Tag Archives: Churchill

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.

Down Street 6

An original water heater.

Down Street 7

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.

Down Street 14

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

Down Street 15

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.


The First Bomb And A Church Shipped To America

A dark, wet and windy Thursday evening in February. I am browsing through a couple of thousand of scanned photos that my father took across London just after the war. Negatives, many of them on old nitrate film that are now being viewed on technology not imagined when these photos were taken. I have long wanted to find the current locations of these photos and see how London has since changed.

Where to start? One photo stands out as the logical start point for my journey. It represents the point where the impact of the Second World War first came to central London. The start of the destruction of the city and the resulting rebuilding during the following 65 years.

I print out the photo and a couple of days later find myself standing in Fore Street.

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This photo was taken in Fore Street just after the war. The Corporation of London have erected a sign to mark this point as the location where the first bomb fell on the city.

Site of the first bomb on central London during the Second World War

Site of the first bomb on central London during the Second World War

After this first attack on the 25th August 1940, heavy bombing started on Saturday September 7th and continued for the next 57 nights. London then endured many more months of bombing including the night of the 29th December 1940 when the fires that raged were equal to those of the Great Fire of 1666. Hundreds of people were killed or injured, damage to property was enormous and 13 Wren churches were destroyed. Or the night of the 10th May 1941 when over 500 German bombers attacked London. The alert sound at 11pm and for the next seven hours incendiary and high explosive bombs fell continuously across the city.

Behind the sign is a devastated landscape, not a single undamaged building stands, to the right of the photo, the shell of a church tower is visible. All this, the result of months of high explosive and incendiary bombing.

Fore Street is between Moorgate Station and the Museum of London and is in the shadow of the Barbican buildings and the towering office blocks along London Wall. The temporary sign has long gone and was replaced by a stone plaque on the building that stands at the end of Fore Street where it leads into Wood Street, however my visit is not well timed. As is typical with London buildings, the one with the plaque is going through a refurbishment and the side is completely covered. I just hope that in the enthusiasm for rebuilding, this marker of a key event in London’s history will survive.

The plaque should be on the wall behind all this building work.

The plaque should be on the wall behind all this building work.

But does anything from the original photo survive? Unlikely, but I decide to look around. Behind the fencing in the original photo, there is a wall, walking down Fore Street and looking through the building entrance I see a wall, castellated on the top on the left of the wall and straight topped to the right. The wall I see through the gap looks the same as the wall in the original photo (although the angle is different, the original must have been taken towards the corner of Fore Street and Wood Street).

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Looking towards the remains of the Roman Wall from Fore Street

Plaque on the Roman Wall

Plaque on the Roman Wall

I find my way to the back of the building to a small garden, the former churchyard of St Alphage and here stands the wall, a lengthy section of the old Roman Wall. The garden is small, surrounded on all sides by towering offices and I suspect, the majority of the day in their shadow.

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

The garden at the former churchyard of St Alphage

Despite all the building of the last 65 years, there are many locations like this throughout the city. To me, they are the deep foundations of the city, anchoring the city to the bedrock of history reaching back to the Roman foundation of the city as a commercial centre.

Apart from the Roman Wall, the only other structure that may have survived is the church tower seen in the right hand edge of the original photo. The city of London originally had dozens of churches and many of these still survive, if not as working churches, but as the remaining shell of the building, or just a single tower.

If the church tower still stands, it is hidden behind the office blocks of London Wall, so a quick walk across London Wall in the general direction of where the church should be found.


But I do find another small garden, at the end of which there is a plaque on the ground. The plaque has an etching of a church which has the same tower and window style as the one in the
photo. Checking the map, the alignment with the original photo looks right.

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The plaque in the garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

This is the site of St Mary Aldermanbury. Records of a church on this site date back to 1181. The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. As with so many other churches destroyed during the Great Fire, a Wren church was rebuilt on the site. This is the church that was damaged in Second World War.

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

The garden of St Mary Aldermanbury

Scaffolding surrounds the Church of St. Mary in London, England. Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

Scaffolding surrounds the Church of St. Mary in London, England.
Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

After the war, the heavily damaged church had the unique distinction of being taken apart, shipped to Fulton, Missouri in the USA in 1965, and rebuilt to mark the visit of Churchill to Westminster College in 1946. The church now sits above the National Churchill Museum.

Westminster College was the location of Churchill’s speech that included the famous phrase “An iron curtain has descended across the continent”

St Mary Aldermanbury now rebuilt at the National Churchill Museum. Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

St Mary Aldermanbury now rebuilt at the National Churchill Museum.
Photograph courtesy of the National Churchill Museum Collections’

The tower is the church tower that can be seen in the background of the original photo. The National Churchill Museum can be found here along with more information on the move and rebuilding of the church.

Sign at the entrance to the garden on the site of the church of St Alphage

Sign at the entrance to the garden on the site of the church of St Alphage

I wonder how many of the many thousands of people who work next to these locations, who walk along these streets everyday, understand the history around them.

Despite the incredible amount of construction work over the past 65 years and which continues with buildings getting higher and more out of touch with their immediate surroundings, there is still so much to be found across the city.

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury

Sign at the entrance to the garden at St Mary Aldermanbury


That is my first photo. My next stop is another city garden, where nearby I find an almost fantasy like link to another world, followed by a walk to the Thames to explore a wider view of London.