Station Visit - Part 1

Aldwych, Surrey Street entrance

The visit very nearly didn't happen for me since I was waiting by the wrong doorway! Instructions had been sent with the tickets stating that we were to meet by the side entrance of the station but this was accidentally omitted from my envelope. I had no idea the side entrance existed and the first I knew that the tour had already started was seeing a group of people down in the station entrance hall through the Strand entrance's gate!

The Ticket Hall and Lifts

The visit started with the surface of Aldwych station, which has been remarkably restored and preserved since the station was closed in 1994. I believe London's Transport Museum are keeping this station as an example of what the stations on the Piccadilly Line were like during the original building phase by the Yerkes group. This is great news for filming and television companies who regularly use the station (both surface and subsurface) as filming sets and there was much evidence of this all through the tour.

Ticket hall

The original ticket office designed by Leslie Green was in immaculate condition, having been re-decorated for a period drama. A sign beside its window read "3d Single, 6d Return - Any Station". Although seemingly to refer to old currency, this was a very recent addition - many of the signs and posters currently visible around the station were period - they were added much later for various reasons.

Just to the right of the ticket office we came across the entrances to the two lifts, which served as a transit between surface and track level and were still in use until the closure in 1994. Original wrought iron decoration could be clearly seen above each lift and the original lift position indicators were still in place, which consisted of a pole of about a metre in length with a rectangular indicator that moved up and down the pole relative to the lift's position in the shaft.

Then we entered one of the two lifts - they looked absolutely archaic! In fact these were the original Otis lifts that were installed when the station was first built in 1907. The main reason that Aldwych was closed was because the machinery that powered these lifts was still the original equipment - and health & safety wasn't the same back then as it is now, with many exposed moving parts! It was deemed too dangerous for personnel to service these lifts and London Underground realised that it would cost something like £3-4 million to replace them so the station was closed, the cost not justifying the number of people who used the station. Soon after closing the station, the lifts were underpinned with girders and the cables cut. They weren't going anywhere any more!

Lift entrance

Note the elaborate wrought iron work above the lift entrance and the mechanical position indicators

An interesting feature of the lift was that should one of the lifts break down in mid shaft, the other lift could be brought up along side, locked in and a doorway opened between the two lifts to allow passengers to transfer into the still functioning lift. This is one of the reasons you'll see most of the lifts on the Underground system come in pairs - and indeed many of the more modern lifts can still be operated this way.

Inside the lift

Inside the lift car. Note the entrance and exit aren't square with the sidewalls. This is to allow the lift to fit into the circular lift shaft. A small ticket booth had been removed from the lift since I first visited in April 2000.

Way out sign

Through the second doorway of the lift we could see one of the original surviving hand painted signs from the station that read "Way Out & Temple Station". This goes back to before the '30s, when an attempt was made to make Aldwych an interchange to Temple station, which is only a few hundred yards away. This back exit from the lift hadn't been used in many years since the front entrance served perfectly well as an exit during the station's operational life. Since this photograph was taken, this sign has suffered some minor scratch damage and at the end of 2001 I was told that it was imminently going to be removed by London's Transport Museum for safekeeping. As of May 2003 however it's apparently still there!

The Lower Concourse & Lift Shafts

After an excellent talk about underground history from our guide, we were then lead to the emergency spiral staircase, now the only way from the station's surface level to the platforms. There were only 119 steps in the staircase but it was only when we reached the bottom we could finally feel that we were indeed in a disused underground station. The paint along the walls and roofs was peeling quite badly in places and there were several puddles of water along the floor. There was also a dank musty smell in the air at times.

Lift concourse Lift entrances

These photographs show the lower concourse, with the entrances to the three lift shafts (two entrances per shaft) now closed off with barriers

To our left we could see the entrances to the three original lift shafts, only one of which was ever used. We were taken into one of the empty ones where we could look up the shaft. A small breezeblock construction containing some switching equipment had been built on one side and a small metal walkway had been erected along the other so that we could walk across and look upwards and see underneath the floor of the modern ticket office above. We could also look up to see the bottom of the two old lifts, now underpinned by girders for safety. On the other side of the lift shaft was a small passage that would have been used as a separate exit for the lifts, except it was obvious that this passageway had never been used since it hadn't been tiled or decorated in any way.

Across a lift shaft Up a lift shaft

The small metal walkway to the other side of the lifts - and up a lift shaft!


Behind the lift shafts

The other side of the lift shafts. The bricked exit at the end would have opened out next to the spiral staircase.

Out in the corridor there was a strong feeling of melancholy - this station had come to the end of its useful life and had been abandoned. I felt as if I was intruding...

Every so often a strong breeze ran down the corridor, bringing with it a musty smell and distant rumblings from the Piccadilly Line.

Passageway in late 1999 Passageway in early 2001

The passageway from lifts to platform as it was during my visit and after a makeover at the end of 2000 for filming.

We then walked down the main access tunnel between the old lifts and the platform, avoiding some rubble and puddles on the way, we noted how dilapidated the decoration on the walls looked. I'm told it wasn't much different in 1994, the day Aldwych closed! [Since this tour, this passageway has been redecorated by a filming company to look superficially newer and cleaner. This can be seen in the second photograph].

End of part 1.

In part 2, the platforms are visited. Here we discover both the platform that was in use until 1994 and also a platform that was abandoned in 1917 complete with original rails.

Onward to part 2!

Back to deep level Back to Deep Level Lines

Back to main Back to Underground History main page


Written April 18th 2000, with a couple of paragraphs added April 2001.
Rearranged: August 21st 2003

NOTE: None of these photographs were taken during the LT Museum tour described on this page as London's Transport Museum operate a strict no-photography rule to protect their staff from appearing in unauthorised publications. There were several differences between what I saw on the tour and what appears in the photographs.

The black and white photograph on this page of the concourse tunnel prior to decorating is © 1999 Lee Osborne and is used with permission.

All material on this page is © 2001,2003 Hywel Williams unless otherwise noted.

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