I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of Aldwych underground station in London. This is an abandoned station in central London which closed to the public in 1994. The station is also known as Strand, named after the street on which it is located. Originally opened in 1907, the station was a terminus on the short Piccadilly branch line from Holborn. The station is only a short distance from Temple, and the low passenger numbers, and high cost to refurbish the station lifts ultimately lead to its closure in the mid 90’s.
The tour was organised through the London Transport Museum, and we got to see pretty much everything down there including parts of the station that were never actually completed, and to this day remain as an unfinished building project.
We started our tour in the ticket hall. It’s an unusual “L” shape layout with a small ticket office window in the middle of the room, and the lifts down to the platforms to the right, and a spiral staircase on the left. We were told how the original design had allowed for several lift shafts to be installed, but only 2 cars were ever used so the other shafts remain unused. The 2 lifts are now fixed in position at the ticket hall level and are underpinned by steel girders so they cannot move.
The original colour scheme of cream and dark green tiling can be seen throughout the station. The only way to access the platforms is by the spiral stair case from the ticket hall. 160 steps down!
At the bottom of the stairs is a short passage where the lifts would bring passengers down from street level. The 2 unused shafts can be seen through metal grills. There is then a long corridor from the lifts down to the platform. We were told about how the site is used for prototyping new concepts for the underground, one of which was in the passageway. The had tested the use of glow in the dark paint along the bottom of the walls to guide people to exits in the event of a power failure. This had never been put into use on the underground though.
One of the recent additions in the passage was a “Bakerloo Line” sign – this was added for the filming of Mr Selfridge, as the station was used in the series but not as Aldwych. The Bakerloo line does not come anywhere near the station but in the programme, the station was made to look like somewhere else on the underground.
We arrived on the 1st platform which has an old 1970’s tube train parked up and various old looking posters on the walls. None of these are original though as we were told how the station is regularly used for film and TV filming and many of the posters were reproductions. There was an eerie silence in the station, compared to the hustle and bustle of working platforms, and our guide told us all about the history of how the station was used as an air raid shelter during the second world war, and how hundreds of people took shelter down there each night.
Another interesting fact is that during the war, many precious articles from the British museum were stored in the tunnels for safe keeping, including the Elgin marbles.
We were then taken across to the 2nd platform which was in a much more unused state than the first. The tunnel had been bricked up at one end and was used during the war for washing and toilets etc. Most of the track had been removed in 1917 but the track that was still in place came to a dead end about two thirds of the way along the platform, and the bottom end of the tunnel had obviously been used to prototype various tiling patterns – one of which is very similar to a pattern used in the tiles at Piccadilly Circus.
After we had seen the second platform, we were shown parts of the station that had been started during the initial construction but never completed and had been left in their unfinished state ever since.
The bare concrete steps can be seen, and the lining of the tunnel walls was never completed.
The hard part of the tour was about to begin – climbing the 160 steps back up to street level. There were quite a few tired people by the time we all made it back to the ticket hall but it had been worth it to get a glimpse into a bit of London history that not many people will ever get to see first hand.
We then got another brief talk from our guide about how the station operated day to day, and how there had been numerous plans to extend the line to various other locations, all of which never made it past the initial planning stages.
We were given a small booklet which contains lots of interesting information about the station and its history. If you ever get the opportunity to visit this place, it is well worth it!
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