Like most Londoners, I spend half my waking life on the tube. Smooth travels, delayed journeys, and multiple transfers are part of the daily routine. With so much time spent underground, it would seem logical that I would only elect to enter a tube station if I had somewhere to go. But yesterday I went to a station from which no trains have operated for years. It was one of the city’s famous abandoned Underground stops: Aldwych tube station in London.
Aldwych station opened in 1907 as a spur of the Piccadilly line from Holborn. The station was originally called Strand station due to its location on the street of the same name, but its title was changed to Aldwych after a naming conflict with what is now Charing Cross tube station.
Aldwych was famous during World War II for acting as an air raid shelter for hundreds of Londoners during the Blitz, and was open until 1994, when the cost of necessary improvement works exceeded the projected revenues of the station. Since then Aldwych tube station has been abandoned, frozen in time as it was left when it closed to the public.
Yesterday I had a chance to visit the station as part of a Station Open Day put on by the London Transport Museum. The 30-minute tour took me and my fellow train nerds across the threshold of the red glazed brick exterior, through the green-and-cream tiled booking office area, and down 160 steps to the historic train platforms.
There we were given ultra-short lectures by six volunteers. They told us about the station’s conversion into a storage facility for 300 paintings from the National Gallery during World War I and thousands of artworks from the V&A and British Museum during World War II.
They also talked about Aldwych station’s current use as a training facility for emergency services staff, filming location for James Bond movies, and function as a testing ground for how posters, paint, and tile would look in other stations.
One of the tunnels had a Northern Line train from the 1970’s on its tracks, and we learned that it was still functional between Aldwych tube station and Holborn if needed.
Back up the stairs, we saw the old abandoned elevator shafts. They were prime examples of Victorian (over) engineering, and reminded me of Tower Bridge.
Once the tour of Aldwych tube station was over, we walked through the wooden elevators and followed the historic signs to the exit. As I left, I was glad to have had the chance to visit the abandoned tube station and see a place that played such a big role in everything from World War II to James Bond films.
The £20 price tag for a 30-minute tour was a bit steep, and I wished that the volunteers had given us additional information (the pamphlet we received at the end was more detailed), but overall I was glad to have been able to see Aldwych tube station in London. If they ever open other abandoned stations for visits, I might just have to go below ground again despite having no need to travel.