Rude Tube: 160 Years Since First Naughty Graffiti On The Underground

For more London history, take a look at our weekly newsletter Londonist: Time Machine.

A Victorian gent pondering the words beef bayonet
Non-artist’s impression of Mr Williams’s possible thought process… Background image from London Transport Museum by Matt Brown

Mr Aquila John Williams is a name that should go down in infamy, or at least in tube history.

On 10 March 1864, he became the first person to be prosecuted for writing naughty words on the London Underground. The Metropolitan Railway, as it was then known, had only been open 14 months.

Mr Williams was accused of scrawling on the inside of a carriage, “obscene words… calculated to pollute the minds of the passengers on that railway”. When spotted by the guard, he immediately burst into tears, pleading that it was his “first offence”. The guard took a dim view and handed Williams into custody at Farringdon station.

Several questions present themselves at this point. What was he writing with? Nothing like a marker pen existed in 1864. Was it a pencil? A quill? Chalk? Was he scratching into the wooden panels? News accounts do not say.

Most importantly, what was the obscene message? The court reports leave it to the imagination. Perhaps a lewd pun about the current Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston? Or maybe one of those multi-syllabic Victorian insults, like cockswabbler or gobbleflanger? We can only speculate. Also, did he append a squirting cock and balls to his rude message, as per ancient tradition?

A Victorian gent writing on a tube carriage
Obviously, there are no stock images of a Victorian gent writing graffiti on a train carriage, so we asked AI to spew this out.

Williams, of 21 Harcourt Street, Marylebone, pleaded guilty in the ensuing court hearing and expressed his deep regret. The judge remarked with surprise that a man of education should have such a “filthy and disordered mind,” made all the more dastardly by the fact that Williams was of good position, and married with two daughters.

The pioneering vandal was ordered to pay 40 shillings plus costs, with the judge wishing the law would allow for a greater penalty.

In summing up, the judge said he was confident that the case’s publicity “would be effectual in preventing such conduct in future.” And no one ever wrote a naughty word on the tube again.

Based on articles found in the British Newspaper Archive.

This post was originally published on this site