The hidden secrets of the Underground

By London Transport Museum

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.

A wash drawing of the interior of King William Street station, City & South London Railway (1980)London Transport Museum

Abandoned

The London Underground is the first and oldest subterranean railway network in the world. Its evolving history has meant some stations have become redundant, while others were never completed. Hidden London: the Exhibition takes you on an immersive journey through some of these secret spaces.

Newspaper stand advert for Evening Standard, with headline "Aldwych Station's Last Day, 1994-10-30, From the collection of: London Transport Museum
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Engraving from the Illustrated London News showing the Metropolitan Railway stations (1862) by Illustrated London NewsLondon Transport Museum

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.

Route of the City of London & Southwark Subway (circa 1885) by City Of London & Southwark SubwayLondon Transport Museum

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.

Disused King William Street Underground station (1930-07-08) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

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.

Abandoned Highgate High Level station, Northern line (1972) by Unknown London Transport staff memberLondon Transport Museum

Highgate

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.

Bill Amies at the Epping-Ongar section of the Central line (1980-09-25) by J A BallardLondon Transport Museum

Ongar

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.

The Growing Underground facilities (2018-10-02) by Andy DavisLondon Transport Museum

Adapted

Many disused stations have now been given a new lease of life and are used for storage, growing food, commercial property, events, exhibitions and special tours and film sets. In the exhibition, you’ll be able to see examples of some blockbuster films that were set and filmed at various Underground stations.

Factory workers at Plessey wartime factory, Central line tunnels (1941-07-23) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Top Secret

Underground stations become ideal locations for secret activities in times of crisis. During the Second World War, the network was used for a variety of purposes, including a secret underground munitions factory housed in 2.5-mile twin tunnels. 

Group of people sheltering at Aldwych Station (1940-10-09)London Transport Museum

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 Underground station exterior (Jul 1907 - Dec 1907) by UnknownLondon Transport Museum

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.

Our heritage - Winston Churchill (1943) by Robert Sargent AustinLondon Transport Museum

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.

Serving refreshments to shelterers at Holland Park Underground station (1940-12-09) by Topical PressLondon Transport Museum

Life Underground

At the height of the Blitz, over 100,000 people were sheltering each night at 83 stations across the network. In the exhibition, you’ll be able to discover what life was like and see where they slept and how they lived.

Air Raid Precautions (1938) by Edward McKnight KaufferLondon Transport Museum

Three young children sleep in hammocks slung across the tube railway lines at Aldwych Underground Station (1940-05-05)London Transport Museum

Underground map marked with the location of the Underground station shelters and deep level shelters (from the Transport for London Corporate Archives) (circa 1942)London Transport Museum

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.

Night maintenance: a team of fluffers at work in a tunnel (December 1955) by Dr Heinz ZinramLondon Transport Museum

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.

Model of Saint Barbara (2019)London Transport Museum

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.

Credits: Story

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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