I grew up within the commuter belt of London so from an early age Dad use to bring me up to “town” to see the London sights in the school holidays. From 16 I started coming up to London with my friends, at 23 I moved to London and 17 years later I’m still here. I never tire of exploring London but I’ve pretty much ticked off all of the main sights, those that you only need to be visited once like the Tower of London (simply due to price and those queues!), those that you can keep visiting over and over like the Tate, all the museums and galleries. London is forever evolving and areas are gentrifying, there is always something new to discover. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that there is a whole other world under the ground in London. Not just the actual underground but a network of disused tube lines, closed stations, subterranean waterways, war bunkers & shelters, even the Post Office had tunnels underground for the Mail Rail.
Over the past couple of years the London Transport Museum have been running “Hidden London” tours. These are guided tours of areas of the underground network which are not normally accessible to the general public. They now have six sites that they have opened up for these tours.
Last weekend I went on my fourth Hidden London tour and we were tipped off that the next batch of dates for tours will go on sale early April. The dates are spread over a couple of months and at the moment happen twice a year. The groups are kept to minimum numbers and generally last up to 90 minutes. They are a hot ticket and sell out very quickly. The starting point to get yourself on one is to sign up to the London Transport Museums newsletter and they will send out an email advising of when the next set of tickets will go on sale. Sign up here www.ltmuseum.co.uk/contact-us/newsletter Get ready to click the pre-sale link quickly when they go on sale and you will be put in the queue. Best of British!
This is the first tour I went on, it is the most expensive, but I must say in my humble opinion, worth every penny. Situated in the upmarket Mayfair area, hidden down a side road Down Street had a short life as a Piccadilly line station. It closed it’s doors in 1937 but then was revitalised during the Blitz where it became the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters. Walk through the tunnels, which run alongside the existing Piccadilly line and imagine where offices once existed, where executives would have dined, drank wine and even smoked through an evening. Churchill was looking for a deep level shelter for the cabinet office and as he did during that time decided that Down Street would be suitable (I’ve visited several underground bunkers in London and there is often a mention of how Churchill wanted to use them during the Blitz, but then never did). The headquarters were quickly adapted to have a section to house the Prime Minister and you can even view the bathroom and toilet that Churchill most probably used. There are 122 steps down, unfortunately with no step free access. You are given a torch to help guide you as it is dimly lit and fairly dirty, these stations haven’t been spruced up, they are in the state that they were left (but with a little bit of health & safety done before opening). You must follow a strict “Lights Off” policy when the Piccadilly Line trains are travelling past in case the torches distract the driver. A small part of the platform is still accessible and can be used as an emergency exit. If your tube stops between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park, it could be that someone is getting off the tube and heading into Down Street. Passengers on the tube are none the wiser, they’ll just think it’s stopped because of another “red signal”! Luckily my memory isn’t very good and I can leave all the proper historical information to be relayed by your tour guide. This really is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Not only are there underground tube tunnels in London but there is a network of subterranean tunnels, built for refuge during the war. You can find eight shelters dotted along the Northern Line and can identify the entrances by a large dome shaped building which leads down into the tunnels. Clapham South dome has 180 steps to reach the bottom, again there is no step free access. Families who wanted to stay in the shelter would have had to carry their possessions down there every night and back up every morning. I was puffed just walking back up, let alone being laden down with my valuable possessions, bedding and possibly a child or two in tow. The signs are original, even the beds that remain are original and were used later on as shelving for archive storage. At the beginning of the tour we’re standing listening to our tour guide when he flicks the light switch which makes the strip lighting coming on in turn revealing what looked like a never ending tunnel. It was quite an amazing effect.
The Charing Cross tour is based within the actual existing tube station. Up until 1999 the jubilee line ran through Charing Cross. However, Charing Cross was a bit out of place along the extension and became surplus to requirement and the platforms and line were made redundant. You start the tour by going through the normal tube barriers, then through a door that I’ve walked past hundreds of times. This opens up to a completely desolate part of the station. It’s a really weird feeling knowing that there are hundreds and thousands of people travelling through Charing Cross tube station, yet most will be completely unaware that the disused platforms and track exist. This part is mainly used now for film sets – Superman, Spooks, James Bond – Skyfall, even some of Paddington Bear was filmed here. Signs are still up in the walkways directing you to the District & Circle line. For those of you that haven’t fully memorised the tube map, the District & Circle lines do not go through Charing Cross. It’s a left over from the filming of Skyfall. Speaking of which, you get to visit the ventilation shaft where Daniel Craig is chasing after Javier Bardem. That was pretty spesh. On the creepy side, in the ventilation shafts we also got to look down on one of the tube lines. As a tube came in we watched from above people coming on and off the tube. So if you’re ever at the end of a platform, waiting for a tube and think you hear voices take a look above you and if there’s a grid above, you may see other people on tours looking back at you.
This tour concentrates on the “lost tunnels”. In the 1960s Euston had a facelift and with the construction of the Victoria line some of the original walkways were closed and re-routed. We started off across the road on Melton Street which has the old entrance hall. This now houses some ventilation shafts, but once the controversial HS2 is built this building and those surrounding it will be knocked down to make way. You can’t access the tunnels from here anymore so we all cross the road and go into the main station, through the barriers, down the escalator and onto a Northern line platform. Has anyone noticed that one of the Northern line platforms is really wide at Euston? That’s because it use to be an island platform – serving both the north and southbound trains, like at Clapham Common and Clapham North. When the Victoria line came into play the island platform was deemed too dangerous for the amount of passengers travelling through so the positioning was changed and this platform now only serves one direction. At the end of the platform we accessed the disused tunnels. There is a small ticket office, and the walls are still adorned with the original posters from the 60s, advertising bargain travel, travel times being cut, and the some west end show adverts. There was another opportunity to visit a ventilation shaft and get to peek down on the Victoria line this time.
It still blows my mind that all of this exists, largely untouched and unused. So grateful for the London Transport Museum and all of their staff bringing these special places back to life. Cross fingers some more stations are added to the list before I run out of places to visit……