Underground Attacks

Roland Quinault finds alarming parallels for the recent London bomb attacks in the 1880s.

The almost simultaneous explosions on the London Underground on July 7th, 2005, caused more deaths and casualties than previous terrorist attacks on the city but they were not unprecedented. In the 1880s there were several explosions along what was, at that time, the only underground railway in the world: one took place at Edgware Road, the scene of one of the recent bombings. The earlier attacks were part of a campaign – known as ‘the dynamite war’ – by a group of Irish-American republicans against the British government and high profile targets, particularly in London. The explosions and the response of the public, the press and the government to them provide an interesting comparison with recent events.

The bombing campaign began in 1881 with an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Mansion House in the City of London. In March 1883 an explosion at an entrance to the Local Government Board off Whitehall, caused much blast damage but no injuries. Then, on the early evening of October 30th, 1883, there were two, nearly simultaneous, attacks on the Underground. A Metropolitan Railway train, which had just left Praed Street Station for Edgware Road Station, was damaged by an explosion in the tunnel;  it shattered the windows and some of the woodwork of the last three carriages of the train. Four men suffered head wounds and there were minor injuries to about two dozen others. Shortly afterwards, there was an explosion in the tunnel between Charing Cross Station and Westminster Station on the Metropolitan District Railway. No trains were passing at the time but the blast blew dust into the adjacent stations, broke the glass and extinguished the lamps on the platforms, creating much alarm. An official enquiry later established that the explosions were probably caused by nitroglycerine.

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