Being a train geek and fan of hidden and abandoned places, I have always wanted to go on one of the London Transport Museum Hidden London tours but was always disappointed because they sell out so quickly. I was thrilled then when my friend Phil got us a pair of tickets to go on the Access All Areas: Charing Cross Station Tour. It definitely pays to be a London Transport Museum Friend!
The tour is a behind the scenes, all-access tour of non-operational Jubilee Line platforms, a ventilation shaft and a disused access tunnel at Charing Cross Station. It is an excellent place to practice the use of perspective and vanishing points in photography and also a unique chance to see the London Underground without hordes of people.
If these corridors and escalators look familiar, it is because they are often used in films. This is the escalator that featured in Skyfall and it finally answered a question for me. I remember scoffing during the film and saying there was no way Bond went sliding down the middle partition because there are obstructions to prevent precisely that kind of behaviour in the real Underground. But there you are – a perfectly clear and inviting place to slide. I was so tempted.
Paddington Bear, 24 and Spooks have also been filmed here.
There are lots of vintage signs and chances to see snippets of the Underground from days gone by. This British Rail signage invoked a lot of nostalgia amongst us weary commuters.
It felt strange to peek out into the operational parts of the Underground and see life carrying on as usual. Don’t be fooled – this ‘normal’ looking passenger broke into a happy dance when he noticed me taking his photograph.
We exited the Jubilee Line area and then entered another secret passageway to visit the ventilation shafts. Don’t walk this way if you’re scared of heights, they said. Well, you know me and my vertigo, that is just an invitation to me to overcome it and up the passageway I skipped. I have to admit, there were parts of this section that took my breath away. It doesn’t look high but it is. Nonetheless, I loved looking down onto the train and the platform below but was especially careful not to drop my phone.
Next we turned up towards the ventilation shafts.
Again, the photographs give no idea of the height and depth of this section. To give you an idea, the ventilation shaft is 3m higher than Nelson’s Column! I was scared my hard hat was going to fall off and felt a little shaky and dizzy.
When I exited into the corridor, one of the stewards asked if my obvious dizziness had ruined it for me but I just felt exhilarated. It was a real privilege to see these hidden areas and I wasn’t going to let a little vertigo ruin that for me.
The last part of the tour was a visit to the disused access tunnels where they store tools and equipment. This was my favourite part of the tour and I loved the muted lighting and eerie atmosphere.
The access tunnels run all the way under Trafalgar Square and end in the area where the fourth plinth (with its increasingly horrible installations) is located.
The tunnels run to the surface and were used during the construction of the Jubilee line to remove debris and rocks to the surface.
These days there are a lot of sidings and corrugated iron sheets stored in the tunnels as well as bags of cement and other construction materials.
I thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Charing Cross station and would absolutely recommend it to anybody who is interested in London Transport and the London Underground. We had a lot of fun and I can’t wait until my next transport-related outing. Tickets cost £30 each, which felt like a lot of money but I enjoyed the experience so much that I am happily forking out another £30 on the Clapham South tour in October.
Transport for London and the London Transport Museum have announced this week that they will be conducting Charing Cross Tours again on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 25 March and 17 April 2016. Visit the Hidden London: Charing Cross page for more details.