Early last autumn, I discovered that London Transport Museum were going to be giving tours of the abandoned Aldwych underground station in January and February, so I rushed to book my tickets. The tours are always sought-after and fill up quickly, and I had been unlucky when I previously tried to book the tour. Something about visiting an abandoned tube station must appeal to quite a lot of people.
I've walked by the red-tiled facade of the closed station at the Aldwych end of the Strand many times. The station opened in 1907 and closed in 1994. Originally, the tube station was called "Strand", but it was renamed to "Aldwych". (Aldwych of course is taken from the two words 'ald" and 'wych', which means 'old village', so this would have been an 'old village' about two miles outside of the original City of London.)
The facade of the old station contains the name "Piccadilly Railway", which gives a clue as to the tube line that served the station, as they were part of individual rail lines then. Aldwych Station was a spur station, and it was served by the Piccadilly Line from Holborn, which is located directly north of Aldwych. The tunnels from the station do join up with the Piccadilly Line at Holborn.
Below is an old map of the tube network when Aldwych Station was in use; Aldwych is located on the dark blue line as a spur. A minute's walk away is Temple station, and Covent Garden and Holborn are also a short walk away.
We were told that the station was built to serve the theatre district of London, but a theatre was torn down in order to open the station. We were led into the station and saw the original green-tiled ticket office.
A row of old-fashioned wooden telephone booths were located along one wall in the ticket hall area. At the back is a newer ticket office, which has been added later but kept in the same style with dark wood and green tiles. The station is used for filming nearly every day. We were told that they are filming "Mr. Selfridge" at the moment. They have filmed "James Bond", "Atonement", "V For Vendetta", "Battle of Britain", and the new "Sherlock Holmes" here.
Ticket barriers were added later on, and they were removed, but the spot where they stood is still visible on the floor. The woman's bathroom also looked like a blast from the past with an old-style washbasin.
The Aldwych underground station project seemed doomed from the beginning; the three lift (elevator) shafts were dug by hand and held two lifts, but only one of them was ever used. The cost to fix the lift was in the low millions, so the station was closed. We were told that only about 450 people per day used the station toward the end of its life, so keeping it open was not worth the cost.
We headed down the winding stairs to check out the platforms. The platforms are only accessible via the stairs as the lifts are no longer in service.
The first stop was to see the lift shafts. We were shown all of the lift shafts, even though most of them were never in operation.
Next, we headed into one of the tunnels toward the platforms. The lights were switched off to show us how dark the tunnel would get, but we were all surprised when we clearly saw the tunnel light up after the lights were off. Special glow-in-the-dark paint is painted at the bottom of the tunnel, which you can see as a slight yellow colour in the photograph below. This is a safety mechanism to allow people to get out of the tunnel in case of emergencies. Apparently the paint strips can glow for twenty minutes.
There are two platforms, and not all of the station was used. We went to visit one of the platforms, which is currently used for filming "Mr. Selfridge".
The platform also has an old tube train on it, and they use this for safety exercises. The train is dusty, and there aren't any seats inside it. This platform contains false vintage tube poster, tube signs, and tiles. The tiling was never completed to the end of the platform, so fake sticky 'tiles' were pasted up over the wall to give the illusion during filming.
In the front of the train, I took a peek at the tunnel. This faces south, toward the Thames.
I took close-up photographs of the vintage posters. These are replications used for filming.
The Aldwych underground station sign is a flimsy prop as well.
After viewing the first platform, we headed to the second, and this was the platform that was in use. The "station closed" posters are dotted around the platform as well as posters from the 1970s. Part of the letters forming the station name "STRAND" can be seen in places.
The track has some original insulators dating from when the station first came into use, and the guide said that these insulators are Grade I listed and are the oldest known in the world. They are still in their positions on the rails below where I am stood taking the below photograph.
This platform was used as for tile and glue testing, and you can see paint and colour schemes for the underground tiles for other stations here.
I got some photographs of the 1970s posters.
We were then shown a tunnel that was in progress of being dug and constructed before the project was pulled. The workers just left their tools and a wheelbarrow inside the tunnel, which we could see.
We also saw one of the exits for this platform, which was never finished.
The last visit on our tour was back up the stairs to visit and walk inside the lifts. We were told that people could pay for their tickets on the lifts in order that the underground did not have to pay for two members of staff: one to control the lift and one to sell tickets. The lift had a desk inside where the staff member would sell the tickets, and the outline of this can be seen in front of the bench in the photograph below. The lifts also had a secret emergency escape, and the ones at Covent Garden station are similar. The wall of the lift can open so that people can transfer from one lift to the other (as there are two lifts in one shaft).
This concluded our tour of Aldwych Station, which was interesting to see. During the tour, we were also told that performances happened on the platform during the war and that this station was used as a shelter with thousands of people occupying the platform.