The hidden tunnels beneath King’s Cross station

Last week I was very lucky in getting a balloted ticket for the District Dave Forum Christmas Meetup – to go and see something really quite interesting, and very unusual. (District Dave’s Forum is a place for the most ardent London Underground enthusiast to enjoy – there are a lot of very knowledgeable people there who understand the past, current and future of the system much more than I there). I’ve lurked on those Forums for many years and occasionally ask a very stupid question.

One of the things that characterises TfL today is the incredible number of transport enthusiasts who work within the organisation. Thanks to them, the Forum social this year was an expertly-arranged tour of the “Hidden Tunnels of King’s Cross” by off-duty station staff. Our main organiser and guide was one of TfL’s greatest advocates, Jack Gordon. His enthusiasm for his day-to-day role assisting passengers around King’s Cross is superseded only by his love for the history of the network. TfL is lucky to have  people like him (and so many others) taking time and effort volunteering to show those of us of a nerdish disposition around something that they adore.

So it was that we took a remarkable two-hour trip in and out of dozens of rooms, corridors and tunnels. From the frankly sci-fi warren of concrete tunnels and rooms beneath the new King’s Cross Ticket Hall (some of these voids are four storeys high) to the faded original Northern Line pedestrian tunnels, still showing signs of damage from the dreadful fire of 1987. We even had a wander around the old King’s Cross Thameslink railway station, now just used as an access route from Pentonville Road to the Underground platforms on weekday.

What fascinates me about our “hidden” or “abandoned” tunnels isn’t so much that they were railways or foot tunnels at all, but that our city and our needs have grown so rapidly that they have outgrown these systems that were built for them. That our growth as humans mean we’re now too tall for some tunnel clearances; and that London sometimes grows or changes priorities so fast that the infrastructure that was built for it was sometimes already outdated before it was completed. It was an exhausting, but truly wonderful trip.

After our epic tour most of my fellow tourists retired to the pub with the rest of the Forum folk, but I headed off to Bekonscot Model Village in Beaconsfield to look at the winter-time evening illuminations and have a drive around the miniature railway. Because, of course, weekends are made for playing trains.

Note: TfL has given permission for photos in these locations to be published online here.

The "secret" now-disconnected never-used siding deep beneath King's Cross on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and Circle lines. It was built to enable goods trains to take spoil out by rail, but was never used in this way.
The “secret” now-disconnected never-used siding deep beneath King’s Cross on the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and Circle lines. It was built to enable goods trains to take spoil out by rail, but was never used in this way.
Fire damaged tunnels dating from the awful King's Cross fire of November 1987. These are still retained for maintenance purposes; you can see how the heat melted the adhesive holding the tiles to the wall. Note also the wooden handrails and indeed wooden steps.
Fire damaged tunnels dating from the awful King’s Cross fire of November 1987. These are still retained for maintenance purposes; you can see how the heat melted the adhesive holding the tiles to the wall. Note also the wooden handrails and indeed wooden steps.
Another view if the fire-damaged tunnels dating from the awful King's Cross fire of November 1987.
Another view if the fire-damaged tunnels dating from the awful King’s Cross fire of November 1987.
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A pause to remember the 31 people who lost their lives in the King’s Cross fire of 18th November 1987. You’ll find this memorial and clock in the older ticket hall, just at the top of the escalators. Do go and see it for yourself.
One of the many vast concrete chambers that exist underneath and around the newest King's Cross Ticket Hall. This one is part of the ventilation system.
One of the many vast concrete chambers that exist underneath and around the newest King’s Cross Ticket Hall. This one is part of the ventilation system.
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St Pancras Clock Tower adjacent to King’s Cross London Underground Station – from “The Egg”!
The Egg is the name given to the metal-covered ventilation and access shaft out on King's Cross plaza. You know the things; the big grey and black buildings.
The Egg is the name given to the metal-covered ventilation and access shaft out on King’s Cross plaza. You know the things; the big grey and black buildings.
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Old posters peeled off the wall – pre-1987 – for something happening at Kentish Town!
Excitement was definitely building. These trips are as much about meeting old friends (and making new ones) as seeing old transport infrastructure.
Excitement was definitely building. These trips are as much about meeting old friends (and making new ones) as seeing old transport infrastructure. It has been suggested that Paul is old transport infrastructure too, of course.
London Underground under London Underground. On the Met Line platforms, the newer fascia can, in places, be opened up to show the older tiling on the earlier wall face, behind. Note the lettered tiles.
London Underground under London Underground. On the Met Line platforms, the newer fascia can, in places, be opened up to show the older tiling on the earlier wall face, behind. Note the lettered tiles.
More walking down old Northern line pedestrian tunnels. Note the graffiti made in the dust - untouched since Andy Keane did it in April 1979.
More walking down old Northern line pedestrian tunnels. Note the ‘graffiti’ made in the dust – untouched since Andy Keane did it in April 1979.
A quick stop to admire the tiles on the Victoria Line platforms. The tile motif here is by the remarkably prolific designer, Tom Eckersley - a cross of Kings.
A quick stop to admire the tiles on the Victoria Line platforms. The tile motif here is by the remarkably prolific designer, Tom Eckersley – a cross of Kings.

Incidentally, you can learn about all the Victoria line tile motifs on www.victorialinetiles.co.uk 

Then a quick walk through a long-abandoned public tunnel, now used solely for maintenance and storage, between Pentonville Road and the lower Underground platforms.
Then a quick walk through a long-abandoned public tunnel, now used solely for maintenance and storage, between Pentonville Road and the lower Underground platforms.
Through the 1980s King's Cross Thameslink foot tunnel (still open 0700 - 2000 weekdays) with its huge SMILE prints mid-way) but on this Saturday visit was eerily quiet
Through the 1980s King’s Cross Thameslink foot tunnel (still open 0700 – 2000 weekdays) with its huge SMILE prints mid-way) but on this Saturday visit was eerily quiet
Me (Tim Dunn) by Badry Mostafa's mosaic, at the old King's Cross Thameslink entrance, surely one of the finest depictions of British Rail and London Transport integration ever completed. Note the huge torch slung around me - we'd needed these in several darkened corridors!
Me (Tim Dunn) by Badry Mostafa’s mosaic, at the old King’s Cross Thameslink entrance, surely one of the finest depictions of British Rail and London Transport integration ever completed. Note the huge torch slung around me – we’d needed these in several darkened corridors!
Badry Mostafa's mosaic on opening day. (c) @ltmuseum
Badry Mostafa’s mosaic on opening day. (c) London Transport Museum Collection
And finally - a number of District Dave Forum members in the old booking windows at King's Cross Thameslink. A reminder that our roaming about old transport infrastructure, like the infrastructure itself, is really about the people.
And finally – a number of District Dave Forum members in the old booking windows at King’s Cross Thameslink. A reminder that our roaming about old transport infrastructure, like the infrastructure itself, is really about the people.
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Battle Bus Project 2016: Young Volunteers

During 2016 the Battle Bus community learning programme has worked with three amazing teams of young volunteers to co-curate an exhibition called From Tottenham to the trenches. These young volunteers consisted of a research team, an exhibition team and an outreach team who all had different roles to play in bringing together the exhibition.

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The project began in February with a group of 10 young research volunteers who were students recruited from universities across London. They were tasked with uncovering First World War stories linked to the events of 1916, the B-type bus, and Tottenham. Working alongside Rebecca Hatchett from S.I.D.E Projects, they met with museum professionals and First World War experts, delved into archives and went on field trips to piece together all the information needed to create content for the exhibition. You can read more about what they got up to on their blog here.

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This research was then passed on to eight Year 9 students at Northumberland Park Community School, who took on the role of exhibition volunteers. During weekly sessions with Rebecca and the Battle Bus Apprentice, Lamare, they creatively explored the research. They looked at why young men may have signed up to fight, the Battle of the Somme and the role that London buses played on the Western Front. Working with filmmaker Mmoloki Chrystie they used shadow puppets, drama and photography to produce images and a short creative film for the exhibition. You can watch their film here.

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The students also went on a bespoke three-day Battlefield tour to Belgium and France. They visited sites that had links to Tottenham and the buses, and learnt more about the Battle of the Somme and the Western Front.  The students paid their respects at the grave of William George Ely, a young soldier from Walthamstow whose story features in the exhibition. A film was made for the exhibition which documents their experience. You can watch it here.

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Then over the summer five young outreach volunteers worked alongside a spoken word artist, Mr Gee, to create original poems, responding to stories in the exhibition that they felt emotionally or personally attached to. Their work covered the ideas of home, memory, courage and conflict. As well as the poems featuring in the exhibition, they were also performed by the volunteers at exhibition launch events at London Transport Museum and Bruce Castle Museum.

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All the hard work and enthusiasm of the three teams of young volunteers culminated in the creation of the exhibition, From Tottenham to the trenches. It tells the story of London buses and the lives of young men from Tottenham who were affected by the First World War. It also marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. We invite you to visit the exhibition, which is on display at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham until Sunday 26 March 2017.

Many thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and London Transport Museum Friends for funding the Battle Bus Project. Also many thanks to Tottenham Grammar School Foundation and the Friends for funding the Battlefield Tour.