diamond geezer

 Monday, November 28, 2011

If you'd wanted to visit Aldwych tube station 20 years ago it would have cost less than a quid. Over this weekend, and over next, it costs twenty. But then if you'd have been at Aldwych station twenty years ago you'd have been one of a handful of passengers, whereas this weekend there were hundreds of people trying to get in, and queues outside on the pavement. That's what happens when you close down a station - initially nobody cares, and then people start clamouring to get back inside to see what they've been missing. Aldwych has been firmly closed since 1994... apart from all sorts of filming down on the disused platforms, and staff training, and a surprising amount of other stuff for a mothballed station. And suddenly the London Transport Museum have flung wide the doors to let people inside, just for a fortnight, no gimmicks, to experience this most peculiar station for themselves.

You'll know the story of Aldwych, if you're interested, and if you don't then it's well documented here, here (four pages) and here (three). Opened 1907, originally planned as the southern terminus of a line down from Wood Green, but cruelly bypassed when two tube projects were merged and the Piccadilly line was born. Aldwych had been intended to be an important interchange station, but withered when the theatre traffic it was built to serve dried up. Two platforms were built, but the second was in service for only ten years before being mothballed. Soon the shuttle service to Holborn was cut on Sundays, later on Saturdays too, then restricted to weekday peak times only. Eventually it was the ancient lifts that killed the branch line off. Replacing the 1907 originals would have been too expensive, so a closure notice was served and the station closed on 30 September 1994.

This weekend and next, a series of six Open Days has opened the place up. Don't go looking for tickets, they sold out weeks ago, but those of us fortunate to have one duly assembled at the top of Surrey Street for our subterranean treat. The queuing system confused almost everyone, because there wasn't a back to the line, only a front-entry corral. Museum staff mumbled something about DSLR cameras being banned, although it was impossible to hear over the peal of Aldwych bells. Bags were searched, tickets were torn, smiles were exchanged, and in we went. Ooh, the Leslie Green ticket hall, and... oh, hang on, Health and Safety. There were a lot of Health and Safety messages, some would say too many, as our chief guide reiterated stuff we'd already been told about high-heeled shoes, trip hazards and how anyone unable to walk up 160 stairs should back out now. Peter, who's a City of Westminster Tour Guide, was desperately unimpressed by the patronising spiel and the endless nannying he endured underground. It wasn't quite so bad on my tour, thankfully, but I guess it's only thanks to draconian health and safety procedures that we were allowed down below in the first place.

Ooh, the lifts. Two are visible up top, each large enough for 45 passengers, although 45 passengers rarely materialised. Each has an ornate Art Nouveau flourish above the doors, because back then beauty was an important part of London Underground design. We heard an anecdote about a bell the driver at Holborn used to ring to summon the lift, and then we heard the same anecdote later in the tour, which is one of the perils of a multi-guide presentational experience. And then we set off down the stairs. Twelve straight to begin with, then the spiral staircase of 119 (someone's chalked "½-way" on the wall, at a point which isn't). These emerge opposite the lifts, and it's a surprise to see how many there are. Three lift shafts in total, each with space for two lifts, although only one of the three shafts reaches the surface. The ticket office was built on top of the other two, once it was apparent customer throughflow would never merit sextuple vertical elevation. The empty columns are massive, as I guess lift shafts have to be, and would make a fantastic hideaway lair if any London-based archcriminals or superheroes are reading.

But what everyone really wanted to see was the platforms. Access is down a long white-tiled passage, then 21 more steps to the trains (wherever the "there are 160 steps" fact in the Health and Safety briefing came from, heaven knows). Platform 1 was the platform used by timetabled Piccadilly line services. A long curved space with hooped ceiling, stuck in a timewarp pre-Metronet, pre-Tube Lines, pre-PPP initiative. It could almost still be 1994 down here, apart from a few telltale signs that it isn't. The posters on the walls look proper vintage, except they're all recent fakes pasted on for filming or event purposes. And there are loudspeakers equally spaced all the way along the ceiling, of the kind that didn't appear in other stations until the 21st century, because Aldwych is often used as a testing ground for TfL staff. They drive trains in, they parade up and down the platforms, all in a safe bubble disconnected from the rest of the system. Someone had driven a 1972 train into the platform to give us something to look at, which was nice, and there were also two museum volunteers ready to impart their Aldwych knowledge. We listened to one volunteer up one end, and the other up the other, and were then told we had five minutes to take photos. Off we trooped, non-DSLRs at the ready, only to be summoned back after two minutes and ordered off on the next stage of our tour. Muted disgruntlement ensued. Maybe staff will have the timings a little better sorted by weekend two, or maybe they'll be able to explain what's going on a little more clearly without being openly misleading. [photo: platform 1]

Platform 2 is very different, and the chance to visit was a rare opportunity. The last train left here in 1917, and the tunnel walls at each end have since been bricked up. Those aren't modern railway tracks down there, and you don't get wide sleepers like that these days either. A fragment of the original Edwardian tiling can be seen, from the days when the station was called Strand rather than Aldwych, although covered over by more recent designs trialled here before being rolled out elsewhere. Down one end is a multicolour curve, Piccadilly Circus style, although we weren't allowed quite that far down. And the adverts here are the genuine article, not 1917 vintage but pasted up in the 1970s, featuring such delights as Heals department store and the National Exhibition of Gardening at Syon House. One particularly trippy illustration for Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium could only have been printed at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. But overall this was a dark austere place, never wholly coherent, never quite complete. We had plenty of time to explore here before it was time to ascend less-than-160 steps to the surface. [photo: platform 2]

By the time these two special weekends are finished, more than 2500 fortunate souls will have had the chance to venture into Aldwych's seldom seen depths. That's £50000 for the Transport Museum's coffers, minus staff and organisational costs, which sounds like a nice little earner. It could have been organised better, to be frank, but then opportunities like this don't come round very often. If nothing else the internet is now chockful of photographs of Aldwych station, from every internal angle, so if you never made it, at least you can now peruse precisely what you missed.

Aldwych photos from: Chris, Ian Visits, Mike, Beth, James, Stewart, Mike, copwatcher, Alan, minifig, Ben, Katy, Andy, Carlbob, Anne

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards