This feature has been crafted by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
As I stand on a well-lit platform within the London Underground, my gaze fixes upon the colorful billboards that span the tracks. Vibrant primary hues pop against the grimy rails. To my left, a sign advertises budget-friendly vacations under the sun, while on the right, a poster promotes a new West End play named Diana’s Fortune. Curiously, the advertisements lack specific details. Where exactly are these holidays being offered? Why isn’t there any mention of the theater hosting the play?
Chuckling, my guide for Hidden London, Pat Dennis, informs me that these ads are all fake. He points out posters for non-existent real estate agencies and fictional clothing brands. We find ourselves deep within Charing Cross Underground station, a pivotal point in the city’s transportation network. However, if we were hoping to catch the next train, we would be in for a long wait. “This platform has been inactive since 1999,” Pat explains. “It used to be part of the Jubilee Line. Nowadays, it’s a setting for movies, TV shows, and music videos. Celebrities like Matt Damon, Daniel Craig, Paddington, Madonna, and Dua Lipa have all graced this space.”
These fabricated advertisements, it turns out, serve to avoid any conflicts regarding product placement. They also enhance the sense of entering a hidden world. As Pat greets our group in the station’s ticket hall, the hustle of commuters and stacks of free newspapers surrounds us. But upon passing through an unremarkable metal door, reality takes on an unreal quality. Empty escalators, quiet corridors, and the distant rumble of trains on other lines engulf us.
Over the next hour and fifteen minutes, we gain a comprehensive understanding of this abandoned section of the station. We delve into the history of Charing Cross itself, watch clips from Skyfall where James Bond navigates the same escalators we descended, and even explore the vast darkness of ventilation shafts and construction tunnels. At one point, we peer through a grille, reminiscent of 007, observing travelers awaiting a Northern Line train. The entire experience feels fascinatingly covert.
Opportunities to be a silent observer in London are rare, but Hidden London’s tours offer the next best thing.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LONDON TRANSPORT MUSEUMS
Of course, this is the exact intention. Orchestrated by the London Transport Museum, which directs ticket proceeds towards educational efforts, these behind-the-scenes tours are hosted by Hidden London across eight disused Tube stations. These visits capitalize on the fact that specific areas of these stations are no longer in use due to reasons ranging from low passenger numbers to rerouted lines.
“All the stations we visit have their unique attractions,” Pat shares, elaborating that different stations are scheduled for tours at varying times each year to maintain high demand. Many of these tours touch upon the Second World War, during which these tunnels served as air-raid shelters. Clapham South, for instance, boasts over a mile of deep-level passageways. Down Street, once a secret wartime bunker for Winston Churchill, stopped serving passengers in 1932 but remains intact, laden with history, beneath the streets of W1. While Charing Cross’s unused platforms maintain a modern appearance, concealed sections of Aldwych and Euston act as time capsules, adorned with period architecture and fading posters.
(Five of the Most Scenic Walking Routes in North London.)
For my next tour, I head to Moorgate station. Its name originates from a former gate in the old city walls, offering a view of marshland. The present-day area is dominated by commercial buildings and cafes, but the station holds a rich history. Established in 1865 as part of the Metropolitan Line—the world’s oldest underground—it initially operated with gas-lit wooden carriages rolling along its tracks.
“Early trains didn’t even have windows,” my guide Tommy Carr informs me. “Initially, passengers believed there was nothing to see in a tunnel, but later they appreciated the view of the stations they were passing by.” Initially, the station was shallow, constructed using the cut-and-cover method—digging a trench, laying tracks, and roofing over it—before the deep-level underground arrived in 1900.
We delve into the station’s core, entering a dimly lit labyrinth of maintenance tunnels and unused elevator shafts. A tiled passageway sealed off since 1939 still retains fragments of advertisements for soap and books. Further along, we encounter an old tunnelling shield—a massive, hollow, metal cylinder lying sideways—a protective cocoon for workers who used it to excavate tunnels by hand. This shield, spanning 16 feet, was simply left behind once the work was completed.
In less than an hour and a half, I emerge back into the open air, slightly disoriented. Today’s Tube system serves various roles—functional, extensive—and its extensive history means that certain parts remain frozen in time.
Originally featured in the UK & Ireland supplement, included with the Jul/Aug 2023 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Subterranean Exploration
What is the focus of the article?
The article sheds light on exploring abandoned tube stations in London through the lens of National Geographic Traveller (UK), delving into their subterranean history.
Who organizes the behind-the-scenes tours of these stations?
The tours are organized by Hidden London, a project of the London Transport Museum. The museum directs ticket proceeds towards educational initiatives.
What can one expect to experience during these tours?
Participants can expect to witness disused sections of tube stations, learn about their history, watch film clips shot within these stations, and explore unique features like ventilation shafts and construction tunnels.
How are the tours designed to maintain interest?
Tours are scheduled at different times each year for various stations to keep demand high. Each station has its distinct selling points, which may include wartime history, unique architecture, or historical significance.
Are there famous figures associated with these abandoned stations?
Yes, several celebrities like Matt Damon, Daniel Craig, and musicians like Madonna and Dua Lipa have utilized these stations for filming movies, TV shows, and music videos.
What is the significance of the fake advertisements in the stations?
The fake ads serve to avoid conflicts related to product placement in media productions that use these stations as backdrops.
How does the article describe the experience of these tours?
The article portrays the tours as an opportunity to be immersed in a secret and captivating underworld that offers a rare glimpse into London’s past.
How does the article highlight the historical context of the stations?
The article mentions that many of these stations served as air-raid shelters during World War II and provides examples of stations with unique histories, such as Clapham South and Down Street.
What is the historical background of Moorgate station?
Moorgate station, named after a former city gate, was established in 1865 as part of the Metropolitan Line—the world’s oldest underground system.
What are some of the interesting features within Moorgate station?
The station’s early history includes gas-lit wooden carriages without windows. Visitors on the tour can explore maintenance tunnels, disused elevator shafts, and remnants of old advertisements.
How does the article convey the overall impact of the tours?
The article portrays the tours as a journey that allows participants to witness London’s history frozen in time within its underground network.