Category Archives: Under London

Euston Underground Station – The Lost Tunnels

Euston Underground Station – The Lost Tunnels is the name of the latest Hidden London tour by the London Transport Museum, and on a warm Thursday afternoon last week I took the tour and descended beneath Euston station to find a time capsule from the 1960s.

The tour started at the original Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs and is the red building on the corner of Melton Street and Drummond Street, on the western side of Euston mainline station.

Euston Underground Tunnels 1

The Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (better known as the Hampstead Tube), was one of two original underground lines serving Euston mainline station, opened in 1907, this line served from Charing Cross to the north of London (Golders Green and Highgate) through Euston Station.

The second of the lines was the City and South London Railway which ran from the City through to Stockwell in south London and extended from the City to Euston in 1907.

Although the two lines were separate and had stations on either side of Euston mainline station, they did agree to building an interconnecting passageway with a ticket hall and lifts to the mainline station platform.

The two separate station buildings were closed on the 30th September 1914 after the two railways were taken under the ownership of the Underground Electric Railways of London with the interconnecting passageway providing access to Euston Station. After work to enlarge some of the tunnels, the lines were combined to become the Northern line, with the two lines running south converging at Euston Underground Station.

Inside the remaining Hampstead Tube station building in Melton Street, mainly now used for air conditioning of the tube system.

Euston Underground Tunnels 2

Euston mainline station was rebuilt in the 1960s and along with the new Victoria line running through Euston, the opportunity was taken to rationalise the various underground passageways and ticket halls for the underground lines terminating at Euston.

The old connecting passageways and ticket hall closed on the 29th April 1962 and it is these passageways that were the subject of the tour.

After a look at the station building in Melton Street, it was then a walk through Euston Station, through the underground ticket hall and down to one of the Northern Line platforms, where at the very end of the platform was a door that led through to the closed passageways.

Through the door at the end of the platform and a series of steps lead upwards. The tiling on the side walls highlights that these were once passenger tunnels rather than service tunnels.

Euston Underground Tunnels 26

At the top of the steps and a long disused tunnel stretches ahead. No longer used by passengers moving between the different underground lines and the station above, now just used for carrying the infrastructure needed to run the transport system.

Euston Underground Tunnels 4

I mentioned at the start of this post, that the tunnels are a time capsule from the 1960s. Apart from the installation of cables, they have not been used since and the advertising posters that lined the walls of the tunnels are still in place. Whilst many have lost sections over the years, the lack of sunlight means that the colours are as vibrant as when they were first pasted on the walls.

Advertising fine furniture from the London Cooperative Society:

Euston Underground Tunnels 5

Posters on the walls include the posters informing passengers of the impending closure of the tunnels on the 29th April 1962:

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Posters include the original telephone number format when the London area was still part of the dial code:

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Along the passageway is the original ticket office. This provided passengers passing between the different rail networks with the option of buying tickets as they passed along the interconnecting tunnels.

Euston Underground Tunnels 8

Poster advertising the film West Side Story at the Astoria from the 27th February 1962:

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Steps to a dead end. It would be interesting to know what is on the other side:

Euston Underground Tunnels 10

More posters:

Euston Underground Tunnels 11

And more posters. The poster in the centre invites you to Meet the Stars and includes names such as Brian Rix, Stratford Johns, Francesca Annis, Maurice Denham and Julie Andrew.

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Cross tunnels with air conditioning:

Euston Underground Tunnels 13

And a bricked up entrance:

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Poster advertising Bargain Travel on British Rail. Not sure that with the way ticket prices have changed since the early 1960s you would now get as much “More miles for your money”:

Euston Underground Tunnels 15

The Midland Pullman – a luxury 1st class only train aimed at business travelers between London and Manchester:

Euston Underground Tunnels 16

Advertising poster for Hitchcock’s film Psycho:

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View along the tunnel:

Euston Underground Tunnels 18

The route up to the mainline station from the original connecting passageways was via lift. Two lifts shafts originally ran to the surface. Looking up one of the lift shafts:

Euston Underground Tunnels 19

As well as the original passenger tunnels that provided connectivity between the underground lines and the surface station, the complex of tunnels includes tunnels to help provide ventilation to the underground system. These tunnels are just the basic construction without any of the flat walkways and wall tiling to be found on the passenger tunnels.

Looking up the tunnel with a limited amount of infill on the floor of the tunnel to provide a walkway:

Euston Underground Tunnels 23

Further up the tunnel:

Euston Underground Tunnels 22

At the top of the tunnel where it runs across the top of the underground platforms below:

Euston Underground Tunnels 21

This is where the holes in the roof of the platforms below provide access to the ventilation tunnels above. If you look up from many of the platforms across the underground system you will see large grills set in the roof above the part of the tunnel where the train runs. It is these grills that lead to ventilation tunnels above. Trains entering and leaving the station help with ventilation by causing a large amount of air movement as they pass through.

The roof of a train and passengers just about to board seen from above the ventilation grill:

Euston Underground Tunnels 20

Back along the tunnels:

Euston Underground Tunnels 24

View back along one of the tunnels. Lots of tools stored along the tunnel edge:

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Another view along the tunnels

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And finally at the end of the tour. Looking down the steps to the door leading through to the platform. It was 5pm by the end of the tour, so just the other side of that door is the platform with the start of the evening rush hour in full flow.

Euston Underground Tunnels 3

This is the fifth Hidden London tour by the London Transport Museum that I have been on over the last couple of years and in someways, once you have seen one tunnel you have seen them all, however they are all unique.

They each tell part of the story of how London’s Underground system has evolved over the past hundred plus years. Initially, individual lines often competing with each other, now part of an integrated transport system.

Some, such as these at Euston Underground Station provide a snapshot of the time when they were closed, the walls still covered in the posters that the last passengers would have seen when they last walked these tunnels in April 1962.

The Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum are excellent and provide a fascinating view of the old tunnels that run alongside the tunnels that carry thousands of passengers every day.

Tickets for Hidden London tours can be purchase here.

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The Chalybeate Well – Hampstead

The high ground of Hampstead Heath, to the north of central London has a fascinating geology which helped to drive Hampstead’s original development and is also the source of rivers such as the Fleet and the Westbourne.

The highest point on the heath reaches some 133 meters above sea level. If you stand on the heath, under your feet will be a thick layer of sand and gravel, known to Geologists as the Lower Bagshot Sands, which at the highest point is 24 meters thick. The thickness of this layer fluctuates across the heath, for example when the shafts were sunk for the Hampstead Underground Station, the layer was found to be only 5 meters thick, and the layer disappears as height descends running down from Hampstead.

Underneath the layer of sand and gravel is a layer of sandy clay which extends for 15 meters at the thickest point. Underneath this layer is the thick and impermeable London Clay which extends over much of London.

The following map from “Hampstead Heath – It’s Geology And Natural History” by the Hampstead Scientific Society published in 1913 shows the area covered by the Bagshot Sands.

Chalybeate Well 13

Hampstead and the heath can therefore be considered as a sandy peak sitting on top of a layer of thick clay.

It is this geology which gives rise to the large number of springs which can be found across the heath. Rainwater can easily pass through the layers of sand before reaching the layer of London Clay which presents a barrier. Water then runs horizontally along the boundary between the sand and clay to come back out from the ground in the form of a spring at the point lower down the heath where the sand layer stops.

When emerging from the ground, the water carries with it the properties of the sand through which it has passed, and it is these springs and the properties of the water that have been so important in Hampstead’s development.

So what relevance does this brief geological introduction to Hampstead have to this week’s post? Among my father’s photos is this photo of a well taken in 1949:

Chalybeate Well 1

The same well in 2016:

Chalybeate Well 3

This is the Chalybeate Well in Well Walk, Hampstead. In the context of water, the name chalybeate means that the water contains iron.

The springs of Hampstead have a long history of providing supplies of water for the rest of London. Conduits were built to channel water from the springs along the heath to the centre of the city. During the search for sources of water, the chalybeate springs must have also been found, and whilst not suitable for drinking water, the high iron content gave rise to the believe that the water had medicinal properties.

On the 20th December 1698 the infant Earl of Gainsborough and his guardian and mother, the Countess of Gainsborough gave six acres of land in the region of the Chalybeate Well, to be used to benefit the poor of Hampstead. The deed that transferred the land refers to “the Wells lately made there for medicinal waters”. The transfer was to a charity managed by 14 trustees.

This gift of land is recorded on the plaque on the Chalybeate Well:

Chalybeate Well 5

The land in this area of Hampstead was poor quality and rather boggy due to the number of springs. Despite the gift of the land, there was little from the land that would benefit the poor of Hampstead, apart from the springs and it is these that the trustees started to develop.

An advertisement posted by the trustees in the “Postman” on the 18th April 1700 reads:

“The Chalybeate Waters at Hampstead being of the same nature and equal in virtue with Tunbridge Wells and highly approved of by most of the eminent physicians of the College, as likewise by many of the gentry who formerly used to drink Tunbridge Waters, are by direction of the Trustees of the Wells aforesaid, for the conveniency of those who yearly drink them in London carefully bottled up in flasks and sent to Mr. Phelps Apothecary at the Eagle and Child in Fleet Street every morning at the rate of 3d per flask and if any person desires to have them brought to their own houses, they will be conveyed to them upon their leaving a note to Mr Phelps’ aforesaid at 1d more, and to prevent any person being imposed upon the true waters and nowhere else to be procured unless they are sent for to the Wells at Hampstead, and the said Mr Phelps to prevent Counterfeits hath ordered his servants to deliver to each person who comes for any of the waters aforesaid, a sealed ticket viz: a wolf rampant with 7 Crosslets. Note! the messengers that come for the waters must take care to return the flasks daily.”

So the Chalybeate Wells of Hampstead were in competition with those of Tunbridge Wells. It also provides a fascinating insight into the need to guarantee that the waters provided in flasks were original – the use of a sealed ticket with a wolf rampant sounds very dramatic.

The waters were bottled on the site of the present pub “The Flask” on Flask Walk which leads directly into Well Walk.

The source of the water that was sold in London was not from the existing Chalybeate Well in Well Walk, the source was a spring and pond (filled in about 1880) about 100 yards further up the hill.

As well as the sale of the water in London, the trustees also looked at other opportunities for how they could gain further benefit from the 6 acres of land.

On the 2nd June 1701, a John Duffield was granted possession of the land for a period of 21 years for an annual rent of £50. John Duffield must have realized the opportunities that the land and the associated springs provided with their close location to the rest of London. He immediately started building work, constructing buildings that would enhance the local springs with a Great Room or Long Room, Assembly Rooms and a Pump Room. To these rooms were soon added a tavern, chapel and shops along with formal gardens and a bowling green.

The following map from George Potter’s “Hampstead Wells” published in 1907 provides an overview of the area around 1761. The original source for the Chalybeate waters is at point C. The walkway between Well Road and Well Walk terminates on Well Walk directly behind the current Chalybeate Well so the locations of the Great Room, Pump Room etc. can be positioned along the current Well Walk.

Chalybeate Well 12

The type of entertainments provided in these rooms can be identified from another advert in the “Postman” on the 9th September 1701:

“In the Great Room at Hampstead Wells on Monday next being the 15th, exactly at 11 o’clock of the forenoon will be performed a Consort of vocal and instrumental Musick by the best Masters, and at the request of several gentlemen, Jeremy Bowen will perform several songs and particular performance on the violin by several masters. Tickets to be had at the Wells and at St. Stephen’s Coffee House in King Street, Bloomsbury at 1s per ticket. There will be dancing in the afternoon as usual.”

A later advertisement mentions that the room will hold 500 people which gives an indication of the size, and also at 1s per ticket the amount of money that the new buildings at the Hampstead Wells were generating.

John Rocque’s map published in 1746 shows the village of Hampstead still as a village surrounded on all sides by fields and the heath. The new developments around Well Walk are to the upper right of the village.

Chalybeate Well 11

The rear of the Chalybeate Well in 1949. On the left of the basin is a chain which presumably had a cup attached to allow the waters to be drunk from the basin.

Chalybeate Well 2

The rear of the well in 2016. The chain and cup have disappeared. Just above the right hand-side of the basin is a modern push button which appears to offer a pump-action to bring water to the basin – I tried it several times but there was no water.

Chalybeate Well 4

The chalybeate waters, the Long Room, Pump Room etc. enjoyed a number of years of great popularity with those who could afford to travel and pay for the entertainments, with Londoners flocking to Hampstead. However after a number of years their popularity declined, there were a number of scandals and trouble at the tavern. It was also found that the poor of Hampstead who should have benefited from the original grant of land had not received anything as John Duffield had not been paying his annual £50 rent, and by the 1720s when the situation could not last for much longer, eleven of the original fourteen trustees had died so the trust had also become rather ineffective.

After this initial development of the grant of the 6 acres of land, and the chalybeate waters, the area continued under the management of what became the Wells Charity. Continued efforts were made to promote the waters and the entertainments that were provided in the buildings along Well Walk and during the 19th century the houses that currently line Well Walk gradually replaced the 18th century buildings, constructed to promote the spring waters.

The original public basin that held the spring waters was on the opposite side of the road from the current Chalybeate Well which was built around 1882. Water has never run freely from the well. Digging of sewers in the road and other building works appears to have disrupted the underground flow of water. Even if water was flowing into the well, it would not be wise to drink.

A Dr. Atfield analysed the water from the well in 1884 and found that it contained:

analysis

There was a note at the bottom of the above table which read:

“Note – This appears to be chalybeate water mixed with ordinary surface water. If this could be excluded a purely chalybeate water would probably be obtained.”

Not that there was much to drink. In 1907, George Potter of the Wells and Campden Charity recorded that:

“The traveler requiring a draft of it would have to spend at least an hour to obtain a moderate one from this source, and when he had obtained it he probably would not relish it very much.”

So, despite the new well being constructed, there was very little water and what was available was not very drinkable.

George Potter tried to find other sources of water which could be run to the well. A number of shafts were sunk in the gardens of houses along Well Walk and spring water was found, however on analysis it was found that:

“With reference to the analyst’s report on the two samples of water, Nos 2 and 3, a copy of which I forwarded to you on the 10th, it appears to me that I cannot allow it to pass without representing to those in whom is vested the Chalybeate Spring that persons drinking this water run a serious risk of injury to their health.”  (Letter from Dr. Herbert Lttlejohn, Medical Officer of Health to George Potter on the 17th November 1902.)

George Potter described his disappointment with these results: “The handsome new fountain in Well Walk, a fountain without water, is now only a monument – a monument to commemorate the memory of the departed glories of the once famous Hampstead Spa. But even now I am not without hope that a supply of this water, practically pure, may yet be found and let to this fountain – a fountain only in name at present.”

The Well Charity continues to this day in the form of the Hampstead Wells and Campden Trust. Although having been through amalgamation with other charities and changes in status, the charity is rooted in the original donation of 6 acres of land by the Earl and Countess of Gainsborough

The well provided a common source of street names in the area. Chalybeate Well is on Well Walk. Just behind the well is Well Passage which leads up to Well Road.

Chalybeate Well 6

Well Walk has been the location for a number of drawings and paintings of Hampstead over the years. The following print being an example, and reads: “A Prospect of Hampstead from the Corner of Mrs Holford’s Garden, opposite the Well Walk” and shows Hampstead in 1745 (print by William Henry Toms)

816585001

©Trustees of the British Museum

The following print by a Captain Thomas Hasting is from 1828 and titled Near the Well Walk Hampstead”

1169785001

©Trustees of the British Museum

Hampstead has also long been the residence of artists. A blue plaque along Well Walk identifies one of the two houses in which the artist John Constable lived in Hampstead. He frequently visited Hampstead in the summer then moved there permanently until his death in Hampstead in 1837. He took the lease on the house in Well Walk from the summer of 1827 until 1834.

Chalybeate Well 7

Constable delighted in the view of London from his house in Well Walk and worked on a number of paintings of the view. The following is a watercolor painted in the drawing-room at 6 Well Walk looking across to the City and St. Paul’s Cathedral. An inscription on the rear of the painting reads: “Hampstead. drawing Room 12.oclock noon Sept.1830”

9206001

©Trustees of the British Museum

Walking back into Hampstead, at the junction with Christchurch Hill is the Wells Tavern. This was built on the site of the original tavern, the “Old Green Man” which was pulled down in the late 1840s.

Chalybeate Well 8

At the Hampstead end of Well Walk, the road splits into Flask Walk and Gayton Road. Follow Flask Walk towards Hampstead to find The Flask. Both the walk and the pub are named after the flasks that were filled here with spring water ready for dispatch to London.

Chalybeate Well 10

The Chalybeate Well is a reminder of how the geology of a location has played a part in the development of London. The springs helped the early development of laundry services in Hampstead, the waters were channeled to the City through conduits and they have shaped the development and natural history of the heath.

I hope to cover this in more detail in future posts (and it provides a good excuse to walk more in Hampstead and visit Hampstead pubs).

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Springs, Streams and Spas of London by Alfred Stanley Foord published in 1910
  • Hampstead Heath. Its Geology and Natural History by the Members of the Hampstead Scientific Society published in 1913
  • Hampstead Wells – A Short History of their Rise and Decline by George W. Potter published in 1907
  • For the poor of Hampstead for ever – 300 years of the Hampstead Wells Trust by Christopher Wade published in 1998

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Down Street Station

This year has been a good year for exploring disused underground tunnels. The London Transport Museum and the British Postal Museum have arranged a number of tours throughout the year, and last Thursday I took my last tour of the year, to the disused London Underground Station at Down Street.

You could argue that once you have seen one old underground tunnel, you have seen them all, however each location is unique and they have their own story to tell of London’s development and recent history. Down Street is no exception and held a critical role in the running of the country’s transport network during the last war.

Down Street station is, as the name suggests, in Down Street which runs from Piccadilly to Hertford Street.

The station opened on the 15th March 1907 on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (part of today’s Piccadilly line), between the stations at Green Park (or as it was called Dover Street) and Hyde Park Corner.

The station however did not meet expectations on passenger numbers for a number of reasons. Green Park and Hyde Park stations were very close by, the station was in a side street rather than on Piccadilly, and the residents of this affluent area tended to have their own private transport rather than use the Underground.

As a result of the station’s limited use, it closed on the 21st May 1932.

The street level station in Down Street as it is today:

Down Street 28

The exterior design of the station was by Leslie Green who was responsible for a number of other stations on the underground. The design and tiling were used on many other stations and clearly marks out the previous function of the building.

Entrance to the platform level today is via the emergency stairs. An original World War 2 sign at the top of the stairs hints at the use of the station during the last war.

Down Street 1

Looking down the stairs:

Down Street 26

Prior to the start of the last war, committees were formed to coordinate key elements of the country’s war effort. One of these was the Railway Executive Committee (REC) and they were in need of a location which would protect the staff and their telephone communication systems.

The role of the REC was to coordinate and manage the wartime operation of the railway companies and the London transport system.

The REC had representatives from each of the rail companies and the London Passenger Transport Board along with telephone communications with each of these organisations. The REC would coordinate the essential movement of troop trains, ammunitions and equipment, raw materials and other goods critical to the war effort, and manage the impact of enemy bombing on the rail network

At the bottom of the stairs, more signs hinting at the previous use of the station.

Down Street 2

Looking back at the bottom of the stairs. The sign on the wall indicates the depth below ground, with the height of the shaft being 22.22 meters.

Down Street 3

The tunnels were converted to provide accommodation for the REC by both London Transport and the London Midland & Scottish Railway.

London Transport were responsible for structural changes and the Railway Company fitted out the tunnels so they were suitable to provide office and living accommodation for the staff of the REC.

Many of the tunnels were plastered or boarded over, partition walls installed and furnished using stock from both the above ground office of the REC and from Railway Hotels, so the quality of furnishing was reasonably high.

This is the tunnel that held the committee room of the Railway Executive Committee. Originally the tunnel walls were boarded and partition walls installed with doors providing entry and exit to the rest of the tunnels. The white tape on the floor marks the position of the board room table.

Down Street 9

One of the side tunnels was converted to provide bathroom facilities for those who would work a shift of several days below ground. The remains of these still exist, although the decay of the past 70 years is clearly evident. These facilities are in individual alcoves along the side of one of the tunnels. It was fascinating to peer into these as they are in almost total darkness. I had to use flash for these photos.

Down Street 4

Bath in the photo above and sink in the photo below.

Down Street 5

Double sink unit. Really good that the historic value of these facilities has been recognised with signs warning not to remove or damage these objects.

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An original water heater.

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Photo showing how the tunnels were partitioned to provide a narrow walkway past the facilities installed in the tunnel on the right.

Down Street 8

As well as the Railway Executive Committee, Down Street also provided accommodation for Winston Churchill at the height of the Blitz.

The original facilities in Whitehall and the Cabinet War Rooms were not considered strong enough to withstand a direct hit by high explosive bombs and whilst new facilities were being constructed, Churchill needed a secure central London location and Down Street provided this service from October to December 1940.

Despite the amount of change needed to accommodate the REC for the duration of the war, much of the original station signage remains:

Down Street 10

To support the work of the REC, communications were needed with the rest of the country’s railway systems. For the time, an advanced telephone system was installed for this purpose and some of this switching equipment still remains:

Down Street 11

Another view of one of the tunnels showing how they were partitioned with narrow walkways providing access across the complex:

Down Street 12

As well as washing and sleeping facilities, the occupants of Down Street also needed to be fed. The station had a kitchen capable of feeding the 40 staff based on site plus any visitors.

Down Street 13

The Piccadilly line still passes through the station. As part of the construction work to make the station suitable for the REC, a wall was built along the length of the platform edge. This still remains with occasional entrances through to the section of the tunnel with the train tracks.

The noise of passing underground trains echoed throughout much of the station. It must have been difficult to work, and to sleep for those off shift during the time when trains would still be running.

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Stairs up to the tunnels which connect with the lifts bringing passengers to and from ground level.

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Some of the original station signage remains behind later paint, plaster and the accumulated dirt of many decades. Later signage helps with orientation in the tunnels.

Down Street 16

An alcove built during the war to accommodate additional communications equipment:

Down Street 17

Station tunnel:Down Street 18

More original signage:

Down Street 21

Curving tunnels always fascinate. What is around the corner?

Down Street 22

Here is the original lift shaft. Lifts were installed during the original station construction. As part of the work to ready the station for occupancy by the REC, a thick concrete cap was installed to ensure that the impact of any surface bombing could not reach the platform levels through the lift shaft.

Down Street 19

The REC continued to use Down Street until the end of 1947. Since then, there have been no other occupants of the station. Many of the partitions were removed to allow various elements of underground signalling and communications to be installed, but the rest of the REC facilities have been left in slow decay.

The main use of Down Street has been to provide ventilation to the Piccadilly Line which is the role the lift shaft provides today.

Looking up the lift shaft:

Down Street 20

These holes in the wall at the bottom of the lift shaft provided the entrance from the platforms tunnels to the lifts.

Down Street 23

The facilities in Down Street were designed not only to provide protection from explosive bombing, but could also be sealed against gas attack with air filtration equipment providing breathable air for the REC staff. An original wartime door.

Down Street 24

Back up to the surface and heading towards the street:

Down Street 27

Down Street is a fascinating station. It only served the Piccadilly Line for a short period of time, but then played a key role in the war, maintaining the efficient coordination and running of the country’s railways.

The London Transport Museum is performing an excellent service in opening up these old stations with well run tours and very knowledgeable guides.  The tour of Down Street is highly recommended to see the remains of the station’s wartime use.

If you do visit Down Street, near by is Shepherd Market. Also well worth a visit which I covered here.

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The Post Office Railway

There is a parallel city beneath the streets of London with all the services needed to support such a complex city. Changes in the life of the city above ground are often reflected below ground with new means of transport and the closure of services that have become outdated.

One of these is the Post Office Railway which ran the six and a half miles from Paddington in the west to Whitechapel in the east, with a total of eight stations located below key postal sorting offices including the major sorting office at Mount Pleasant.

I have long wanted to see this railway and in October the British Postal Museum arranged a limited number of tours of the railway at Mount Pleasant.

My first introduction to the Post Office Railway was reading my first book on what is below the city streets, Under London, by F.L. Stevens, published in 1939. This book describes a visit to the railway when it was in full operation.

The plan for the railway was to speed the delivery of mail between the main London sorting offices and the key rail stations. The streets of London were getting more congested and removing the transport of mail from the streets would save time and help reduce congestion.

Construction of the railway stared in 1914, however construction had to be suspended due to the shortage of manpower and materials during the first world war and the sections of tunnel that were completed were used for storage of rare and valuable items from the London museums.

Construction started again in the early 1920s and the railway fully opened in 1927 and in the period up to the 2nd world war it was carrying six and a half million letter-bags and four  million parcel-bags a year.

The railway closed in 2003. The closure of a number of the sorting offices above ground that connected to the railway reduced the efficiency of the service, and transport by road was seen to be a more economical method.

Since then, it has been mothballed, however the British Postal Museum have plans to open up the platforms and a section of the railway at Mount Pleasant as part of a new museum and visitor centre.

The visit to the railway started with the main workshop area. Much of the repair and maintenance of the railway was performed in-house and these workshops had the majority of facilities to keep the service running.

The view on entering the workshops:

Post Office Railway 1

In the workshops. Two main workshop areas leading to a common space. Trains from the railway can be driven up from the tunnels below for maintenance.

Post Office Railway 2

One of the workshop areas. The ramp leading down to the tunnels is on the left.

Post Office Railway 3

Looking down the tunnel that connects the underground tunnel system with the workshops.

Post Office Railway 4

Lathe in the workshop showing the in-house capabilities.

Post Office Railway 5

Most of the original equipment and signage is still in place. Although the railway closed twelve years ago it felt as if it could spring back into action at any time.

Post Office Railway 6

Looking down one of the workshop areas.

Post Office Railway 7

Original rolling stock in the maintenance area.

Post Office Railway 8

Having walked around the workshop areas, it was now down to the platform where the trains would arrive and depart with their loads of letters and parcels. Two more items of rolling stock waiting at the platform. During peak operation, forty of these trains an hour travelled underneath the streets of London carrying letters and parcels.

Post Office Railway 9

The one nearest the platform had been modified to carry passengers. The size of the rolling stock reflect the nine foot diameter of the main tunnels on the system.

Post Office Railway 10

One of the specialised trains. This one is battery powered (the batteries are carried in the large box on the top of the train). If a train needed to be recovered from the tunnels with the power switched off, the train could independently go and retrieve.

Post Office Railway 11

Looking down the full length of the platform.

Post Office Railway 12

F.L. Stevens writing in Under London in 1939 also visited the same station, and it was fascinating to recall his account of the railway in operation whilst standing on the same platforms over 76 years later:

“I made my introduction to the Post Office railway at Mount Pleasant, a station which occupies a key position in the system. It was rather queer to find oneself in a clean and large underground station so like all the others – and yet so different. There were no advertisements on the wall, and that was the first odd thing I noticed. Then there were the little perky trains, stopping and setting off again without any apparent sign of control. Of course, the control is there all right, and very thorough and alert it is, but you cannot see it. The electric locomotives have a kind of robot head and face, which seems to be perpetually at the wink, and saying ‘Pretty clever, eh?’

Picture the scene on the west-bound platform at Mount Pleasant. here comes our train, running smoothly out of the tunnel and stopping at precisely the appointed place. Actually it stops twice at Mount Pleasant; once for letters at one end of the long platform, and again for parcels at the other.

As soon as it stops, a couple of men step forward and move the containers – shaped like long cradles – on to tippers, which turn the containers upside down, emptying the bags on to conveyors running beneath the platform. In a few seconds the bags are emptied again into a “bag elevator”, which is really a big dredger, with great buckets which scoop up the bags as they fall and carry them up to a sorting office above ground.

Whilst this is going on, letter-bags from the offices above are tumbling down the chute (which is exactly  like a helter-skelter at the fair ground) on to the platforms, where they are piled into empty containers in readiness for the next train. It is all done very quietly and methodically; the three-minute service is operating and everything goes like clockwork.

Meanwhile our train moves on a hundred yards or so to the parcels end of the platform. The men can see at once from the ticket fixed to the containers which parcels are meant for them, and off they come and are wheeled, not to a tipper this time, but to a conveyor, a kind of endless carpet, moving uphill at quiet a steep gradient. It is odd to watch the parcels drop on to the conveyor. Many of them seem to come to life, and act just like children. They do not want to go up the moving hill, so they dance and writhe, sit up for a minute and fall back, sometimes clutching their neighbour, turning head over heels, or just shaking with rage. After a few seconds these fits of obstinacy pass, and they lie down and disappear in the shadows of their upward journey.

But who is controlling all this, you might ask? Who knows when the men have finished unloading and loading? Well, as soon as the job is finished, and the train is ready to set off again, the head man of the platform staff presses a button. A red light appears, which means ‘ Stand clear and don’t touch’. At the same time, a green light, meaning ‘Set her off,’ appears in the underground switch-cabin which is the nerve-centre of the system.”

All is silent now on the Post Office Railway and it will not carry any more letters or parcels.

Having reached the end of the platform, it was now time to take a look at some of the tunnels.

Post Office Railway 13

There seem to be numerous tunnels. The main tunnels running to the next stations, loop tunnels between the platforms and tunnels up to the workshops.

Post Office Railway 14

Tunnels into the stations are 25 foot in diameter.

Post Office Railway 15

Here is the tunnel leading of to the next station, this is where the tunnels reduce to 9 foot in diameter. The tunnels between stations are on average 70 foot below ground level.

Post Office Railway 16

The stations that these tunnels connect were:

  • Paddington Station
  • Western Parcels Office – Barrett Street
  • Western District Office – Wimpole Street
  • West Central District Office – New Oxford Street
  • Mount Pleasant – Main London Sorting Office
  • King Edward Building Sorting Office – King Edward Street
  • Liverpool Street Station
  • Eastern District Office – Whitechapel Road

In between stations the trains would get up to 35 miles per hour. The tunnels are designed so that they slope up towards a platform to help reduce the speed of the train, and slope down from a station to help accelerate the train.

The tunnel curving into the distance.

Post Office Railway 17

Part of the loop tunnel between platforms was painted white with Christmas paintings in paint that will glow under ultra-violet lighting. This was for Christmas Parties organised by the staff when children would be taken on a train between the two platforms in the dark, but with the paintings on the wall glowing under the special light.

Post Office Railway 18

Another reduction in tunnel diameter.

Post Office Railway 19

Tunnels leading off in all directions.

Post Office Railway 20

Back on the platforms, one of the essential bits of equipment.

Post Office Railway 21

Standing on the platform imagining the scene as described by F.L. Stevens with the trains running up to the platforms, being unloaded, loaded with new mail and parcel bags and running on to the next station.

Post Office Railway 22

Some of the platform equipment for managing letter and parcel bags.

Post Office Railway 23

It was a fascinating tour run by the British Postal Museum with very informative and knowledgeable guides. When opened as part of the new museum, the Post Office Railway will be a great example of London’s industrial heritage.

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Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter

I have always been interested in what can be found beneath the city streets since finding a copy of Under London by F.L Stevens, published in 1939, probably one of the earliest books dedicated to the subject.

In the late 1970’s, straight out of school as a British Telecom apprentice and working in one of the hidden regional seats of government during the Cold War only furthered this interest. This site in Essex was entered via an ordinary bungalow built on a hillside, inside which a long tunnel led deep into the hillside to the centre of the complex. The site is now open as a tourist attraction !

Therefore I will always take any opportunity for an underground visit and recently the London Transport Museum have been arranging open days at a number of facilities associated with the transport system.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of the London Transport Museum open days I visited the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter, built during the 2nd World War.

The book Under London, being published in 1939, did not cover the structures built during the war, however it does show the rapid change in the types of defences needed to protect Londoners. The book concludes with a final chapter “London Takes Cover” which documents some of the preparations in London for the expected bombing of the city. Part of the chapter reads:

“A model system of trenches has been built in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, under the seven acres of which is an underground network, one thousand four hundred and twenty-nine feet long, seven feet deep, and covered with concrete and two feet of earth. Seating accommodation is provided for one thousand three hundred people. When the work is finished, turf will be replanted, tennis courts re-laid and, in addition, a new putting green is to be constructed.

Trench systems nearing completion are, at the time I write this, at Clapham Common; Kennington Park; Victoria Park….”

There follows a list of the locations in London where trench systems were being built. The inadequate protection provided by shallow trench systems for the bombing that was to come was soon very apparent.  I doubt the author of Under London could have imagined the shelters that would be built in the next few years, one of which was the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter.

One of the entrances to the shelter close to Clapham South Underground Station on the edge of the Common:

Clapham Shelter 21

At the start of the war, air raid shelters consisted of trench systems, the basements of buildings, along with the opening of underground stations, although the adequacy of these proved ineffective to direct bombing, including parts of the underground system which were just below the surface. Deep level shelters were needed and in October 1940, with no end in sight of the heavy bombing on London, the Government planned the construction of a number of deep level shelters across London capable of taking up to 10,000 people in each shelter.

Construction started in 1941 with completion in 1942.

To enter the tunnel system on the tour, a second entrance was used, not the obvious entrance on the edge of the Common. At first glance it could be part of the architectural features of the new building above the entrance, however a side door provides access to a very different world:

Clapham Shelter 20

The shelters are approximately 30 meters deep and the vertical shaft providing access has a double spiral of stairs to speed entry and descent. Whilst the shelters had the facilities to house 10,000 people, getting this many in and out needed the double spiral to try and speed this up, although how long it may have taken for many thousands of people of all ages to climb 30 meters of stairs after a long night below ground can only be imagined.

Clapham Shelter 19

At the base of the stairs, part of one of the cross passages:

Clapham Shelter 1

The cross passages provide access to the main shelters. These consist of two tunnels, each about 400 meters long. The tunnels are divided into upper and lower levels thereby doubling the number of people each tunnel can accommodate.

A glimpse of one of the shelter tunnels curving into the distance:

Clapham Shelter 13

Looking down one of the shelter tunnels. This is the lower half of the tunnel with an identical arrangement in the half of the tunnel above. On the left are the original frames of the bunks provided for those seeking shelter. On the right is shelving for when the shelter was later used to provide secure archive storage.

Clapham Shelter 5

One of the sections has been fitted out to show how they would have been used:

Clapham Shelter 3

Looking along the top bunk level, the length of the shelter. Imagine looking along this level when the top bunks were all occupied.

Clapham Shelter 4

One of the junctions on the cross passages. On the left is one of the places on the tour where a photo background has been put in place to show what the shelter looked like at the time of use, very effective.

Clapham Shelter 8

With two long, identical tunnels, each divided into two, it would have been rather difficult to find the specific place where you had your bunk or to meet other family members or friends. To help with location finding, the tunnels were divided into shelter areas, each named after a senior officer in the navy.

Clapham Shelter 12

The tunnels are very well signposted so even with many thousands of people, whilst it would have been crowded, it would have been difficult to get lost.

Clapham Shelter 11

Each of the shelters had a canteen. To keep up morale and provide an incentive for being in the shelters, as well as hot drinks, the canteens provided sausage rolls, meat pies etc. food that was not easily available due to the strict rationing restrictions in place at the time.

Original fuse box at one of the canteen locations:

Clapham Shelter 9

As well as the fuse box, other reminders of the original use of sections of the shelters remain. Original location for a sink in one of the medical facilities:

Clapham Shelter 2

Examples of wartime posters highlighting the problems with food supplies at the time and the importance of home grown, basic food products such as potatoes and carrots:

Clapham Shelter 7

As well as the two surface entrances, the tunnels also has an access to the Clapham South Underground Station. This entrance is now bricked up, however during the war it was used to provide direct access to the station platforms for those travelling to work by underground train.

Throughout the tour, the sound of trains highlighted how close the shelters were to the tunnels of the Northern Line.

Steps leading up to the bricked up entrance to Clapham South station:

Clapham Shelter 10

Brown staining on some of the tunnel walls provide an indication of the materials used in construction. Apparently the brown stains are from the creosote used to soak the hemp that provides waterproofing between joints in the structure.

Clapham Shelter 14

By the time the shelters were completed, the intense bombing from the blitz period had ceased and bombing of London was much more sporadic. The shelters remained available, but were not opened. This changed during the later period of the war when the V1 and V2 weapons were targeting London.

After the war the Clapham South shelters were called on to provide accommodation to meet a number of specific needs.

Military personnel were accommodated in the shelters for large events in London, such as the 1953 coronation. Migrant workers who arrived in 1948 on the Empire Windrush, and who did not have any other accommodation, were provided with space in the shelters.

During the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shelters became the Festival Hotel and provided cheap accommodation for overseas visitors to the festival.

Some of these occupants left their mark in the shelters. Above the bunks, names can be found written on the shelter walls. Due to the dry conditions and stable temperatures of the shelters these look as if they could have been written yesterday rather than over 60 years ago:

Clapham Shelter 15

Some are written upside down. Here, Marcel de Wael from Brussels was obviously lying on his bunk, writing his name on the shelter wall above his head:

Clapham Shelter 23

As well as reminders of the occupants, other original signage can be found throughout the shelters:

Clapham Shelter 17

And inside the control room, one of the boards and the outlines of alarms and indicators that would have notified the staff of any problems within the shelters:

Clapham Shelter 18

The end of the tour and time to climb the 30 meters back to the surface:

Clapham Shelter 24The shelters are impressive to visit and the London Transport Museum tours are really well run and highly informative.

These tunnels were built at the height of the war and the blitz on London, mainly dug by hand and without the complex shields and tunnel boring machines that would be used today.

It was not just the shelters at Clapham South, but the other eight shelters completed around London at the same time. In addition to Clapham South, shelters were completed at Clapham Common, Clapham North, Stockwell, Goodge Street, Chancery Lane, Camden Town and Belsize Park. Tunnels were started at the Oval and St. Pauls but were abandoned at the Oval due to poor ground conditions and at St. Paul’s due to restrictions with tunnelling close to the cathedral.

A truly impressive undertaking.

The excellent Subterranea Britannica site has a wealth of detail and photos on the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter which can be found here.

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The Hidden Tunnels Of Charing Cross Underground Station

Charing Cross is a busy underground station on the Northern and Bakerloo lines. Over recent weeks, the excellent London Transport Museum have been running one of their occasional tours of the transport infrastructure below ground and last Saturday I took their Charing Cross Station tour to see the original Jubilee Line platforms along with the tunnels used for station construction and those providing today’s ventilation of the system.

There is so much infrastructure beneath the streets of London and it is fascinating to understand how this supports the London of today, as well as how the development of London is reflected by what is beneath.

The first part of the tour covered the now disused Jubilee Line platforms.

In 1971 construction started on a new underground line which was to have been called the Fleet Line, initially running from Stanmore to Charing Cross, the Fleet name was used due to the expected extension of the line from Charing Cross, along the route of Fleet Street through to stations in the City, including Fenchurch Street and Canon Street.

The planned name was changed to Jubilee Line to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. The change of name was one of the pledges made by the Conservatives as part of their 1977 GLC election manifesto.

The new Jubilee Line, running from Stanmore to Charing Cross opened in 1979.

Plans for major redevelopment and building across the old London docklands resulted in a change of route for the Jubilee Line extension. The significant developments at Canary Wharf and surroundings and the large number of people who would need to travel out to these areas required additional transport capacity as the area was not served by the underground railway.

The planned Jubilee Line extension was therefore re-routed from Green Park station to take a new route  to Westminster, then along the south of the river, up to Canary Wharf and finally Stratford.

This left Charing Cross at the end of a short spur from Green Park, now bypassed by the new extension of the Jubilee Line, and as a result, the station closed in 1999, with the Jubilee Line then taking the route we see today.

The platforms and their associated access tunnels, escalators etc. are still in excellent condition and are used for occasional operational purposes as well as a film set with several recent films including Skyfall and Paddington being filmed here, along with episodes of the TV series Spooks.

One of the old Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross. Still in excellent condition and with live tracks allowing Jubilee Line trains to be routed in from Green Park if needed:

Charing Cross 1As well as running on to join the main Jubilee Line outside off Green Park, the overrun of the old Jubilee Line heads towards Aldwych, nearly reaching the old Piccadilly Line station at Aldwych (now closed, which I visited here). There is sufficient length in the overrun to park two trains and the tunnel stops about 100m short of Aldwych.

The above photo is looking in the direction of the run off tunnel and Aldwych.

The opposite end of the platform looking towards Green Park:

Charing Cross 22

Sign showing the original routing of the Jubilee Line, when it ran from Green Park to terminate at Charing Cross:

Charing Cross 20The top of the escalators and stairs leading down to the platforms. These were used in one of the underground chase scenes in Skyfall:

Charing Cross 3The next part of the tour were the tunnels used as part of the construction of the original Jubilee Line and station at Charing Cross.  These are entered from the working passageways and it is always fascinating to see what is behind the many doors along passenger walkways.

Inside the start of one of the construction tunnels looking back at the doors to the passenger walkway:

Charing Cross 4This tunnel was used to remove the spoil dug from the station and Jubilee Line. The tunnel runs from Charing Cross station, then under Trafalgar Square passing under the fountain on the right as you look towards the National Portrait Gallery. It now terminates roughly under the 4th plinth at the far corner of Trafalgar Square from Charing Cross. It did run further to where the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery is now located. It was here that a shaft to the surface allowed the construction spoil to be removed.

Looking down the tunnel, running under Trafalgar Square:

Charing Cross 25

At the far end of the tunnel, roughly under the area of the 4th plinth. The end is now blocked, but this ran onto the shaft that allowed spoil to be removed to the surface.

Charing Cross 8At the very end of the tunnel:

Charing Cross 27

A small side tunnel at the end of the construction tunnel:

Charing Cross 7Looking back down the construction tunnel:

Charing Cross 26

Back near the top of the construction tunnel showing the detail of the construction of the tunnel walls.

Charing Cross 9

Each of the segments forming the tunnel surround are dated with their year of manufacture:

Charing Cross 21The next set of tunnels were those used for the ventilation of the working tunnels. These carried large ventilation pipes and other equipment so hard hats were needed:

Charing Cross 24

Descending down to where the air vents above the working platforms are located:

Charing Cross 11

A strange experience to be standing on the grills above working platforms with trains arriving and departing beneath:

Charing Cross 12

Train at the platform from above:

Charing Cross 13

The other side of the grill, looking through to the passenger walkways from the ventilation tunnels:

Charing Cross 14

Walking along the ventilation tunnels. Large ventilation pipes running the length of the tunnel:

Charing Cross 23

At the end of the tunnel is the shaft that rises up above surface level. This is looking down at the base of the shaft. A further tunnel branching off the base of the shaft to the lower right can just be seen:

Charing Cross 16

Looking up the shaft:

Charing Cross 17

Again, the segments supporting the sides of the shaft are dated with their year of manufacture:

Charing Cross 18

This is what the shaft looks like from outside. In a side street adjacent to Charing Cross Station these look integral to the office block on the site but are really part of the infrastructure supporting the underground:

Charing Cross 19

This was a fascinating tour to see part of the history of the London Underground and some of the infrastructure that has supported past construction and current operation.

My thanks to the London Transport Museum and the staff on the day for the tour.

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Aldwych Underground Station

I have an underground map from 1963 and whilst there are some very significant differences when compared with an underground map of today, for example the yet to be constructed Jubilee Line, there is one station on the 1963 map that has disappeared.

Underground Map 1

Find Holborn Station in the above map. This has the Central and Piccadilly lines passing through, and there is a short stub section of the Piccadilly line going to an Aldwych station.

Aldwych station closed to passengers in 1994, however every so often the London Transport Museum organises tours of the station and yesterday I headed to Surrey Street, just of the Strand to take a look inside a station that I have walked past many times, but have never seen inside.

The external entrances of the station are still very visible. The station was built on a block of land between the Strand and Surrey Street with an entrance in each.

The following photo shows the block with the Strand entrance on the right and the Surrey Street entrance just visible on the left.

Aldwych 2

A close up of the Surrey Street entrance. The tiling is a very distinctive feature on both entrances:

Aldwych 1

The station was built on the site of Royal Strand Theatre which closed on the 13th May 1905. The site had been a theatre for much of the 19th century. The Royal Strand opened on the 5th April 1858 and was a reconstruction of the Strand Theatre which had previously stood on the site.

The underground station opened in 1907 as the Strand Station. It was renamed Aldwych in 1915.

On entering the station, one is greeted with a now empty set of telephone booths. A reminder of the pre-mobile days when a fixed pay phone was needed to make a call when travelling in London.

Aldwych 18

The original lifts remain, although they do not work and were one of the reasons why the station closed. The lifts were still mainly the original 1907 equipment and replacement was urgently needed, however the very significant cost of replacing two lifts could not be justified for a station with only 450 passengers a day.

Aldwych 21

Passenger numbers through the station were very low from opening. This resulted in the ticket office being closed in 1922. Ticket booths were built into the lift cars so as well as operating the lift, the lift man could sell and collect tickets.

Lift control equipment:

Aldwych 19

Without operational lifts, the platforms are now reached by a spiral staircase of some 160 steps. The base of the staircase:

Aldwych 22

Platform 1 is the first platform to visit. This has an old Northern Line train in position along the platform. This platform and the train are used for training of the Underground’s Emergency Response Unit and has also been used as a film set for a considerable number of TV programmes and films. The old posters are more recent reproductions as part of creating an authentic platform for filming.

Aldwych 6

Aldwych was not part of the main Piccadilly Line and only had a shuttle service operating to Holborn.

More advertising posters:

Aldwych 13

This platform still has an operational track towards Holborn station:

Aldwych 8

During the war, Aldwych station was a major air raid shelter which could accommodate up to 1500 people and was equipped with first aid facilities and a canteen. The train service to Holborn was suspended on the 22nd September 1940 from when the station was used as a shelter. The following photo is from the Imperial War Museum’s collection (© IWM (D 1675))

IWM (D 1675)

The following, also from the Imperial War Museum’s collection (© IWM (HU 44272)) illustrates just how basic and uncomfortable the facilities were, but considerably safer than being above ground during a major raid.

IWM (HU 44272)

The shelter formally closed as a shelter in May 1945 when war ended. peak usage had been during the early years of the war, with a second peak when the V1 and V2 weapons were targeted at London during the closing year of the war.

To get from platform 1 to platform 2 there is the walkway above the platforms as is typical in many other operational stations:

Aldwych 5

Platform 2 is very different to platform 1. This platform was closed for train services in 1914 with only platform 1 continuing to be used. Much of this area and the tunnel to Holborn was used as a store-room during the war. Many of the treasures from London museums were moved here for safety, including the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum. This is looking in the direction of Holborn.

Aldwych 24

On the right can be seen part of the original Strand name of the station, shown below in more detail:

Aldwych 12

Only the “AN” still visible of Strand. The “Station Closed” posters are modern reproductions.

Platform 2 has also been used by London Underground to create mock-ups of station tiling and decoration in a realistic environment.

The opposite end of the platform, away from the Holborn direction is bricked off, with the exception of a door:

Aldwych 10

Behind the door is the original 1907 run off tunnel:

Aldwych 15

If a train did not stop, it would continue into the run off tunnel which had sand laid along the ground to try to slow the train. At the end of the tunnel are the original 1907 buffers and beyond these the tunnel terminates in a brick wall. Hopefully the dragging effect of the sand and the buffers would have done their job.

Adjacent to the run off tunnel are some of the original stairs. believed to have been intended as the original entrance to the platform:

Aldwych 14There are also a number of tunnels which were never used by passengers and remain in their basic state. Even when the station was under construction there were concerns that passenger numbers would be low so only the main exit / entrance passages were fully finished.

Aldwych 16It was here that our guide told the story of why it is possible to feel a breeze, without the passing of any trains through the station.  The lead actress in the last play to run at the Royal Strand Theatre before it was demolished to make way for the station  was so unhappy that the play that was going so well was being cut short, swore to come back and haunt the station.

Sniffer dogs in training at the station have also been known to avoid this area of the station. A nice story, but looking into the dark of these tunnels does allow the imagination to run wild for a moment.

Aldwych 17

All too soon, it was time to climb back up the 160 steps to ground level and head out into Surrey Street, which as the sign below suggests, provides a short walk down to Temple Station.

Aldwych 20

A fascinating insight into one of the disused underground stations that are to found scattered across the underground system. As usual, the tour was superbly run by the London Transport Museum, with their highly knowledgeable staff and volunteers as guides.

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Baynard’s Castle, A Roman Monument And The Last Working Crane In the City

I was recently scanning some negatives of photos I had taken in London in 1982 and found a series of photos of archaeological excavations around St. Peter’s Hill and Upper Thames Street, all in the region of the church of St. Benet which I covered in a post a couple of weeks ago.

In the early 1980s a site was needed to relocate the City of London School and the site chosen was adjacent to St. Benet and unusually across the new routing of Upper Thames Street which was in the process of being boxed into a tunnel and onto the embankment of the Thames with space left for a new Thames Path.

As well as the foundations of the Victorian warehouses that ran along this part of the river and an enormous range of finds from the 1st to the 18th centuries, the excavations found two significant finds:

  • A corner of Baynards Castle
  • The foundations for a significant Roman monument

But before discussing these finds, let’s start with a view of the area facing the Thames.

I took the following photo standing on the new White Lion Hill, looking along the area that had already been cleared ready for construction of the City of London School. The concrete tunnel on the left is the new routing of Upper Thames Street, the school will soon be built over this tunnel.

baynards2
An interesting feature of this photo is the crane at the far end of the cleared area. This was the last working crane in the City and operated by the company LEP (Lanstaff, Ehremberg and Pollak) who ran their Transport and Depository business from the white building behind the crane which was LEP’s Sunlight Wharf building, which would soon be demolished in 1986. the crane was dismantled earlier in January 1983.

The Sunlight Wharf building was originally constructed on an area owned by and for Lever Brothers (now Unilever). Plans for the new warehouse were submitted in 1903 and the warehouse was completed in 1906.

Sunlight Wharf specialised in the unloading and storage of furs, silk and tinned fruit. Sunlight Wharf also carried on the tradition of this small area of being the landing point for stone destined for St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original landing point used by Wren during the construction of St. Paul’s was the adjacent Paul’s Wharf. During later repairs to the cathedral, Sunlight Wharf was used with one of the last sailing barges to carry stone to central London arriving at Sunlight Wharf in August 1927 after a five day voyage from Dorset carrying a cargo of 50 tons of Portland stone,

Before the war there were four swinging cranes along Sunlight Wharf. After the war as the number of barges decreased, these were replaced by the crane in the photo which was a ten ton Butters crane, able to lift a larger load and place this directly onto a waiting vehicle. A clear sign of why the docks in central London were not able to continue in business.

Although the Millennium Bridge which is now adjacent to where this building stood is a relatively recent construction, plans for a bridge between Southwark and St. Paul’s stretch back to 1851 and almost came to be built following the Bridges Bill of 1911. Needless to say, the occupiers of the area including Lever Brothers strongly opposed the building of the bridge. An architectural competition was held in 1914, but the outbreak of the first world war prevented any further progress and immediate plans for the bridge came to an end.

At the bottom of the above photo can be seen a fence. Looking down into this fenced off area we can see the base of the 15th century tower at the south east corner of Baynard’s Castle.

baynards3

Note the no expense spared sign to inform onlookers:

baynards4

The original Baynard’s Castle was built just after the Norman conquest and takes it’s name from Ralph Baynard who came over with William the Conqueror. Baynard’s being the castle at the west end of the City with the Tower of London at the east end.

The excavated tower is the east end of the castle which extended back along the Thames river front towards Puddle Dock. The following extract from Agas’ Plan of London from 1563 shows Baynard’s Castle at the centre of the frontage along the Thames.

baynards map

The original castle burnt down in 1428 and was rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and it is these foundations that were discovered in 1982. After Humphrey’s death, the castle passed to the crown and was made a royal residence by Henry VI.

The following gives an impression of the appearance of Baynard’s Castle.

baynards old picture

Henry VIII spent a large sum to turn the castle from a fortress into a palace, and after Henry’s death it was in Baynard’s Castle that the council was held which confirmed that Mary would be Queen of England, for her short lived and generally unpopular reign from 1553 to 1558.

Queen Elizabeth I occasionally used the castle, but royal usage declined and the castle was taken on by the Earls of Shrewsbury until the castle became one of the casualties of the Great Fire.

The area of the photo is now fully occupied by the City of London School. I walked along White Lion Hill to try and take a photo from the same position, but all you would see is the wall of the school. The Millennium Bridge is the best vantage point for a view of this area now. I took the following photo which is looking from the bridge (at the far end of the original photo) towards White Lion Hill which is at the far left of the photo. The school, along with the Thames Path occupies the area at the front of my original photo and continues back over the Upper Thames Street tunnel.

baynards13

Now let’s move back up to Queen Victoria Street to the area now occupied by the school, adjacent to St. Benet’s. In 1982 I took the following photo from Queen Victoria Street overlooking the excavations towards the corner of St. Benet’s. The other side of the Upper Thames Street tunnel to that shown in the previous photo can be seen.

baynards6

I could not take a photo of this area from the same position as it would be looking straight into the walls of the school. The following photo is my 2014 photo from Queen Victoria Street which shows the school to the left and is looking towards the church. The black and white posts in the 2014 photo are along the same line as the fencing on the right of the above photo which protected the site from St. Bennet’s Hill, the side street running past the church.

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I have marked some of the features that can be seen in the following photo. Upper Thames Street originally ran directly past the church. The redevelopment seen in these photos relocated this street slightly to the south, closer to the river. The original route of Upper Thames Street is marked in yellow in the photo below.

The majority of the foundations that can be seen in this photo are of the Victorian Warehouses that covered this area (see my post on St. Benet’s to see a photo of this area as it was), however what excited much interest during this excavation was the find of a large monumental base from the Roman period. This is highlighted in blue in the following photo.

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There was not that much Roman activity in this area in the 1st and 2nd centuries as the area was at the far south west of the main Roman settlement. This area was at the bottom of a hillside extending back up away from the river, with terraces being cut into this hill. The monumental base was found on the lowest terrace and was of limestone blocks and ragstone masonry and was built on a raft of oak piles and rammed chalk.

Although only a small part can be seen in the above photo, the actual size of these foundations extended 4m along the western edge and possibly 8 meters along the southern edge. What was built on these foundations was not clear. Other excavations produced evidence of what could have been a temple in the area. A Roman altar was found rebuilt into a wall at Blackfriars and fragments of a monumental archway and a Screen of Gods were found in the riverside wall a short distance to the west, so it may have been possible that a temple was built on these foundations facing the river and being cut back into the hillside. These were dated from the third century.

There is also evidence that Upper Thames Street in it’s original route prior to the 1980s redevelopment had strong connections with remaining Roman structures. It may have been possible that the southern terrace constructed in the Roman period was still visible in the 11th Century when development of this area started to get underway again. St. Benet’s being one example of this as the first mention of the church is from the year 1111, when it was built up against the original Upper Thames Street. Reference is made to a wall next to the river at the end of the ninth century when King Alfred made two grants of property to the Bishops of Worcester and Canterbury with the wall being described as the southern boundary of the property.

The following photo gives another view of the site with the monumental base in the centre foreground with the two planks meeting on the top of the base.

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And in the following photo we can just see the end of the monumental base with some of the blocks which were dislodged by robbing when much of the stonework was removed for reuse in building work (just above the three planks).

baynards8The following photo gives some idea of the depth of excavations. After the Great Fire large quantities of fire debris were dumped over this area which had the effect of raising the area by 2 to 3 metres.

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I took the photo looking down towards the Baynard’s Castle tower foundations from White Lion Hill. I also took the following photo from the same position on this road looking back up towards St. Benet’s and St. Paul’s.

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And in 2014 from exactly the same point. The big difference again being the school which now occupies the whole area to the right.

baynards11Although small, this is a fascinating area of London and demonstrates the multi-dimensional aspect of London which I find so interesting. In this post I have covered the site of today, along with early Roman foundations and the later medieval castle. If you refer to my post of a couple of weeks ago which can be found here you can also see the streets that once ran across this site and one of my father’s photos showing the original warehouses before demolition.

The London we see today is just one instance of the City. Standing in the same position, there are many different going back for two thousand years and occasionally we can catch a glimpse of what the City looked like at a specific time.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • St. Paul’s Vista (A history commissioned by the Lep Group plc to mark the redevelopment of the Sunlight Wharf site) by Penelope Hunting published 1988
  • Popular Archaeology magazine July 1982
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Stow’s Survey of London. Oxford 1908 reprint
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940

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Walking Brunel’s First Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping

I have always been fascinated by what is beneath the surface of London and I can trace this interest back to the late 1970’s when I read one of my father’s books “Under London, A Chronicle Of London’s Underground Life-Lines And Relics” by F.L. Stevens and published in 1939.

Within this book, there were chapters on the Fleet Drain, Tube Tunnels, Roman London, Crypts and Vaults, Rivers, Wells and Water and Tunnels under the Thames. There is also a final chapter titled “London Takes Cover” which at only 10 pages looks to be a last-minute addition and starts “Queer things are happening under London to-day” and then talks about the preparations being made for Londoners to seek shelter underground from possible terrors on top. I wonder if they could have imagined what would happen to London over the next few years and what those terrors would be?

The chapter on Thames Tunnels starts with Brunel’s tunnel connecting Wapping and Rotherhithe, not only the first tunnel driven under the Thames, but also the first tunnel under any river. It was an opportunity to walk this tunnel during closure of the line for maintenance work that I found on the London Transport Museum web site and tickets were ordered.

And so today, Saturday 24th May I was in the queue at Rotherhithe station for the 1:40pm walk through the tunnel. Blue disposal gloves were provided (there is still a risk of picking up a virus despite a much cleaner Thames. Demonstrates what the risks would have been during construction) Once in the station it was down a short flight of stairs, on to the platform and at the entrance to the tunnel.

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The Rotherhithe – Wapping tunnel was not the first attempt at a tunnel under the Thames. In 1799 a tunnel between Gravesend and Tilbury had been started, given up as a bad job then started again a couple of years later. A shaft was sunk and the tunnel reached within 150 feet of the other side of the river but was again abandoned.

A tunnel was badly needed. It was a four mile circuit between Rotherhithe and Wapping via London Bridge and ferries carried 4,000 people across the Thames every day at Rotherhithe.

Marc Brunel was convinced that a tunnel could be built and had the concept of a shield to protect workers at the face of the tunneling work. A meeting with investors was held on the 18th February 1824 and a company formed with Brunel appointed as engineer.

The shaft was started in March 1825 and all appeared to be going well, however in January 1826 the river burst through, but work pressed on and by the beginning of 1827 the tunnel had reached 300 feet.

As work progressed, in addition to the risk of the river breaking through, there were all manner of problems including strikes, mysterious diseases (the River Thames was London’s main drain, polluted with a considerable amount of sewage) and explosions from “fire-damp”.

The river continued to burst through. On Saturday 12th January 1828 six workman were trapped and drowned and despite the hole being filled with 4,000 bags of clay the project was temporarily abandoned due to lack of funds. The tunnel was bricked up and no further work carried out for seven years.

Work started again on the 27th March 1835 and carried on for a further eight more years.

In March 1843 staircases were built around the shafts and Marc Brunel  led a triumphant procession through the tunnel. Marc Brunel’s son Isambard worked with his father during the construction of the tunnel and was appointed chief engineer in 1827, however his work with the Great Western railway took him away from the tunnel during the later years of construction. Marc Brunel worked on the tunnel from start to finish.

As one of the sights of London, the Thames Tunnel was a huge success. Within 24 hours of the tunnel’s opening fifty thousand people had passed through and one million within the first fifteen weeks.

The Thames Tunnel was purchased by the East London railway in 1866 and three years later was part of London’s underground railway system.

Looking through one of the arches between the two tracks in the tunnel:

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Starting from the Rotherhithe end of the tunnel, we walked down the centre of the rail tracks avoiding carefully marked obstructions and walking over small bridges put in to avoid signalling equipment. The tunnel started with a gentle downwards slope towards the halfway point where an upwards slope took us into Wapping station.

Regular archways between the two tracks appeared to be spaced equally the length of the tunnel.

Walking through the tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping:

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Looking back down the tunnels from the Wapping end. The walk from Rotherhithe was through the tunnel on the right, walk back through the tunnel on the left:

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Looking back on an empty Wapping station:

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I am glad they turned the power off !!                                        Signpost and distances in the tunnel:

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Looking down the tunnel from Wapping:

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Original brickwork exposed:

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At the Rotherhithe end of the tunnel large pipes with the sound of running water descended below the level of the tunnel. According to the guide, if the pumps that drain this water failed then the tunnel would flood within a matter of hours.

Large pipes at the Rotherhithe end of the tunnel with the sound of water running through them:

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All too soon we had returned to Rotherhithe station and it was time to leave the tunnel. A fascinating glimpse of what is beneath London and the challenges of pushing the boundaries of early engineering.

P1020170The building that was originally the boiler house during the construction of the tunnel has been restored and is now an excellent small museum. It has a very well stocked bookshop with what must be one of the largest collection of books on Brunel I have ever seen.

The following picture shows a mural at the museum which illustrates the shield method of digging used by Brunel. This surrounds the original shaft down to the tunnel. It is now empty and the original stair case long removed. It was originally left open to the skies however fears that tunnel lights would act as guides to enemy aircraft in the 1940’s resulted in the shaft being capped.

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The tunnel passes underneath the paved area outside of the museum and heads towards the Thames.

Just to the north of the museum is a paved area that overlooks the river and provides an excellent view back towards the city.

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