Discover the secrets that lurk beneath London’s busy streets at Hidden London: the Exhibition! Take a sneak peek of some of the items you'll find in the exhibition in this exclusive preview. Explore a few of the objects on display as you travel through stations that have been abandoned, adapted, used as top secret facilities and discover how life was like for those sheltering during the war, as well as for those who work underground to this day.
The first abandoned station
The first part of the Underground opened in 1863. Over the last 150 years, the network has developed in its own way; adapting to population changes, economic priorities and political pressures.
The first abandoned station on the Underground was the original Farringdon Street station on the Metropolitan Railway, which you can see in the engraving above from 1862.
Opened in 1863, it was replaced in 1865 to accommodate the extension of the line in a new direction.
King William Street
King William Street station was part of the first electric tube railway, opened in 1890. It was abandoned after being open for just 10 years, as its platforms pointed the wrong way for a northwards extension.
The Underground Group unsuccessfully tried to sell the station platforms, which can be seen in newspaper cuttings from the time.
One Daily Mirror writer suggested using the space for farming, something that became a reality elsewhere on the network 80 years later.
Highgate’s brick tunnels haven’t had a train pass through them since 1970.
This station has now been reclaimed by nature and is home to a protected bat habitat – which you can exclusively visit with London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours in the summer.
All distances on the Underground are still measured from Ongar, the network’s most easterly point, even though the station has been closed for 25 years.
Here, Group Station Manager Bill Amies points towards London from the rural station in 1980.
More commonly, many were used as overnight shelters for citizens escaping the Blitz. In the exhibition, you’ll be able to discover more about how London Transport prepared for war and how thousands sheltered underground.
Down Street station was turned into the bomb-proofed offices and accommodation for the Railway Executive Committee, who took over Britain’s railways during the war.
Even the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill dined and slept at the station on occasion, using it as a safe haven while both 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet War Rooms were being reinforced and repaired.
Conditions for sheltering in Underground stations were initially very basic: with toilet facilities often amounting to little more than buckets with cloth partitions for privacy. The stations used as shelters are marked in red on this map.
Better living conditions came with the construction of eight purpose-built deep level shelters (marked in green on the map above), some of which opened in 1944.
As well as engineers, large teams work behind the scenes to keep the network running, from engineers to rat catchers to ‘fluffers’ who clean the tracks and maintain the network that keeps London moving.
Many of the hidden spaces you'll see in the exhibition won't remain hidden forever. As the Underground develops, locations will be given new purposes. One current project is the ongoing work at Bank and Momument station, some of which is taking place on the site of the disused King William Street station.
Construction teams - like the ones working on the Bank project will often position a figure of Saint Barbara – the patron saint of artillery and mining - at the site entrance, watching over and protecting the workers.
Hidden London: the Exhibition opens in the Global gallery at London Transport Museum on 11 October.
You'll be able to see all these objects in person as well as many more, some of which will be on display for the very first time. You can see more rare archive photos as well as objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations.
Find out more at the London Transport Museum website.