A New Subterranean Map of London – Get Involved!

Before Getting involved in the project you might like to read the full post: A New Subterranean Map of London

When thinking about London Underground, most people will relate to the tube system and their memories of events whilst on it, or to a crypt, basement or tunnel. This is all fine. London Transport Museum would like this blog to be a platform for expression in relation to subterranean places as well as history, archeology and comments. From your comments, I hope to find certain patterns or strands that reveal the histories of London’s people in relation to the geography of the place.

A few open questions to consider:

  • When you think about what is underground in London, what do you see?
  • What spaces fascinate you?
  • What discoveries have you made both in fact and fiction?
  • What rumors of ‘secret’ underground infrastructure have you heard about?
  • What does the ‘underworld’ mean to you?
  • Your idea of the ‘uncanny’?
  • What are the stereotypes and impressions that you hold of certain areas?
  • What is your concept of what is ‘underlying’?
  • London is a palimpsest of a multitude of histories, what do you want to see on a subterranean map of London?
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21 thoughts on “A New Subterranean Map of London – Get Involved!”

  1. A few unorganised thoughts:

    Mail Rail

    Vauxhall Cross

    That runty bit of the Jubilee line which goes on beyond Charing Cross and fetches up at Aldwych

    The supposed Bakerloo line station at MI6

    That weird sound of running water you hear when you stand in the right spot on the District line platform at Embankment

    Joseph Bazalgette’s sewers

    A missing panel on the Tower Hill name strip which reveals the original filthy 60s decor behind (or used to)

    A tube carriage full of Father Christmases going to Santacon

    Tower Subway

    King William Street

    That maddening grating noise the 2009 stock calls a door alarm

    Brompton Road, Down Street and WW2

    The man who accidentally alighted at South Kentish Town a few weeks after it had closed

    Catching the Piccadilly line to Heathrow T5 a few weeks after it had opened (and getting stuck in a tunnel for twenty minutes on the way back)

    Getting on a Northern line train at Morden, off-peak, and feeling like I owned my own very, very stretched limo

    Kingway Subway

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  2. For me it’s secret passageways, secret tunnels, hidden bunkers, sewers, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, ghost and disused stations like The Mail Rail and Aldwych, mice and rats, The Thames Tunnel, ‘real’ underground ghosts, mad troglodytes (Death Line/Raw Meat), travelling beneath the river, night shift workers/fluffers, plague pits, what’s being uncovered in Crossrail’s construction, scary thoughts of getting stuck in the Underground when it’s closed for the night (a real life version of Creep).

    Really looking forward to seeing the map – there’s so so much it could include and looking at Stephen’s previous work, he’s certainly got the skills to include a lot.

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    1. Thanks for this Annie – His work is, as you say, really amazing! I think the great thing here is that he is genuinely keen to get feedback from people – via the blog and other means – on the true nature of the Underground. We want to make people aware that they’re comments are actually key to the development of a significant piece of Contemporary Art. 😉

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  3. The rumoured nuclear-proof telephone exchange buried deep beneath the normal GPO exchange building that is now the bar called “The Exchange” in Gerrard Street.

    The rumoured tunnel from the original Westminster Palace in Whitehall to Westminster Abbey.

    The old train lift that accessed The Drain.

    Foot tunnels under the Thames.

    The long dim roadways that run underneath some of the rail Termini, including the doomed ones at London Bridge.

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  4. Definitely the Greenwich foot tunnel.

    The strange under-warehouse dock at Camden Lock (just before the main lock itself, coming from the Paddington side by boat.

    The ‘ghost’ station between Kings Cross and Farringdon Street on the Hammersmith and City line.

    The old Covent Garden lift – and the endless circular stairs if you were in a hurry! The vertiginous stairs/escalators at the old Angel.

    The creaky old (smoke and dust smelling) wooden escalators before they were replaced – especially the poignant ones at Kings Cross.

    The smell of the ancient Bakerloo line carriages with the 30s lamps – like old Routemasters used to smell. The dazzle design of the upholstery. How it felt like a ghost train when one pulled in to the station, especially as the lighting was dim inside.

    Going through Kings Cross on a Hammersmith and City line train as the fire took hold – the smell of smoke, the train slowing, people on the platform stepping forward to get on (including a woman with a pram) and then the train gathering speed without picking up the passengers. Not realising what was happening until I got off at the other end.

    And yes, the Drain itself!

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  5. The tunnels burrowing around South Kensington, connecting the various Imperial College buildings, few students ever get to see them, yet many dream of exploring them.

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  6. Dear swirlything and all,

    Thank you for these.

    A carraige full of Santas would have been hilarious to see.

    I have had a look into ‘The man who accidentally alighted at South Kentish Town a few weeks after it had closed’. The station was immortalised by poet Sir John Betjeman in his story, ‘South Kentish Town’ with a story of a man who accidentally found himself getting off at the station as the doors opened on a stationary train. This is a work of fiction but I am sure that passengers and more likely members of staff that have found themselves trapped in the system for a long period of time.

    Such stories and reports would be most welcome…

    One real story of a man found on the system can be found on this link:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article86828.ece

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  7. Thanks Thomas,

    I used to sometime walk through Imperial College on my way to and from the Royal College of Art.

    The Venetian tower there was closed off to the public because it had became a suicide hot spot.

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  8. The London Transport Museum kindly gave me a book to read entitled: Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London by Antony Clayton.

    After hearing he was giving a lecture at the ICA last week I went down. It was brilliant. I also purchased his book ‘The Folklore of London’ which comes recommended.

    He too has a blog following his discoveries both under and overground. Check it out:

    http://theantonineitineraries.blogspot.com/

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  9. John Betjeman’s story “South Kentish Town”, while a fiction in itself, was distantly inspired by a real event.

    The definitive source for information on disused Tube stations is “London’s Disused Underground Stations”, by J.E.Connor, which explains the story’s genesis in the chapter on South Kentish Town:

    “Soon after closure it seems that a train was halted by a signal, and an absent minded passenger alighted by mistake. How he confused the dark, abandoned platform with that of an open station is a mystery, but he had to remain there until being picked-up by another train. The event must have passed into Underground folklore, as it inspired a humourous poem in the April 1933 edition of the staff magazine ‘T.O.T.’.”

    This poem, concerning one Mr. Brackett, was not so fortunate as his real-life counterpart, and had to set light to a bundle of old posters before he was noticed.

    It seems likely that this poem provided the direct inspiration for Betjeman’s considerably more expansive 1951 version, with a protagonist called Basil Green. Connor concludes:

    “[Betjeman’s] story received a further airing on the radio ten years later, and was the subject of a television programme in 1997, which inferred that it was “true”. According to the editor of ‘T.O.T.’, a person did once step off a train by mistake at the disused South Kentish Town, but it should be emphasised that the unfortunate experiences of Messrs. Brackett and Green were purely works of fiction!”

    Although Betjeman’s highly dramatised account is by far more prominent, one should not be too quick to dismiss the facts behind it.

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    1. Very Interesting Swirlythingy!!

      When I think of the Underground, I am often (like most people, I believe) drawn to its darker aspects – the myths, legends and folklore which seem to line its very walls. My sources however are often much less literary than Betjeman. I’m thinking specifically of the 2004 British film ‘Creep’ which terrified me completely. This was something of a continuation of the theme laid down in the 1972 British film ‘Death Line’, which took full advantage of the inherently mysterious nature of disused Underground lines.

      Continuing on the theme of film and television, there were apparently a series of 10 films made for the Sky Premier channel in 1998 which are based on real-life stories of strange happenings on the London Underground, from circa 1900 to 1998. Worth a look?

      More info here: http://themole.site.aplus.net/tubecelebs.html#tube

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  10. Has anyone read Barbara Vine’s ‘King Solomon’s Carpet’? I’ve just finished it as part of some work we’re doing here at LTM and it made a few references to the secret spaces of London Underground. One of the characters goes ‘sledging’ (riding on the top of tube carriages!) and is fascinated by the ghost stations they see.

    “One of the ghost stations – Marlborough Road, or perhaps Lords, was the point at which the northbound Metropolitan train came to a stop. Nothing remained but the platform itself and the wall behind it which, shorn of its coloured posters and notices, maps and advertisements, hardly looked as if it had ever been a station at all.” (p 228)

    It’s such a fascinating concept, these ‘ghost’ stations that no longer have any use. I love the idea of disused networks and passageways that lie dead below the city.

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  11. Thanks Jen,

    Yes, The idea of dead space in the underworld is indeed fascinating.

    ‘Quatermeass and the Pit’, all be it a little dated, calls the history of our human race into question, as a 5 million year old Martian vessel is discovered in the ground in Knightsbridge.

    Antony Clayton has suggested that the film is responsible for the folklore that circulated around the construction of the Victoria Line to Brixton in 1968. Here, between Victoria and the Thames, reports of sightings of a ‘Quare Feller’ on the line escalated – with one worker refusing to go back to work. The film was released one year previous.

    Another film ‘Death Line’, that tells the story of a cannibal residing at Museum Station is truly ridiculous! The cannibal trudges the tunnels moaning ‘mind the gap”!

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  12. Thanks Kirsten,

    ‘Tube lines’, that the film I’ve been looking for, I will give you my comments once I’ve seen this.

    It seems to me through researching this map that many utilitarian tunnels, because they remain secret for security reasons are misinterpreted and believed to be more interesting than they actually are.

    Smuggling and getaway tunnels are the winners here!

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  13. “Underground London” by Stephen Smith.

    Secret government tunnels under Whitehall.

    The myth of underground escape routes from Buckingham Palace to the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines.

    Bomb shelters.

    The River Fleet.

    The Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

    The Thames Tunnel – Brunel.

    The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster of 1943.

    The Elgin Marbles stored by British Museum under New Oxford Street during the Blitz. Tate, NPG, Wallace Collection and Public Records Office also used the underground for storage during the war.

    The Mail Rail

    Look forward to seeing the finished map!

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  14. I love this kind of thing – I’d like to know more about the government’s tunnels – especially the wartime ones running around Downing Street and the war rooms.

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