built getting south of the river was not a priority.”

15th May 1875: Underground station at Blackfriars, London with St Paul's Cathedral in background. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Logistics and building laws

Another reason was due to logistics and building laws.

“In 1846, the Royal Commission on Metropolitan railway termini made it the law that you couldn’t build railways in central London not without going through a lengthy parliamentary consultation at any rate,” Hazzard said.

“Underground railways were different, they created far less disturbance to the fabric of the city so it was far easier to get them authorised.

“Meanwhile south of the river land was much cheaper and the area was much poorer.

“The Royal Commission’s recommendations did cover south of the river but to a far lesser extent.”

December 1928: Construction work at the ticketing area of the new Piccadilly tube station. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Geology

South London’s soil is another reason why fewer Tube stations have been built below the River Thames.

Hazzard explained: “Another big factor preventing Tube lines being built south of the river is simple geology.

“The soil in central London is mostly clay.

“The soil south of the river is full of sand, silt, the odd deposit of peat and even some sea shells.

“It’s not very coherent so its difficult to tunnel through.

“With modern tunnelling techniques it’s a bit easier, hence the Victoria and Jubilee lines modern extensions into south London.”

So a combination of factors have caused fewer Tube lines to be built in south London.

As well as geological and political issues, historically it was much better connected, so there wasn’t as much of a demand for underground lines when they were being built.

South London is light on Tube lines but it’s got the DLR, the Thameslink and the tram link and lest we forget lots and lots of railways.