I arrived at Aldwych on another bitterly cold Friday in good time for the final briefing and safety check; as a disused station is not maintained as a public environment, so every eventuality has to be anticipated and planned for. Arrival of the first public visitors immediately confirmed the great enjoyment these visits give people: a row of 40 smiling faces, drinking in the sight and ambience of the station booking hall (and probably also warming up, truth be told).
First things first, the visitors have to be fully safety-briefed before being given an overview of the station’s history by their volunteer tour guide. Then, in line with the standard pattern of the tour, a couple of minutes for personal exploration and photos before moving to the next site – which involves descending 161 stairs to the lower level of the station. Keeping to time is a major consideration: there are a number of tours on a given day, and these are tightly timed to a length of 45 minutes so as to offer as many tours as possible to the public. Next it’s the lower lift landings, followed by the two platforms. The western one was in public use until closure of the station in 1994, and was complete with a train of 1972 Northern Line stock.
From there it’s smartly over to the eastern platform (decommissioned in 1914) all the while watching for trip hazards. This platform features a stretch of track laid in 1907. Note how there’s no suicide pit, a 1920’s innovation. Throughout the benefit of the careful preparation by the volunteers pays off, not just in their set pieces but in answering the many questions, covering every conceivable aspect of the station and much else about the underground system.
Finally, all photos taken and every question answered, we set off for the surface again, up the 161 steps (being so many, one is apt to count!).
Dave Olney, Volunteer
Every year the London Transport Museum with the help of Transport for London runs a short programme of public tours of the disused Underground station at Aldwych. Originally opened as Strand station in 1907, it closed in 1994, never having achieved the passenger numbers expected. Of the entire facility as originally constructed, about one third of it was never commissioned at opening in 1907, and roughly another third closed as an economy measure in 1914. So for the largest part of its life it was 2/3rds shut. Its sleepy life at the end of a short branch line ensured a lack of investment and refurbishment, as a result of which it’s as good a remnant of the original Edwardian tube as one could hope to find anywhere. Consequently it’s a grade 2 listed monument.
Hence the limited annual opening is a great draw – this year it was sold out on the day that tickets were made available. As you can imagine, opening a closed Underground facility to the public is a major undertaking, so all visitors are guided by museum volunteers. On a cold Friday morning I found myself joining a small group of volunteers planning for the event. Despite its relatively short life the station has a rich history, and it’s a challenge to do it justice in a 45 minute tour.
Just to confuse, some of the features that appear historical are misleading, thanks to the use of the station as a set for films. There’s an example in the photos with this post: can you spot it? We spent a couple of hours checking the tour plan and verifying the contents of the guides’ notes. These are researched and scripted by the volunteers themselves, and evidenced a fund of knowledge of lesser known facts. Inevitably the station’s role as a shelter for both people and the nation’s heritage during both world wars featured large. By lunch all the loose ends had been tied down and we were tour ready. Let’s hope there’s no tricky questions!
Dave Olney, Volunteer