The London Underground has always held a weird fascination for me and with it being the world’s first underground railway let me tell you there’s lots to be fascinated with. There’s disused stations, tunnels and lines all over the city many that have been closed for years. Recently I got to go on a guided tour of one of the most well known disused stations. Aldwych on the Piccadilly Line.
Aldwych station was closed to passengers in 1994 having been something of a Tube curiosity. It was built at the end of a branch off the Piccadilly Line in 1907 but was never used as heavily as originally intended.
The Piccadilly Line was one of three new Tube railways under central London that were completed in 1906/07 by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL). The Piccadilly Line was created by the merger of two separate Tube projects. They were linked at Holborn to create the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway with was opened between Hammersmith and Finsbury Park in 1906. The merger created a short spur from Holborn to Aldwych, originally planned as the southern terminus of one of the lines. Upon opening the station was called Strand, but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 to avoid confusion with the nearby Charing Cross Strand station.
The external fascia of UERL Tube stations of 1906/07 are very distinctive and all follow the same basic design. The architect Leslie Green came up with a standard look which made stations easy to recognise in the street. The frontages are in dark red glazed brick and terracotta and have the arched windows above the entrances.
We entered the station with our guides through what would have been one of the old entrances and walked straight into the original booking hall, the old ticket windows and signs are still intact.
In the late 1980’s a modern ticket office built in heritage style was installed along with new automated ticket barriers, the barriers are long gone but the ticket office survived.
The main reason for closing the station aside from the fact that only about 450 people a day were using it were that the lifts needed urgent replacement. The cost was too much and so the station closed.
The lifts at Aldwych are quite rare and have been left as they were. They operate in a single shaft and each lift is a sort of semi circular shape so they fit together, it also meant if one lift broke down the other could be cranked up to it and a small door could be opened that connected the lifts together meaning the broken lift could be evacuated.
As the lifts are no longer operational we had to walk down about 130 steps to reach platform level.
The branch line had been built with two tunnels and the station had twin platforms. A shuttle service operated using a single two car train. The eastern platform was not used for train services from about 1914.
On the disused eastern platform part of the original name, Strand, can be seen in the tiling on the wall.
There’s also a short section of original track, which has wooden sleepers and an early design of insulators under the two conductor rails. There’s also no suicide pit under the rails.
Early on during construction it was feared that the station would be little used and cost saving measures were sought. Only about half the platform where the short trains would stop was tiled and stairs and passages to the platforms were not finished or ever opened. Passengers only ever used what would have been the exit passages to access platforms and lifts.
During the First World War the disused platform was converted into an emergency store for 300 paintings from the National Gallery. The Second World War saw the same platform and tunnels used by the V&A and the British Museum to store thousands of valuable artwork and artefacts including the Elgin Marbles. This station like many others during WWII was also used as an air raid shelter during the Blitz.
The station remained closed throughout the war and train services were not restored until July 1946. London Transport made use of the second platform at Aldwych by creating full scale mock ups of future station designs, starting with proposals for the new Victoria Line in the 1960’s. The platform still has some experimental tiling designs on its walls from various refurbishments including Piccadilly Circus station in the 1980’s.
The single line to the western platform is still operational and connected to the rest of the system at Holborn. An old train (although not a Piccadilly Line train) sits at the platform and we were allowed to board it to listen to some stories from the Blitz.
The platform still has some original advertising posters on its walls which were quite interesting to see although a lot of things are not quite as they seem as the station is quite often used for filming and a lot of things have been put in by various set designers.
Films featuring Aldwych station include Superman 4 (1986), Atonement (2007), V for Vendetta (2005), The Edge of Love (2008), 28 Weeks Later (2007), The Deep Blue Sea (2011), and The Imitation Game (2014). TV programmes include Sherlock and Mr Selfridge.
Visiting Aldwych Station was a fascinating experience but I had hoped to see a little more of the original station which seems to have disappeared during heavy use by film companies. However the guides were excellent and gave a real insight into the workings of the underground system in the early days and a ton of knowledge about the station itself and the various other uses it has had.