Friday Fun will not be abandoned…

The title of this week’s fun is less to do with the possibility of my abandoning the feature or – heaven forfend – the blog; more to do with the fun that can be had with abandoned things…

This week marks the fourth anniversary of my exceptionally nerdy day out, in which I explored the remains of various abandoned tube stations. Ever since, glimpses of disused stations have always brightened up a day (recently I’ve watched as the remains of the old Pudding Mill Lane DLR station have been swept away by Crossrail en route from Stratford), not least the evening spent in Aldwych. Information about such stations is devoured and savoured.

Thus, a tweet from a friend announcing that it was the 81st anniversary of the British Museum station closing was an excellent thing to wake up to yesterday, especially as it included delightful illustrations:

Hours later, I discovered that the Guardian had also decided to join the abandoned stations bandwagon, with a feature on disused stops around the world. Did you know that Cincinnati has an entire subway system that’s NEVER BEEN USED?? A whole city of abandoned stations! Incredible! Or that Moscow allegedly had a secret parallel system for high-ranking Communists?

NYC City Hall stationPossibly the most glorious of the world’s disused stations – City Hall in New York.

I trust most people have seen the video of the man who ran between Mansion House & Canon St and made it back onto the same Circle Line train? If not, WATCH IT! It’s a brilliant demonstration of just how close together certain parts of the network are. [For example, I was recently asked what the stupidest thing I’d ever done under the influence was – one of my contributions was catching the tube from Embankment to Charing Cross. It’s by no means the stupidest thing I’ve done, but all Londoners know it’s a pretty stupid escapade, especially if you’re trying to make a last train, which you would have caught had you walked…]

It has pleased me no end that friends have been inspired to alight trains at Embankment purely to visit the antique map. If you’re in search of another tube goody, may I suggest a trip to see the delightful roundel clock at Bethnal Green?

Roundel ClockSomeone on Twitter has asked that I return at 9 so that it looks even better. We’ll see…

In a complete change of direction, the final bit of fun for today returns to a favourite Friday theme: periods. Two teenage girls from NYC, sick of the stigma attached to being seen with tampons, created a computer game called ‘Tampon Run’ in which tampons are weapons. I’ve spent a good ten minutes playing it and it’s quite the distraction. It’s not sophisticated, but it is hilarious and carries an important message.


And with that, I am off for what promises to be an exceedingly fun weekend with friends, an awful lot of cake, wine & cheese, and a very big cottage!

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.

Friday Fun for the second Friday of 2014

As I mentioned the other day, Sherlock’s use of the London Underground (however right/wrong it may have been) has unleashed a flood of TfL geekery upon the internet. Some of the best I’ve seen should provide the start of a fun Friday morning…


This map of ‘ghost stations’ was linked to in a BBC article on disused stations that jumped on the Sherlock bandwagon. If you’ve had the least bit of interest in the subject, then most of that article won’t be news to you, but the photos of Aldwych station are as fascinating as ever.  [I’ve just discovered the London Transport Museum had tours down there in November. How did I miss that piece of news?!?]

Aldwych Platform

Talking of tube history, 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the tube, and one fabulous blog celebrated the year by chronicling 150 of the best features of the tube network. Its last post came as the year closed, but if you missed it, I highly recommend trawling through its archives – it was utterly lovely. I was going to miss its presence in my blog feed, but thankfully, a friend passed on a link to another blog that appears to have its fair share of London Transport geekery – both historic and futuristic. Ian Visits has included posts on the CrossRail development at Canary Wharf & Bond Street, as well as photos of disused tunnels (specifically, a disused loop of the Northern Line which I did not know about). You know, the kind of thing that gets me and my geeky friends quite excited. (Oh, and he shares my views about the ridiculousness of tube pedantry in the context of Sherlock. Good man.)

Finally, a couple of interactive tube past-times. Firstly, something that involves actually going outside and doing some travelling. Someone has come up with lists of tube stations on FourSquare so that people can challenge themselves to visit all the stations in zone 1, or the whole DLR, or the whole Overground. I imagine this would be most fun in some kind of time-limited, competition framework (but that might just be my competitive side coming out). Secondly, those hilarious tube station white boards? Well, not all of them are real, because some whiz came up with a way of making your own

Sherlock Station Board

Well done all – you’ve survived the first full week of work in 2014!

A nerd’s idea of a fun day out

Last weekend, while enjoying a perfect autumnal day and realising that I had the coming Friday off work, I started to formulate a plan for the nerdiest day out…

For a long time, as I’ve mentioned (seemingly numerous times) before, I’ve harboured a desire to seek out the disused train stations that are scattered across London. In order to have a relatively stress-free expedition, it would need to take place on a weekday (avoiding weekend line closures and tourist crowds), so Friday seemed perfect.

It didn’t quite go to plan. Firstly, it was a solo adventure (I’m not entirely sure if this is a negative, but it would have been fun to share it) thanks to a couple of similarly nerdy friends having other plans [though fear not, I have other such expeditions up my sleeve which you may join me on]. Secondly, the weather was abysmal. So abysmal that I wore my wellies and got soaked to the skin thanks to issues with holding an umbrella and taking photos simultaneously – this photo (taken during my 15min wait for a train after just missing one) illustrates the conditions:

Anyway, back to the nerdiness. I planned my route with the help of the Abandoned Tube Stations site, choosing to concentrate on those with buildings still visible above ground and, on this occasion, those accessed via the Northern Line. The plan was to work my way up from London Bridge, hitting abandoned buildings at City Road, Angel, South Kentish Town and Highgate. I set off with a backpack containing a couple of nerdy books (London’s Disused Tube Stations and What’s in a Name? Origins of Station Names on the London Underground), my camera and wearing my nerdiest glasses…

1. City Road (closed 1922)
Between Old Street and Angel sat City Road station, though lack of use marked it out for closure early on. All that’s left is a ventilation shaft, which made it quite a challenge to spot given as I had only a sketchy idea of where it was located. It turned out to be closer to Angel than Old Street (thus making even more sense of its early closure) and quite an unremarkable building.

2. Angel (Re-built 1992)
Just a few minutes up the road is the old entrance to Angel tube station – a station that hasn’t closed, simply re-built with its new entrance around the corner from the old one. Over the years the old building has had a variety of purposes – I’m pretty sure that when I lived in the area as a student it was a pizza restaurant. There’s some interesting classic tube architecture, though most of its blocked by hideous metal walls. On the plus-side, there was a weird horse sticking out of the side of one wall…

3. South Kentish Town (closed 1924)Re-joining the Northern Line at Angel, I headed up to Kentish Town in pursuit of a station that I have travelled past at least 500, if not nearer 1000 times (on my way to and from school for 3 years, then later while at university). You’d have thought I’d know exactly what I was looking for, but no – it was on the opposite side of the road than I’d expected and further away from Kentish Town station than I’d thought.

The station’s between Camden and Kentish Town, and again was a case of too short a gap between other significant stations. It’s also responsible for an event that’s gone down in London Transport folklore – when an absent minded passenger alighted from a train at the closed station while a train was stopped by a signal. He had to stay on the platform until another train picked him up, but the story spawned a number of fictional accounts – each detailing increasingly ridiculous ways in which the passenger made their way  to safety. (Though, for anyone who’s watched the terrifying Creep, getting stuck in a deserted tube station is truly the stuff of nightmares.) Anyway, it’s now a truly unremarkable branch of Cash Converters, though much of its classic exterior is still visible:

4. Highgate high-level station
Nostalgia got the better of me in Kentish Town. I was approaching home territory (the wilds of proper north London) and seemed unable to stop myself from re-tracing past journeys. As there was no 134 bus (which goes straight to Highgate) forthcoming, I jumped on a 214 to Highgate Village instead – fancying the opportunity to see Parliament Hill fields and the village. Sadly it terminated early, at the fields and only half-way up the hill to the village. I’d forgotten just how steep Highgate West Hill is (we used to walk it as teenagers after afternoons spent snake-boarding on the heath, but I realised en route that my friends’ house was only part-way up the hill!) and my calves are paying for it today. By this point the weather had also got a lot worse – I could barely see a thing through my rain spattered glasses.

After a little bit of getting lost (I always get lost in the village) and some further nostalgia in my favourite children’s second hand bookshop, I was at Highgate tube station and made a shocking discovery…

I’ve walked past the high-level platforms on countless occasions (this was the station I commuted from for years and years) and never fully realised that they were there! Walking down the path from Muswell Hill Road, I wondered where the best view of the platforms would be – then I looked to my right and realised I could see them! It’s rather eerie, above the tube station is an almost perfect set of station platforms and buildings, just totally deserted since the railway closed in the 1950s.

The station could be a blog post in its own right, but here are a few glimpses:

An old station building now in someone’s garden and a glimpse of the platform from the hill.
The view from the car park – though you can’t actually see this, thanks to a high wall & some barbed wire. My camera got round it though. 

By this point I was soaked and exhausted (and it was only 1.30pm!) so I abandoned plans to discover other stations for another day – yes, there will be further instalments of this super-exciting adventure. There are quite a few photos on Flickr, if it’s your thing. If it’s so much of your thing that you’d like to join me on a future expedition, let me know – I’m sure it’ll be a case of the more the merrier!

A couple of things I’ve realised in engaging in this activity:
(i) People aren’t as judgemental about this kind of thing as you might think. Yes, it’s nerdy, but in reality, most Londoners are so dependent upon the tube that anything to do with it can become fascinating. Having said that, I’m not quite so keen on the fact that one friend thought this was a great fact with which to introduce me at a gathering where I knew no one. (He will be quick to point out that everyone he/I told loved the idea, so no one thought I was a loser, but the risk was there…)
(ii) We can be so blind as we go about our day to day life that we can miss these places. The fact that that two of the buildings were ones that I’d passed frequently yet never fully noticed says a lot. Keeping your eyes open and looking out for something out of the ordinary is a great skill to have.