On Sunday I fulfilled an ambition I’ve had since my first few days in London, travelling around on the tube all day looking for a place to live, over 13 years ago. Being used to trains and cars, I would find myself still staring out of the window into the blackness, and occasionally was rewarded with a glimpse of something secret when the rails flashed up sparks, briefly illuminating the tunnels. Once I was sure I saw what looked like a station platform, dark and empty.
It got my imagination running wild, especially as I was reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ at the time, fascinated by the world he had created in London Below and wondering how much did go on underneath our city that we were oblivious to.
Months later I discovered that there do in fact exist abandoned tube stations all over London, and their ghostly spectres are sometimes visible. I even found out that you could visit one of them – Aldwych, which closed in 1994 and has been used as a film set since, and I tried desperately to get tickets to go and see, but sadly opportunities were few and far between, and I never managed it.
Moving away from London to Italy for a few years, my intentions of exploring the London underground were forgotten, until recently I stumbled across a blog post on WhatKatieDoes.net from a couple of years back, and decided to have a google and see when tickets would next be available. Lo and behold, they had just opened for booking! Fate indeed.
So I booked a ticket for myself and my boyfriend for a tour by the wonderful friends of the London Transport Museum and then got gradually more and more excited until the day finally arrived.
We found ourselves queuing just off the strand in the brisk cold on Sunday morning. I had been worrying perhaps I might be a little odd, because this was not something your average girl should get so excited about, but I was happy to see several other average girls looking just as excited as me.
Aldwych station, or Strand station as it was once known, was a spur from Holborn headed south, which served theatreland as it then was, centred around the Strand. There were all manner of plans to extend it into South-East London, but for various reasons these never got underway, and the station had a measly 450 passengers per day when it closed. Indeed, it was realised even before they had finished building the station that it wouldn’t be well used, and the decision was taken not to complete the separate exit tunnels and just have one entrance and exit, contrary to usual tube station requirements. The ticket booth closed some years later, and the lift operator also started selling tickets, because there was no need for both of them.
The station was at its most useful during the war, when it was used as a shelter, and also stored some of the British Museum’s treasures, including the Elgin marbles. In the 1990s it became apparent the lifts needed replacing, and the cost outstripped the demand, so the decision was made to close the station.
In the picture below you can still see the A and N lettering from the ‘Strand’ on the wall under the posters.
Since then, the station has been used as a film set and for training purposes. The Prodigy’s famous firestarting tunnels are in fact at Aldwych station. Today it means it is not exactly the time-capsule you would imagine, frozen in time in 1994. In fact, parts of it look far older as they have been re-created for films, or newer, like for the Bond film Die Another Day, or even like other tube stations. It means you can experience stations in lots of different eras, with plenty of vintage posterage, which I love!
A perfect afternoon spent geeking out with transport ephemera, what more could a girl want?!