The District Line

The History of London Underground’s Green Line

Words by The Coolicon Team

Photo by Pete Harper

1868’s Early Christmas Present

On a frosty Christmas Eve in 1868, the London Undergrounds District Line finally opened for business, ready to take eager passengers on board. The line was London’s second underground suburban railway line, connecting a grand total of five stations between Westminster and South Kensington. Now spanning over a whopping 60 stations, we can only imagine what the original hustle and bustle was like in these subsurface stations with steam trains passing through. This early underground network may have had questionable health and safety, however, when electric power came into play our transport systems were revolutionised. 

A fun fact for the history lovers:

Although the District Line was the second tube line created, Hannah Dadds became the first female Tube driver when she took to the wheel of the District Line carriages in 1978, 110 years since first opening.

“She changed the working life of women on the Tube and the way in which many people viewed Tube drivers”

Howard Collins, Chief Executive of London Underground

The District Line Green

The London Underground map as we know it today was ingeniously designed by Harry Beck and released in 1933. Trained as an engineering draughtsman, Beck used his experience to map the complex tube route in the same colour co-ordinated format found in electrical diagrams. This simplified the entire transport system for travellers to easily navigate their way around the ever-expanding city with ease.  

According to some accounts,

“Beck was never formally commissioned to develop his initial idea and worked on the map only in his spare time. He was thus never actually paid for the map."

That being said, many of the Tube lines had colours before Beck’s input. As one of the first, the District Line could choose any colour from the wheel (except purple, already taken by the Metropolitan). Although there is no definite answer for why green was chosen, it’s speculated this is due to the original line running through a rather green part of London, surrounded by parks and walks with many stops even having “Green” in their name.

We like to think the choice was inspired by the festive evergreens seen around Christmas time, the season the line opened.

Photo by Ken Garland, courtesy of London Transport Museum

Photo from London Transport Museum Archive

The Underground Collection

Coolicon lampshades share a unique and everlasting heritage with the London Underground network which we honour today with our Underground Collection. The District Line Green lampshade holds a place close to our hearts as its classic green enamel is the original colour of the very first Coolicon lampshades. The originals Coolicon shades, seen widely throughout industrial Britain in the 1930s, lit the back rooms and offices of the London Underground in early years. They even made their way into the telephone exchange of Winston Churchill’s Downstreet Station bunker hidden below surface within the network. In 2013, one of these very shades was found in the Transport for London archives seeing the brand re-establish as we know it today.

Given this historic background, and the release of the original Coolicon and Harry Beck’s map both in the same year, 1933, we designed the Underground Collection to honour great British design and innovation. Pairing two British icons, neither aging nor differing from the original, these uniquely enamelled lampshades hang effortlessly throughout contemporary interiors across the world.

Hand-Enamelling the map

Sharing this history, Coolicon lampshades are now the only product to feature Harry Beck’s original London Underground Map in this way.

Our traditionally handcrafted lampshades are finished in Vitreous Enamel; an extremely robust mixture of glass, minerals and oxides to create a gloss like finish that’s rich in colour and will never fade or tarnish. Our master craftsmen are trained in the age-old technique of wet-enamelling, ensuring every shade is created to this standard and our Underground Collection shades are no exception.

Our artisans delicately apply the Vitreous Enamel London Underground map prior to a final firing in the 800°C furnace. Each coloured line has different mineral properties which results in a unique detail specific to these shades. You’ll notice the slight level change where each tube line is enamelled into the reflector, a detail we love as it mimics the very nature of the London Underground as it weaves its way under the busy London streets.

Photo by Coolicon Lighting

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