Exploring the Disused Aldwych Station

The Aldwych Station Tour

Today was one of those damp and rainy London days where you'd only leave your house if you had a very good reason to do so. Thankfully I had a very good reason indeed because today I did one of the things I've wanted to do for the longest time: visit the disused station of Aldwych on the Strand. I joined a Hidden London Tour organised by London Transport Museum and if I had to sum up the experience in one word, it would be exhilarating.

We met outside the entrance to Strand that I had walked past countless times before when I was working off Strand itself. Learning how Strand became first Strand Aldwych and later Aldwych was just one of the quirky things we'd learn about this ill-fated and underfunded station that ran from 1907 to 1994.

The History of Aldwych Station

Aldwych station came about at the meeting of two great organisations. Great Northern Railway wanted to build a new underground tube railway and London County Council wanted to redevelop the area around Strand and Kingsway which had not been redeveloped since surviving the Great Fire. Enter the slightly corrupt American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes. Known for his brutal business methods, Yerkes had a lot of money and would make the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway a reality.

The Royal Strand Theatre

Despite agreeing on their plans before the turn of the 20th century, it was sometime before a suitable site was found for the station. Eventually the North Strand Theatre was demolished to make way for the station and construction started in 1905.

It is ironic that a theatre was demolished to make way for the station when line was designed to give access to the area to theatre goers. There were such protests by actors and thespians that some say their ghosts still haunt the station!

Leslie Green

Aldwych Station is a Leslie Green station. His stations are notable for their oxblood tiled exteriors,  two entrances and exits and seminar-circular windows above the station name.

Entrance to Aldwych Station Strand

Running out of money at Aldwych

Despite Yerkes' money and Green's involvement, the station was plagued by a lack of money and ever-dwindling passenger numbers. For instance, three lift shafts were dug by hand but only one was ever commissioned and a passageway behind the lift shafts was dug out but never used. It was in 1907 that the station was renamed to Strand Aldwych when three stations in the area were renamed.

Aldwych During The War

Like many stations, Aldwych was used as a shelter during the air raids in both world wars. It is a little known fact that more people sheltered in tube network during the First World War than the Second World War.

Conditions on the platforms were pretty awful during the war. Cramped and overcrowded, passengers were initially made to use an ablution bucket set down behind a simple curtain.

The station was also used as a storage area for paintings from the National Gallery, ceramics from the British Museum and even china from Buckingham Palace.

Most notably, the Elgin Marbles were stored in Aldwych. They were lowered down by ropes and pulleys but transported out by train!

Now that you know all about Aldwych Station, I’ll take you along on our tour.

Stairs in Aldwych Station

There were lots of stairs in the tour and in addition to the normal stairs you’d expect in a tube station, the lifts are not in operation and so there is a 160 step journey into the heart of the station. That is 160 steps down, of course… and then 160 steps back up again. At the time of writing, my legs are not speaking to me at all.

This Station is Closed

We first visited the eastern platform at Aldwych. The eastern platform was the first to be decommissioned in 1917. The “Station Closed” sign above is not a genuine sign – it is a prop from the 2004 film Creep which featured a woman who misses the last train and is then pursued along the underground by a cannibal.  As we learned on the Charing Cross Station Tour, the disused platforms of Charing Cross and Aldwych are often used for filming, and Aldwych especially so for older settings.

Eastern Platform Aldwych Station

In the photo above, you can see the original tracks complete with porcelain insulators on the middle rail and lack of anti-suicide pit. The addition of anti-suicide pits on the line was one of the more grim revelations of the day!

Leslie Green Lettering Aldwych Station

Still on the Eastern platform, above is a small sample of the original Leslie Green lettering, the A and N from Strand. The platform has been used so often in the past, both for film sets and mock ups and this is sadly the only trace of the original tiling.

Western Platform Aldwych Station

Our next stop was the western platform which was in service from 1907 right through to 1994, except for short periods during the world wards.

All Aboard the Mark I Stock Aldwych

We all boarded a Piccadilly line 1972 Mark I train and listened to a brief recording of Julian Andrews on life in the underground during the Blitz. It was interesting to see everybody assume the standard underground poses, complete with lack of eye contact, as soon as they boarded the train.

Ghosts on Board Mark I Stock

I even got to see some ghosts on the train. You can see me in the reflection but who is that on board the train? (Oh, okay, it might be fellow tour attendees).

Abandoned at Aldwych Station

All too soon, the tour was over. We began to make our way back towards the mammoth staircase and I took every opportunity to peek down abandoned passageways and rooms.

Strand Aldwych Station

I know that next time I walk past the entrance to Strand Station, I’ll certainly slow down and recall the treasures that lie beyond those doors.

I would higly recommend the London Transport Museum Hidden London Aldwych Station Tour. Our guides were superb, a true source of endless information and they were lovely as well.

As they grow in popularity, the Hidden London tours are selling out constantly. They are going to announce new tours in March but they recommend that you become a friend of the London Transport Museum in order to secure tickets – after all, tickets to Down Street went entirely to Friends (which is crazy because the tickets were £75 each but apparently worth every penny).

The Aldwych Station Tour costs £30 plus booking fee and can be booked on the Hidden London website. There is also a dedicated site for becoming a London Transport Museum Friend.

I can’t wait for the next station tours to be announced. Where would you like to explore?

A Festival of Light: Lumiere London

With all the Christmas lights packed away and the magical shop windows returned to normal, January can be the most dull and grey of months. Until now. Some genius thought it would be a brilliant idea to hold the Lumiere light festival in London this month and suddenly, January is the brightest and prettiest month in the calendar.

Melissa suggested the festival when we suddenly found ourselves with a meet up date but no plans. We met at Tottenham Court Road and wandered through Soho for an excellent meal at Spuntino (highly recommended if you’re ever in the area and like sharing plates). Then we wrapped up very warmly – I was wearing thermal leggings and vest under my jeans and shirt, a thick cardigan, scarf, gloves and parka (which is actually a portable duvet) – and were ready to brave the cold and see the lights!

Some of the photos are a little shaky – apparently shivering like a leaf is not conducive to night time photography (who knew?) and some of the photos are a little random so were not captioned. Enjoy!

Les Luminéoles by Porté par le vent (Regent Street)

Les Luminéoles by Porté par le vent (Regent Street)

Maddox House

Keyframes by Groupe LAPS / Thomas Veyssiere (Regent Street)

Keyframes by Groupe LAPS  Thomas Veyssiere

This was such an exciting display. The little figures chased each other around the screen to like Lemmings and countless other platform games from our youth. We saw most of the display and then stayed to watch it all over again. This is the building Desigual is in.

1.8 London by Janet Echelman / Studio Echelman (Regent Street)

1.8 London Janet Echelman Studio Echelman

By this time, you might be noticing that there appears to be a lot of people in my photos. You would be right. I haven’t seen crowds like that since South African warehouse raves circa 1996. They will definitely need to implement a one-way pedestrian system around Regent Street and Picadilly if they hold the festival again. Not that we were complaining – those crowds kept us warm.

Dresses by Tae gon KIM (Liberty London)

Dresses by Tae gon KIM

Carnaby Street

Off Carnaby Street

Shaida Walking. 2015 by Julian Opie (Broadwick Street)

Shaida Walking 2015 by Julian Opie

Broadwick Street

Elephantastic by Top’la Design / Catherine Garret (Piccadilly)

Elephantastic by Top'la Design Catherine Garret

Melissa likes me.  I guessed this because she did not strangle me for insisting that we brave the crowds to get a look at Top’la Design’s Elephantastic. The most interesting thing about the elephant was supposed to be its bum but sadly the crowds were so bad around the arch below it that we could not get through to see the other side of the display. Still, it is a very cute elephant.

Lights on Picadilly

From Piccadilly, we made our way to the Mall but sadly could not locate Pablo Valbuena’s Kinematope, which is a pity because it loooked good.

Plastic Islands by Luzinterruptus (Trafalgar Square)

Plastic Islands by Luzinterruptus

We were a little bit shocked to discover that Plastic Islands was indeed an island of plastic bottles. I like the photo above because the two little girls in the photo were gazing, mesmerised by the display.

I was quite excited to see Hans Haacke’s ‘Gift Horse’, the new statue on the Fourth Plinth. The plinth stood vacant for years but now various statues have taken up a limited time position on the plinth. I much prefer this to Katharina Fritsch’s utterly awful ‘Hahn/Cock’.

The Gift Horse ont he Fourth Plinth

Centre Point Lights (Trafalgar Square)

Centre Point Lights

It was quite funny listening to people try to explain to each other why the lights from the iconic Centre Point building in Tottenham Court Road were included in the festival but nevertheless, it was a lot of fun to photograph!

A partial answer is that the building is covered in a wrap at the moment to protect the glass facade from the building works at Tottenham Court Road (both on the Crossrail and Underground station). So I guess they thought it would be nice to bring the lights out of hiding.

Garden of Light by TILT (Leicester Square)

Flying saucers at Garden of Light by TILT

Snowdrops at Garden of Light by TILT

Garden of Light at Lumiere Festival London

Garden of Light in Leicester Square Lumiere

Stalks at Garden of Light by TILT

Smiles at Garden of Light by TILT

It’s pretty safe to say the the Garden of Light in Leicester Square inspired our imagination the most. It was absolutely amazing, something like the Nevernever in countless fairy tales. I assured Melissa that unlike in some of the books I read, these plants weren’t going to eat us or poison us with their thorns.

We had such a lot of fun at Lumiere and walked 5.6 miles or 9.5km. That is not a lot for us Londoners but my bestie Sarah, who lives in Johannesburg, was pretty impressed when I told her about it!

Have you ever been to a light festival? If so, which would you recommend?

Shingle, Shipwrecks and Cottages at Dungeness Beach

Ship and hut on Dungeness beach

There is a light that falls over Dungeness in Kent. It is golden yet muted, capturing the strange, slightly surreal atmosphere on the beach. I try not to experience envy in life but on countless occasions I’d caught myself gazing longingly at photographs of Dungeness Beach, the shipwrecks and cottages. I knew that I wanted, more than anything, to visit and finally made a pilgrimage there with fellow adventurer and friend Sarah, plus the crowd from IGers Kent.

There are rumours that Dungeness is the only desert in Britain but it is a little bit more complicated than that. Ten thousand years ago the area lay under water until a shingle sandspit began to emerge from the sea. Stretching from Hastings to Hythe, a lagoon and salt marsh began to develop behind the sandspit and Romney Marsh was created.

Today the area is known as Dungeness, from the Old Norse word for ‘headland’, and it is an important area of conservation and ecology.

You wouldn’t know it strolling across the shingle beach. Arid and stony, with remnants from a long extinct shipping trade, it feels like you’ve entered another world when you crest the small incline and emerge to see the water beyond. Oh what stories these boats and ropes could tell us, what hidden tales in the forgotten tools!

Ship wreck on dungeness beach

Old rail tracks on Dungeness beach

An abandoned hut on Dungeness beach

Sparse on Dungeness beach

Skillet on Dungeness beach

Shipping ropes on Dungeness beach

Abandoned boat on Dungeness beach

Woman and horizon on Dungeness beach

Boat and smoke on Dungeness beach

The ship on Dungeness beach

Ship detail on Dungeness beach

Hut on Dungeness beach

Explorers on Dungeness beach

Ship, hut and sky on Dungeness beach

Hut and tracks on Dungeness beach

We visited in late October and there is only a small window of optimum light and temperature on days like that. We met up at the iconic lighthouse and walked down to the beach just after noon. We walked past neat little cottages with pretty gardens and vintage cars parked outside. I wondered how it must be for residents to have crowds of visitors descending on the beach each weekend but it seems that they cope by keeping well out of sight for the area is eerily quiet.

We explored the beach for a good ninety minutes, sometimes wandering off alone and reuniting at times to compare photos. We chatted to people we hadn’t met before and took the opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances.

All too soon it was time for lunch and we walked back to the only pub in Dungeness, The Britannia Inn. Sarah and I sat outside in the sun enjoying our lunch, remarking first how unseasonably warm it was for October and then minutes later hurriedly putting our cardigans and jackets back on. Dungeness does get warm during the day but it also gets cold really quickly!

Dungeness is one of those places that I would like to visit again, especially when it is warmer. I have romantic notions of sitting on the shingle and writing poetry. I have to admit that we couldn’t have visited at a better time for that golden, late autumn light and I can imagine that it must be quite beautiful in the dead on winter too.

If you are visiting Dungeness, it is good to remember that there are no public toilets except for the pub so do plan accordingly. (I should mention here that there are toilets on the guest map but we didn’t find them so if you do know where they are, feel free to give directions in the comments below). Visiting the beach is free but there is a small fee to visit the Old Lighthouse. We drove to Dungeness but a great idea for a day out is to travel to Dungeness from one of the bigger stations on board the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway.

The parking is free and is situated by the Old Lighthouse:

The Old Lighthouse
Romney Marsh
Kent TN29 9NB

Have you ever been to Dungeness? What is the strangest place you’ve been to in Britain?