I take the tube at least twice a week somewhere in town. Predictably I spend rather longer on it than I should: I find myself trying to get a gap in the crowds; a pause in the orderly chaos.
That’s because I’m so often attempting to take a shot that is comparable with the archive shots of yesteryear: those that feature just the architecture and engineering, rather than shots of those who are using it.
Sometimes it can be really quite pleasant to stop to one side, avoid the rush – and for a fleeting moment – experience the #EmptyUnderground.
I’ll be looking out on Twitter for more #EmptyUnderground so do snap some, upload to Twitter with that hashtag and I’ll make a blog post of them in a couple of weeks’ time.
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 His enthusiasm for his day-to-day role assisting passengers around King’s Cross is superseded only by his love for the history of the network.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 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.
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.