Hidden London tours are back for 2017

You’ll be pleased to read that Hidden London tours are back (on sale Wednesday 23rd November) but they sell out fast! As a regular visitor to these, I recommend that to get the best chance of the ticket you want, sign up to the London Transport Museum Newsletter (by 23:59 on Monday 21 November 2016) to get advance booking.

The ticket prices just about cover the costs of running what is a complex operation in logistics, safety and customer experience. So that some of it is accessible to all, the closest thing I can do is to take a lot of photos and share them: so below are some from my recent trips to Clapham South Tunnels and to Euston Tunnels too. I’ll be popping to a few next season and sharing the experience on this blog.

Down Street station

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Tiled signage in long lost corridors
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Signs of its use as a WW2 control room
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Gloomy, echoing tunnels beneath the streets with a distant rumble of trains
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You’ll feel trains scream past you on your way to some parts of the site

Clapham South Shelters

This one is less grubby  but no less interesting… miles of fascinating tunnels used for different purposes at different times. The expert guides will take you through the story of these tunnels and their future.

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Every wondered what this large tiled cylinder embedded in the front of this Clapham housing block is? You’ll find out: it’s part of the tour.
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Expert guides are on hand throughout (and they really are delightedly devoted experts)
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So much signage. So much to research later!

Euston

And finally for now, a single snap of the Euston Tunnels. A specific photo tour is being organised for those who’d like to linger longer.

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These British Rail posters (and a British Railways poster of the late, lamented, Midland Pullman) date from 1965: given that the BR logo had just come into service that year and the station tunnels here closed soon after, they could only have been seen for a few short months. Just along the wall are posters for contemporary films like Psycho. Apt, down there…

Don’t forget to sign up for the Newsletter!

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Frank Pick: BEAUTY < IMMORTALITY

Frank Pick died 75 years ago this week. You’ll know his work; you’ll know his style. Your life is probably better because of him.

Arriving at the Undergound Group from a stint at the North Eastrn Railway at York in 1906, he was made Commercial Manager in 1912. First came pressing matters of fare structures, network consistency and development of some of the earliest travel posters; and by 1915 Pick had commissioned Edward Johnston to create a new, easily legible typeface. Upon that design’s completion he commissioned Johnston again: this time it was to redesign the early “bullseye” station nameboard device – and it became something more akin to the “roundel” we know today.

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Pick and a few of the works he can claim a hand in

It could be said that by 1916 Pick had already become a patron of public works, commissioning a visual identity that is known and trusted worldwide today still. Pick’s philosophy on design was that “the test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”

Charles Holden was his next great appointment. The contract for seven new stations on the Piccadilly Line extension to Morden was Holden’s proving ground from 1925: Piccadilly Circus, also a Holden creation, opened in 1928. A showpiece for the Underground, it was lavishly decorated and many early features survive today including wood panelling, integrated lighting and the famous World Clock.

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The World Time Today clock in Piccadilly Circus station. Photo: Tim Dunn

As of the 75th anniversary of Pick’s death, 7th November 2016, Piccadilly Circus, that hub of London’s buzzing underground network, is now also home to the permanent Frank Pick memorial. The memorial has been installed on the outer wall of the booking hall, where telephone kiosks once stood.

Another 30 Holden-designed stations followed the development of Piccadilly Circus (in my next blog, we’ll be revisiting some of Pick and Holden’s work). Posters were commissioned from Man Ray, Paul Nash and others; Marion Dorn was briefed to create stunning seat fabrics which still stand the test of time.

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Southgate station: designed by Holden, commissioned by Pick. It opened in 1933. Photo: London Transport Museum collection.
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Marion Dorn’s “Colindale” seat fabric moquette

Pick was a customer champion. He believed that London and London’s transport should be better, and that it could be better. Having commissioned, briefed and ensured so much that went towards achieving that aim, he later became chairman of the Council for Art and Industry (forerunner of the Design Council) in 1934, and an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

You can read more about his life and selected achievements on the main London Transport Museum website. But if you, like me, occasionally stop on your travels around London’s Underground and  wonder at the great works of a true visionary, perhaps you might like to contribute towards the Frank Pick memorial too.

You can donate here.