The London Underground is more than just a way of getting from A to B. It is one of the defining aspects of the city we all have a love/hate relationship with. The Tube has a history as deep and complex as its tunnels, and from tomorrow till 1st December, Londoners will get to explore a small bit of it in a most unusual way.
During November, the London Transport Museum and TfL are opening up London’s most famous ghost station, Aldwych, to members of the public. The station was first opened back in 1907, when it was called Strand station. It was renamed Aldwych station in 1915, when another station was named Strand. It has been closed twice in its lifetime; firstly, in 1940, after the start of the Blitz. Back then, it became one of London’s many air-raid shelters. After re-opening in 1946, it was closed for good in 1994 because a £3 million lift replacement was deemed too expensive for a station used by only 450 people daily. Sometimes we wish only 450 people would use our local station.
Now that loss has become our gain, as we can explore this travel time capsule. Although it closed just under 20 years ago, which isn’t that long ago, the station feels incredibly dated. It’s odd to realise that no one has used the ticket office in almost two decades.
The station has not been completely abandoned though. It is now the go-to place for films and TV shows that wish to feature the Tube. The station has been used for films like Atonement (when Keira Knightley’s character hides during the Blitz), Patriot Games, and this year’s Mr Selfridge.
In 2010, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the blitz they had a vintage train carriages with lots of interesting little details to look at. Not only are the seats a lot more uncomfortable than we’re used to now, but you’ll see that the style of ads have changed. Now you’d never get the slogan “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”, but that wasn’t the case in the earlier carriages.
There were also posters focusing on the war effort such as “Is your journey really necessary?” and “Don’t ride for fun unless your fun is work”.
The final details to notice were the Tube maps in the carriages. If you look very closely at the World War Two Northern Line map below, you’ll see there’s an extra station between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, plus a station is missing between Waterloo and Charing Cross. This is because what is now Charing Cross station also used to be called Strand (this is the station that caused the name change at Aldwych), while Embankment used to be called Charing Cross.
Sharp-eyed readers (or Northern Line fanatics) will also notice that one branch of the Northern Line only goes as far as Highgate (which is modern Archway), while the present thin black line goes up to High Barnet. This is because the High Barnet extension only happened in the 1940s, after these maps had been made.
These are just some of the interesting little details that you’ll notice from exploring the London Underground’s rich history. We thoroughly recommend that you take a trip down Aldwych’s 160 stairs this month. Tickets can be purchased here. You can also sign up to the Transport Museums’s e-newsletter for future updates as there will likely be more tours next year.