Uncovering Hidden London

by Sam Mullins OBE, London Transport Museum’s Director

Abandoned stations and lost underground tunnels have long exerted a special fascination. As Londoners hurry on their well-beaten paths through the modern metro, they pass the locked doors and lost entrances which lead to a secret world of redundant lift shafts, cavernous ventilation ducts and redundant platforms. The Tube is an ever-expanding system, which in its need to carry even more passengers, has left in its wake hidden places and spaces. Shrouded in mystery this lost subterranean world has given rise to a good deal of urban myth and speculation, from secret government installations to the home of ghosts, aliens and flesh-eating troglodytes.

A man and a woman shining a light down an abandoned tunnel
An abandoned tunnel at Aldwych station.

The truth is often more prosaic than this. The Museum’s Hidden London tour programme uncovers the flotsam and jetsam cast aside by the Underground’s continuous response to the incessant demands to keep the city on the move. Guided tours open up the lost worlds of London’s Underground and give fresh insights into the city’s history.

A richly illustrated book based on new research and unprecedented access to these lost worlds has shone new light into the Cold War bunker beneath Hampstead Heath, Churchill’s secret refuge from the Blitz at Down Street, the world’s first underground terminus at King William Street and lost tunnels at Euston and Piccadilly Circus.

A new immersive exhibition opens in the Museum’s Global Gallery  on 11 October 2019. Hidden London: the Exhibition will take you on a journey of some of London’s most secret spaces in the oldest subterranean railway in the world. These ‘forgotten’ parts of the Tube network have incredible stories to tell about Britain’s wartime past; such as the Plessey aircraft underground factory which had 2,000 members of staff, mostly women, working in two 2.5-mile-long tunnels on the eastern section of the Central line during the Second World War.

Factory workers at Plessey Underground factory, 1941 © TfL

Visiting the exhibition you’ll be able to enjoy – some for the very first time – the largest number of rare archive photos, objects, vintage posters, secret diagrams and decorative tiles from disused stations that have been brought together in one location. You’ll be able to see what sheltering was like for Churchill in a recreation of the secret dining room at Down Street station, where he was served the best caviar, champagne, brandy and cigars, courtesy of the railway hotels.

Black and white photo of the entrance of Down Street station
Down Street station, 1907

You can also explore other iconic locations featured in the book which we’re recreating in our Global Gallery, including the historic abandoned ticket hall at Aldwych station with an original 1930s ticket booth, and its famous Leslie Green tiles, the modernist Hampstead High Level abandoned station and the sights and sounds of Hidden London.

Hidden London: the Exhibition opens on Friday 11 October 2019. Join us on the opening night at the first of our Hidden London themed Museum Lates.