strand-station

Aldwych – Inside the Disused Tube Station

Post Date: 1st December 2013

Author: Matt Gedge

On 30th November 1907 the Strand Underground station opened. 87 years later it closed. Today we know it as Aldwych, and last week our London Tour Guide Matt was fortunate enough to join a few keen explorers of London’s past to descend the now disused stairs to the deserted tunnels and passages of a remarkable station.

From the sight of antique lift shafts to unfinished platforms, peeling posters from movies and original tiles displaying the name ‘Strand’, it was an exhilarating journey into this unique station’s ever evolving history.

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aldwych-tube-map

The Strand was rather an anomaly from its inception. It was intended to be the southern terminus of one of the tube lines, but with the creation of the Piccadilly line from two separate projects, it was left looking like an extra leg tagged onto Holborn.

It then suffered an identity crisis when it was renamed Aldwych in 1915, with the station we now know as Charing Cross taking the name Strand (only to revert to ‘Charing Cross’ in 1979).

So it was a difficult start. Even during construction the decision was made to limit expenditure fearing that the station would be underused. As a consequence only one set of stairs and passages were built to the platform, which itself was only half completed.
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The first few years of operation usually saw a two car train providing a shuttle service to only the western tunnel, and by 1914 the eastern tunnel wasn’t being used at all. Then during the German air raids in the First World War the disused platform was converted into a storage facility for 300 paintings from the National Gallery, and during the heaviest raids of 1917 it was used as a shelter for thousands of people.
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Due to limited usage, within 15 years of its opening, Aldwych had closed its booking office. This led to small ticket booths being built into the lift cars, allowing the liftman to issue and collect tickets while taking people down to the platform.
During the Blitz, Aldwych’s disused tunnel provided a home for thousands of valuable artworks and artefacts from the Victoria & Albert Museum and British Museum – including the Elgin Marbles – and one month after the station was closed, in October 1940 the station was sheltering up to 1500 people a night.
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aldwych-walkway
At first the conditions were awful, with a severe lack of toilet facilities and no water supply or drainage at platform level leading to great discomfort and a horrible stench. Within a month the situation had improved, with three tier bunks, chemical toilets and even a firm control on numbers through ticketing being implemented.
It must have been an extraordinarily tough environment, as people spent the night in the tube then went to work the following morning. People were actually living in the underground, and for months numerous families would spend nearly all their free time in the company of each other, developing a renowned community spirit. A religious service was observed on Sundays and performers including the famous George Formby entertained the crowd.
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Owing to the V1 and V2 raids in 1944-5, the platform continued to be a shelter even after the Blitz, while some of the museum artefacts were still being stored here in the mid to late 1950s.
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Aldwych reopened in 1946, but by 1958 due to a lack of use, it scaled back its operation, only running services during rush hour. The disused eastern tunnel provided a location for full scale mock ups of future station designs from the 1960s, while TV and film crews took advantage of its long hours of closure to shoot scenes for movies like The Krays and Patriot Games.

Sadly, the number of passengers dwindled to around 450 a day, making its continued existence a constant drain on London Underground resources, costing £150,000 a year. So when the 87 year old lifts finally needed replacing in 1994, the cost of doing so couldn’t be justified, and so it closed.

And so today it stands as one of London’s disused underground stations, opening its doors every now and again for us to delve into a rather enigmatic piece of London’s underground history.

Movies featuring Aldwych include: Superman 4 (1986), V for Vendetta (2005), Atonement (2007), 28 Weeks Later (2007). And of course the music video Firestarter by the Prodigy!

With thanks to London Transport Museum.

Please note Fun London Tours does not organise tours of Aldwych station.

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