Through barred and dirty doors, across mausoleum quiet lobbies, and down, down winding stairs to a monument of human ambition fallen foul of progress.
I was recently fortunate enough* to go on one of London Transport Museum's rare tours of the abandoned Aldwych Underground station, originally known as Strand. Why an abandoned tube station? Well, it's a beautiful little time capsule to another age of design, site of many well known film and tv scenes, and a we got a very good little tour giving insights into how the Underground was originally run.
Click on pictures for larger views, and on "Read More" for more images and info.
There was a bit of a confusion initially, as the ticket was clear to meet at a specific door, but we arrived to a sign saying to wait at the corner, which was in the way of pedestrians. As no-one or nothing was at the corner, we hung around the door. After about 15 minutes I went to check the corner again - to spot a barrier system, staff and queue of people materialised across the road from the corner... We quickly found that things were smoothly run though, with a main guide and team of 'sheepdogs' to herd us and keep us safe.
Aldwych is fascinating as it opened in 1907, ran an increasingly reduced service until it closed in 1994, and since then it has been one of the 'go-to' locations for filming the underground. Such low level use resulted in much of the original outfitting remaining - there was no reason to refurbish. Wooden booking office desks welcome you, and posters from the 1950s peel from the walls. Well... herein lies some of the fun... as a prime spot for filming, some of these details are fake, added in permanently to enhance the period feel, or remainders from recent productions. Our knowledgeable guide took great fun testing us on what is original, and what looks so original but is fake.
The station was not only closed, it was also never fully completed after it became apparent during construction that they would never get the expected footfall, so they just stopped some work partway. This leaves a strange series of empty lift shafts without lifts,and un-tiled corridors and stairs perfect for zombies to sway in. It's almost worth the admission just for the creeping terror you feel as the guide explains how close you are to bustling London, but how utterly isolated...
As is so often the way with time capsules of great interest, in the hands of large organisations, the tube folk originally had little idea how fascinated punters and film crews would be. So we were able to play "name that station tile design" where the original cream and green tiles were sadly pulled off to allow testing of tile designs for other stations. For years, Aldwych was a way to try out paint, tiles etc in the kind of conditions they'd have to face underground.
The location itself is just pretty amazing to potter around, and gawp at, plus we were also treated to some very interesting "I didn't know that" moments from the guide. I never knew the tube was originally comprised of lots of small businesses and entrepreneurs, running separate sections. Getting to stand by the tube train which took V to his explosive end* was rather "squee!" and there were a few film buffs mixed in with the tube spotters and history fans.
We were allowed plenty of time to take pictures and poke about, either when smaller groups were taken to more confined areas, or when waiting for the group to converge. I would advise taking pictures throughout though, as there were some mutters of discontent at the end of the tour about the booking office. Having begun in the booking office area, we were told we would return later, and told that the ladies loo was amazing, with original 1920's fittings intact. We returned only briefly to the booking office, and there wasn't sufficient time to wander round or see the toilets, we got shooed out rather quickly.
is Aldwych station worth £25 per head for an hour's tour?
I would say so. It's a very unusual location with layers of interest, from storing the Elgin Marbles to filming 28 Weeks Later, and a rare glimpse into both a luxurious feeling past, and the concrete and girders behind the smooth corridors we're so used to.
*Having seen that the tours were sold out, I called to ask about the chances of cancellations, and was very happy to be told that a couple of tickets were available again. Yes. I was that customer, chancing their arm and asking for a favour, but I was expecting to get no for an answer!
*ok, this could be a spoiler - but either you already know what this refers to, or you probably never will.
Webcomic and occasional blog about the heritage sector.
Follow The Attendant:
All text and images are produced by and copyright of the artist, holder of the domain name of attendantsview.com