Underground History

A Platform for BBC Broadcasting House?

A Persistent rumour that's been running for decades is that BBC Radio's headquarters in the centre of London, Broadcasting House, has a specially built platform on the Bakerloo Line.

On the face of it, the building's close proximity to the railway, which runs alongside its length under Portland Place, would make such a platform a possibility. I have even spoken to people who even say they've seen the platform, yet there doesn't seem to be any actual evidence that supports the existence of this mysterious platform.

map

Approximate layout of the Bakerloo Line passing Broadcasting House

Theory 1

Until the recent construction and rennovation of the BBC Broadcasting House building, there was an area in part of the building's labarynthian basement known as the Stronghold which was in fact an old World War two bunker, built in 1941. When it was built, it consisted of several fully equipped studios along with all support equipment. In deed, one studio was maintained until very shortly before its demolition.

When built in 1941, the Stronghold was, although under ground, the only building at that position. The rest of the building was in fact built around the concrete bunker later after the War.

Within the Stronghold was a staircase that lead down two flights and effectively ended in a brick wall, known to staff as "the stairway to nowhere". It has been suggested that this is in fact was the blocked entrance down to the Bakerloo platform. I seriously doubt this. The staircase's location was quite a distance from the Bakerloo Line both horizontally and vertically.

There would have to be a shaft of at least 100 feet down and almost the same distance horizontally to reach the line. In fact, while there during a visit, we frequently heard the rumble of trains passing. In this part of the building we were in fact hearing the Victoria line, not the Bakerloo.

The purpose of this staircase is not a mystery. The Stronghold was built on land that the BBC already had plans to build on, but the building work was delayed as a result of the hostilities. The Stronghold was built with this extension in mind and the stairway was built to link into the proposed basement of this new building. When building work finally commenced after the War, the structure was different to the one originally planned and the originally proposed basement was no longer included in the plans so the stairway was never completed.

Looking at the history of the building, it has emerged that there were indeed plans to sink a shaft down to the Bakerloo Line from the Stronghold. However, this was not for human access to the line, it was to provide a more secure (bomb proof) route for signalling cables to take as the existing route used armoured cables to the nearby post office exchange.

Pictures of the Stronghold including the "stairway to nowhere" and its demolition (a substantial engineering work) can be seen here.

Although having a platform as an emergency subterranean exit for the wartime studios would be desirable, I suspect the sheer logistics of providing one would be too formidable.

Theory 2

When built in 1932, Broadcasting House was provided with its own water supply - an artesian well, which bores 600 feet down to the soft chalk layer beneath the building. This well was originally intended to be the building's water supply, capable of providing about a thousand gallons of water an hour. This has however never been used and until recently was sealed under a trap door beneath one of the studios. I understand this has now been completely covered over.

People have suggested that since this well goes so deep, access to the Underground was also provided since this well is quite close to the Bakerloo. Again, I don't believe this is true - I have spoken to the people responsible for maintaining the building's utilities and they confirm that there was no access to anything other than the well at this point. Also photographs of the well's construction survive which show the well being created using a drill.

For this reason I doubt there's an access point here.

Theory 3

Some think that there may indeed have been access from the basement at one point, but this has since been blocked during redevelopment. Some say this happened after the Second World War when the new section to the building was added - others say later.

I have seen many of the plans for Broadcasting House and spoken to others who have seen many more, including Lieut. Col. G. Val Myer's original designs for the structure and not a single one of these plans shows access to the Underground. If such access was originally planned or constructed during the building's initial construction, it should appear in at least some of these plans.

Theory 4

Since writing this page, another source for this rumour has come to my attention. In 1940, Broadcasting House was hit by several German bombs and as a result of this, the BBC's Chief Civil Engineer, Marmaduke T. Tudsbery suggested building a series of "low level security tunnels", which would have included an 80ft shaft down to the Bakerloo Like as a means of escape. None of this took place however as the plan was quickly rejected as being too expensive. This I rather suspect is the most likely root for the persisting rumour of a platform/link between Broadcasting House and the Bakerloo Line.

Another sighting...

Even since the building of the new Broadcasting House and complete refurbishing of the old building, stories about this platform surface from time to time. For a while at least, there was a doorway in one of the machine rooms in the basement with the sign "Access to the Bakerloo Line" on it. A nice touch but obviously an in-joke.

A number of people have commented on the picture of the sign that, while looking official, a genuine sign would most probably be enamel, not paper. There's also one other glaring error to me: the font. It's not Transport London, which is used on all London Underground signage. The font used in the sign is Arial, found on all Windows operating systems! Arial is quite similar to Transport London but for a couple of obvious differences, the most noteable being the sideways square that makes the dot above the letter 'i' on Transport London.

Font comparison (non bold as I don't have the Transport font in bold). Note the dot above the i - quite a distinctive feature of the Underground font.

Conclusion

I don't believe the platform exists or has ever existed. I've spoken to people whose business it is to know the intricacies of the building and although they too have heard the rumours, they don't know of any access to the tube. London Underground have no records of such a platform, either past or present and tube train operators familiar with that stretch have told me that there's nothing unusual to be seen along that stretch of line. I'm still open to the possibility that it may be there, now blocked off, but until concrete evidence turns up I shall remain skeptical.

Update 2006: Over the last couple of years, extensive work has been done in the refurbishment of BBC Broadcasting House. In fact, "refurbishment" is rather a weak word to describe the work... As the facade is a listed building, this couldn't be changed, but essentially, the building's innards have been completely gutted and rebuilt so that the studios are now on floating foundations to attempt to reduce the noise from the Underground.

If there was access to a platfom at Broadcasting House, it's almost certainly now lost. Nobody has mentioned such a platform during the building work - something that I'm sure would have made an interesting story should it have been discovered.

For further reading about Broadcasting House, see Roger Beckwith's and Mike Todd's web pages.

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Last modified: January 29th 2014

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