14 December 1896: the Glasgow Subway opens to passengers

Glasgow’s shipyards were once some of the busiest in the world, with the heart of the industry in the district of Govan on the banks of the River Clyde.

Its success mean the city expanded rapidly, and by the 1890s the population had hit 700,000. To get this army of workers around, Glasgow embarked on a huge infrastructure project, the District Railway.

The Glasgow Subway, as it is now officially known, opened on this day in 1896 – before Paris, Berlin and even New York. It is the third oldest in the world after the London Underground and the Budapest Metro.

Still today it is the only heavy rail underground metro system in the British Isles outside the capital, and the only one that operates completely underground. It is a 6.5-mile loop with twin tracks that allow trains to run both clockwise and anti-clockwise through its 15 stations.

In the 1950s  Glasgow’s population peaked at more than one million people, becoming one of the most densely populated cities in the world. But after the 1960s, it went into decline. The subway’s infrastructure became derelict – by the late 1970s Subway stations had a distinctive earthy smell, and cracks appeared in the roof of Govan Cross station.

But once the oil bonanza arrived in Scotland the Subway was almost completely refurbished. Between 1977 and 1980 stations were virtually rebuilt with dark brown bricks, orange-yellow wall tiles and other surfaces in off-white, plus brown uniforms for the staff. A new corporate identity was introduced, with trains painted bright orange, leading to the system being nicknamed the “Clockwork Orange”.