So I’ve been back 6 months and now I’m stuck in the normal 9-5 of a office job. Guess chances for adventure are clearly over…
Or maybe not…
You see whilst working in a city can often blind you to its charms it also comes with opportunities to do things you would never get as a tourist. For example a couple of weeks ago I got to see Prime Ministers Question Time after an old work colleague got hold of tickets. Now its a simple enough job of patience and queueing for a tourist to get into the Houses of Parliament, but PMQ’s is not so straight forward. You need an invite, normally from an MP, and given how many MP’s are, they don’t often get invites to hand out to their constituents. So clearly not the sort of thing you are likely to be able to do if you are just a random tourist in London.
And likewise, getting to tour an otherwise closed and abandoned Underground Station isn’t as straight forward as simply turning up and trying to buy a ticket. These events are held infrequently by the London Transport Museum, and the tickets sell out far in advance, with most of them gone within minutes of being put on sale. But with no prospect of me going anywhere, I happily purchased by tickets for a tour of Aldwych Station way back in September, and last week it was finally time for the tour.
Aldwych was called Strand when it opened, changing to Aldwych, when the station which is now part of Charring Cross opened on what is now the Northern Line, opened during WWI, which took the Strand name. If you follow that you probably deserve some sort of medal…
Obviously if you know me, or have seen much of my blog, you will know that basically I am a bit of a geek when it comes to trains, so it won’t suprise you that this is the sort of sad thing I’ve wanted to do for ages. In fact I first read about tours of Aldwych Station and other “ghost” stations over a decade ago. Happily, good things come to those who wait, and despite waiting so long and having seen various photos of it, the tour definitely met my high expectations.
Short bit of history, the line, like all the original underground railway lines in London was built by a private company who had to get permision for the route passed through Parliament. The Great Northern and Strand Railway got permision for a route between Wood Green and Aldwych in 1899, but before it built anything it ran out of money and was taken over by Brompton and Picadilly Circus Railway in 1901 who had permision for their own route and, having been formally merged as the catchily named Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, got permission to join the two routes together at Holborn, the stop before Aldwych, which had the effect of making Aldwych a tiny spur off the main route and would have a catastrophic effect on passenger numbers using the station right from its opening in 1907.
This is actually one of the few areas of the surface station to contain original tiling. Most of the rest of what you can see has been redone for filming purposes etc.
Signs of its doomed nature were visable throughout the tour. The orignal ticket office was closed by 1922 and the ticket office actually relocated to inside the lifts to the platform. (although a replica of a vintage era ticket office has been built inside the station for filming purposes). Having walked the 130 steps down the the bottom of bottom of the lifts, there are two unfinished lift shafts, never completed due to financial worries and the need to save money on a station that seemed destined for poor patronised before it had even opened. The lifts only opened on one side, unlike lifts elsewhere on the network. The original intension would have been for passengers to exit the lifts on the other side of the shaft and enter the platorms via seperate tunnels. These were built, but never finsihed and never used, with customers instead exiting and entering the lifts from the same side.
One of the original lifts. After 1922, tickets were sold here too.
Leading from lifts to the platforms. Originally this would have only been for customers exiting the station only, but for money saving reasons they didn’t bother finishing the other route to the platforms.
The first platform we visited had a very short life indeed. Closed permenantly by 1917 due to low use, it found a second life as a bomb proof storage site for various priceless treasures from the British Museum, under threat from German bombing in both wars. The ends of the tunnels were bricked up and a large, guarded metal door was installed, cutting off access to the rest of the station. There were lots of little historical tales to be seen down here; the short stretch of track here is the oldest on the network, complete with square insulators and no “suicide” pit. Metal hooks can be seen in the stairs leading to this platform that were a legacy of how the Elgin Marbles were gently lowered down during the war. They came down in the lifts, but were considered too heady to risk taking back up in the lift – they were apparently removed via train. In peacetime, when no longer used as storage, the platform was used to trial new lighting and platform decorations. From the 1970’s there are the remains of testing for the design of the Victoria line platforms – complete with 1970’s European Referendum posters!
The loops used for lowering the Elgin Marbles
The other platform closed in 1994, but is still connected to the network and is used for training and commercial filming. An old train was sat folornly in the platform, looking in need of a good dusting, and in a further demonstration of the poor usage of this station, half the platform was never properly finished and tiled. Here the tour guides gave lots of information about this platforms use as an air-raid shelter in both world wars, including how the BBC recorded a concert here that was aired in the USA as a demonstration of the “blitz spirit”.
Needs a dusting…
Lights leading down towards Holborn Station
In short, I loved the whole thing. There was just the right mix between guided time, and a bit of freedom to go and take photos. Can’t recommend it enough. Sign up to the London Transport Museum’s newsletter on their website to get early notice of when they next do one!