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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Sound of the underground: the Strand Station and LTM

Sometimes I wonder at how much control TFL has over our lives as Londoners. Whether it's kettled in Victoria station, a buss trike or a central line signal failure - well, let's just say most of us have a pretty complicated relationship with our transport authority. but TFL also has the amazing London transport museum- a journey through London's history on the carriage, omnibus, and steam-powered tube. and if that wasn't enough, well, TFL looks after heritage most of us don't even think about, including the deep mysterious depths of the tube system itself, including its ghost stations.

Finally after years of wanting to do one of London Transport Museum's oddly expensive transport themed special events, I finally managed to go on a guided tour of the Aldwych 'Secret Station'. The Aldwych station is not that secret really, if you've ever been to KCL or been on a bus down the Strand you've probably seen its red-tiled exterior. Maybe you even thought to yourself, it's pretty weird to have a station so near Temple, Embankment and Charring Cross. and you would be right - the Strand station (later Aldwych) was basically useless from its inception.

The strand station was originally a branch of the Piccadilly line, extending like a strange appendage from Holborn down to the Strand, originally built in 1907 mainly for theatre-goers. This arrangement seems somewhat baffling as the trains only ran every 9 minutes and it takes about the same time to just walk up the Kingsway. Ten years later in 1917, they closed one of the platforms due to lack of demand. Actually they didn't even finish tiling the platform that was in use because they didn't think there would ever be enough people down there to even notice. The station itself closed in 1994 when TFL realised it was frequented by a whopping 450 people per day (compared with Holborn which received about 31 million annually).
Actually the Aldwych station was more interesting closed than open. It became a bomb shelter in the Blitz and it's disused platform was used to store artwork including the Elgin marbles! I particularly enjoyed that the station was used for experiments in tube design including poster and tile patterns. Now the station is used mostly for filming as well as training emergency services staff.
All in all, TFL's exciting 'Secret Station' was really just a dinky little half-cocked Edwardian dream that they knew was going to fail even as they built it. But hey if they hadn't gone through with it where would we film Mr Selfridge?

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