Original Research

James Henry Greathead and the London Underground

Laurence Wright
Literator | Vol 38, No 1 | a1324 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i1.1324 | © 2017 Laurence Wright | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 July 2016 | Published: 24 July 2017

About the author(s)

Laurence Wright, Unit for Languages and Literature in the South African Context, North-West University, South Africa


This article investigates the origins and early history of the device known as the ‘Greathead Shield’, an important innovation in Victorian engineering crucial to constructing the London Underground. The aim is to explore the basis on which, many years later, a South African engineer, James Henry Greathead, was accorded prominent public acknowledgment, in the form of a statue, for ‘inventing’ the Shield. From a cultural studies perspective, how is the meaning of ‘invention’ to be understood, given that several other brilliant engineers were involved? The question is adjudicated using the notion of cultural ‘extelligence’, seen in relation to several contemporary and historical accounts, including Greathead’s own record of his achievements in the proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers and presented in The City and South London Railway (1896), edited by James Forrest. The paper was first delivered at the conference on ‘Novelty and Innovation in the Nineteenth Century’ held at the North-West University in May 2016.


James Henry Greathead; subaqueous tunnelling; Marc Brunel; Peter W. Barlow; Greathead Shield; Thames Tunnel; Tower Subway; City and South London Railway; Grahamstown; South Africa; 1820 Settlers; the Greathead Statue; Bank Junction.


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