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Underground, in fact and fiction

He ... obtained the Assistant Commissioner's approval of his plan. Then calling Sergeant Carter, he set off. They took the District Railway to Mark Lane and walked to the Land & Sea Company's offices in Mincing Lane.

Inspector French is an example to us all – he moves briskly around London and the Home Counties and never (as far as I remember) summons an official car. Underground, bus, foot, suburban railways; on one occasion he even commandeers a country sergeant's bicycle. He does hire a car when he's investigating a murder in Northern Ireland, but fair's fair: if he'd been in Belfast he would have unquestionably have caught a trolley-bus.

Tower Hill replaced Mark Lane in 1967, and I couldn't spot any sign of the buildings when I strolled around the area more recently even if the new headquarters of the London Underwriters made the street well worth visiting. If the idea had come to me before I was already in London, I would have checked my facts on Hywel Williams' informative, focused site and known exactly what to look for.

Of course, something as familiar as the Underground effortlessly crosses the boundary between fact and fiction. Let's start with a fictional account of what could have been a real observation, where Myra Trail, passing Brompton Square by bus at the start of Alec Waugh's A spy in the family, remembers her father explaining:

All over London you'll see red tiles like that, particularly on the Piccadilly line. One station has had to do the work of two, so instead of Dover Street, Down Street, Park Lane, Brompton Road, you have Green Park & Knightsbridge and South Kensington. That's what we call progress.

Slipping farther across the boundary, we find Joan Aiken in Arabella's Raven describing a tube-tram interchange station very like Kingsway but transplanted to Rumbury Town; a more salubrious district here than when it appears in some of her earlier short stories, though I'm not sure we can attribute this to the arrival of a Tube service. Entirely fictional, and not a station you'd want to visit, Quatermass and the pit offers Hobb's End. I haven't seen the film for decades, but remember how much more frightening it was because of the taken-for-granted, everyday setting.

SF, too, allows occasional sightings of underground railways: Colin Knapp's Subways of Kazoo has a logically-imagined tube-line for aliens, and A.J. Deutsch considers the unexpected consequences of adding a new tunnel in A subway called Möbius

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