'The London Underground: A Subterranean Heterotopia'

Bevan, Alex (2016) 'The London Underground: A Subterranean Heterotopia'. In: Supernatural Cities, 30 April 2016, University of Portsmouth.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


The London Underground’s inception in 1863 marked a revolution in civil engineering, and illustrated the wider, ongoing project of modernity, but it has also become the largest ghost-train in the world, as passengers soar through former burial sites, ‘ghost stations’, and sites of terror, absorbing the many culturally produced supernatural tales. Excavating ‘the tube’ required burial sites to be disrupted and bodies to be moved. In 1843, one Victorian preacher, Reverend Cumming, condemned the plans for the Underground as a pathway to the devil. More recent tragic events such as the Moorgate Tube Disaster (1975), the King’s Cross Fire (1987), and the 7/7 bombings, have transported the network into a supernatural subterranean heterotopia in which the ghosts of new terrors, ancient folklore, and the living combine.

Several ghosts attach themselves to the Underground, including an unnamed actress at Aldwych station, and Annie Naylor, a hat-maker, murdered in 1758 at Farringdon station. Combined with these ghosts are the abandoned, derelict, ‘ghost stations’, some of which are visible from the trains. In this paper, I discuss these popular examples of folklore and superstition, placing them alongside literary narratives such as Conrad Williams’ London Revenant (2004), which depicts the ‘pushers’, entities driven to push individuals in front of oncoming trains, Seamus Heaney’s ‘District and Circle’ (2006), which explores the dark atmosphere of the tube and its impact on travellers, and David Wailing’s Signal Failure (2016), which explores the Underground’s fearsome new ‘Night Tubes’. By examining contemporary texts, I position the issue of twenty-first-century cultural anxieties within a historicist frame of haunting, thereby offering new insights into our contemporary relationship with the London Underground.

Keywords:Gothic, Ghosts, London, Tourism
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:33757
Deposited On:18 Oct 2018 14:22

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