Down Street station was opened on 15th March 1907, three months after the rest of that stretch of the Piccadilly line. The station was constructed as a simple station served by two Otis lifts from its entrance in a lucrative but secluded street just off Piccadilly. As with all stations served by lifts, there was also a spiral staircase in a smaller shaft providing emergency access should the lifts fail.
Down Street was never very busy due to its close location to the larger Hyde Park Corner and Dover Street stations and the fact that most of the residents that lived near the station at the time were rich and wouldn't consider using the Underground as suitable transportation! On 21st May 1932, Down Street was closed after the refurbishment of Dover Street, which at the time was fitted with escalators to replace its lifts. At the same time Dover Street was renamed Green Park as its new entrance no longer opened on Dover Street.
A point of interest; Down Street never appeared on any of the modern Harry Beck tube diagrams that we're so familiar with, the first of which were issued in January 1933. In fact the station is missing even from the 1931 prototype diagram presented by Beck to the publicity department showing perhaps that even then the station's demise was predicted. [Mr. Beck's Underground Map, Ken Garland].
As soon as Down Street closed, the west end of the platform was demolished to make way for the start of some new sidings located between the two existing lines in a new tunnel just west of Down Street, needed due to the western expansion of the Piccadilly Line beyond Finsbury Park around that time.
The station remained unattended until the onset of the Second World War when an urgent requirement became apparent for some deep level shelter for the use of the Emergency Railway Committee (who were appointed to be in charge of railway activities during the war) close to the centre of London. A disused Underground station was the obvious choice and by mid 1939 the platform level on both platforms had mostly been bricked up as well as some other construction work in the interconnecting tubes, a concrete cap for the shaft and some steel doors and filters to prevent any gas contamination.
During the early part of the war, Winston Churchill and his War Time Cabinet also used this shelter on a few occasions when the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall weren't available. The Cabinet War Rooms are open to the public today as a tourist attraction. It is said that Churchill enjoyed his stays at Down Street since its one of the few places in Central London where it was possible for him to sleep without the sounds and worries of the bombing that was taking place above, though he only used the location himself on a few occasions - his nickname for the location was The Burrow.
Access to the shelter could be made in three different ways:
Small platforms were left at each direction where a train could be stopped and passengers alighted via the driver's cab. Some temporary signals were also installed in order for someone in the station to "hail" a train. These have since been removed when the station's use as a shelter was no longer required.
The spiral staircase (along with a small lift especially installed down its middle) could also provide surface access to the surface at Down Street itself. During the War, an armed guard was stationed at the top of the staircase.
If all else failed, a walk down the tubes to Hyde Park Corner or to Green Park.
Practically, only the first method was used regularly due to the need for secrecy for the site.
The station's location was also kept secret in that its official address placed it in an entirely different location in London, as did the telephone exchange that provided its essential communications.
Today, much of the wartime equipment has been removed though remnants of the communication equipment, as well as bathroom facilities are still there to this day. The machinery for the temporary lift down the stairwell was removed sometime after 1975, but the doorways (now sealed) and button pushes are still there. Subsurface, as you ride on a train in either direction between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park you'll see the walls change to a brighter coloured brick as some point - this is the walled up section of the platform. If you look carefully you'll also make out the small platform left over for train access via the driver's cab (best seen looking backwards on an eastbound train).
A west bound Piccadilly Line train races past one of the emergency exit grilles
The spiral staircase itself was replaced sometime in the '70s since the original staircase was deteriorating very badly. The main reason for replacing the staircase is the fact that although totally disused, the spiral staircase would be used in case of emergency as an exit point for passengers who may otherwise be trapped below.
As you can see from the picture of the exterior of the station on this page, the surface level building is still quite recognisable as a Yerkes Underground station and still maintains the style and brickwork of Piccadilly Line stations that were built in that era. A small access door is still available for surface access to the station though some of the area has since been taken over by a newsagent.
Click here or on the keyhole above for an account of a visit to the location and to see many pictures of the station as it is today!
Last modified: April 10th 2003
Exterior photograph taken 21st August 2001.
Subterranean photographs taken 19th October 2001.