Adventuring underground at Aldwych

It’s not often that I set an alarm to remind me to book tickets as soon as they go on sale, but when I heard (via Ian Visits) that Aldwych Tours were taking place this summer, it was an opportunity not to be missed. I confess, I booked the tickets during a Monday morning theology lecture, back in February.

Strand StationStrand Station – renamed Aldwych just 8 years after it opened – on the Strand.

Aldwych station is a special place. Closed since 1994, it’s one of the most visible and accessible of all of London’s (many) disused tube stations, largely thanks to it being on a branch line from Holborn that went nowhere else – meaning that trains don’t use it any more. The London Transport Museum runs tours a couple of times a year (as in blocks of tours, there were 3 weeks in this block), but booking is essential. Tickets went fast. Having previously hunted for abandoned stations above ground, I was finally going to explore one underground!

Last Thursday, with fellow geek Jenni in tow, we finally got inside and my goodness, it was worth the wait and the ticket price! [£25 for an adult, which will also give you 50% off entry at the LT museum, which then lasts a year – great deal.] Tours are led by volunteers, i.e. people who know a lot of information about the tube, just for fun. (Suddenly, I can see an activity for my retirement…) And our guides were great, very informative, willing to answer questions and obviously very passionate about their role.

There is SO much to say about the tour, but I don’t really want to spoil too much of it, because you really ought to go yourselves. Therefore, what follows are simply highlights…

1) Things are not always what they seem:

Fake PosterThe poster on the right is a classic LT poster, but this isn’t as old as it might look – it’s a replica from this century. 

Bakerloo Line SignThe Bakerloo Line has never passed through Aldwych Station (although the reason behind its renaming was owing to confusion to the nearby Strand station that eventually formed part of Charing Cross, which is on the Bakerloo Line). This is a left-over from one of Aldwych’s frequent film roles, this time for Mr Selfridge. 

2) The station was never particularly useful, to the extent that its second platform was never completely finished, nor were passageways between the two. Trains only ran between Holborn and Aldwych (not onwards), meaning that the line had very limited use. Apparently as a train was leaving Holborn, a bell would be rung alerting the lift manager at Aldwych to begin the journey down to platform level to pick up the tiny number of passengers that would be alighting.

Platform 2

The second platform instead found a use as a safe place to store national treasures during WW2 (including the Elgin Marbles), with the rest of the station used as an air raid shelter. Today, the platform has become an ideal place to test new tile patterns or materials used in tube infrastructure.

Piccadilly Line tile trialThe Piccadilly Line’s tiles in trial form.

3) It’s the little things that make a difference. Like an original 1907 sink & tap in the ladies’ toilets [a tube station with toilets!], and the iron work on the lift numbers.

1907 taps & sink

Lift 2

4)  Ultimately, it’s pretty cool to find yourself somewhere not everyone’s going to get to go!

Aldwych Platform 1Looking down platform 1.

Station Closed

Happy Geeks Happy geeks!

Oh, and, at the end of the tour you get handed a booklet chronicling the history of the station – just so you can check up on any facts you might have misheard.

More photos can be found on Flickr.

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