Underground History

Frequently Asked Questions about London Underground

There are some questions that I'm asked more often than others. In order to answer these, I've compiled the following set of answers. If you can think of anything I can add to this page, please let me know. I hope to develop this page in the future to contain a more comprehensive list of information about the Underground.

1. Are there any abandoned stations on the London Underground?

2. How do I get to visit the disused stations you've talked about on your web site?

3. I've found a station you don't cover called Strand!

4. Who do I contact to film on the Underground?

5. Can you tell me some statistics about the London Underground?

6. Are there any ghosts associated with the London Underground?

7. Can you recommend any silly tricks that I could play on my unsuspecting non-Londoner friend?

8. Are there any Urban Legends associated with London Underground?

9. Are all the small maps you use to show the locations of abandoned stations part of a larger full sized map?

10. Have any stations changed their names over the years?

11. Can I hire a disused station for a party or event?

12. I've heard that there's a strange building that looks like a house somewhere in London, that's just a facade to hide the railway form view. Is this true?

13. I've heard that a station was so badly bombed during the Second World War that it was too difficult to retrieve the bodies so it was sealed up instead. True?

14. Hey, you haven't updated these pages for ages!! What's up?

15. Are you the Hywel Williams I've previously heard of, famous for...?

16. Why don't you "modernise" the look and feel of this web site?

1. Are there any abandoned stations on the London Underground?

Believe it or not, I have been asked this on a number of occasions! If you're asking this question while visiting this particular web site, might I politely suggest you have a look here first?

2. How do I get to visit the disused stations you've talked about on your web site?

Unfortunately, access to these stations is no longer allowed. For various reasons nobody is allowed to go to these locations any more unless there's a legitimate need to do so.

Up until December 2000, London's Transport Museum used to organise public trips to both Aldwych and Down Street. Various reasons were given at the time for these tours being discontinued. The fact is, resources available to the Museum allowed only a few trips to be organised each year and only a limited number of people were able to go on each trip for safety reasons (20 for Aldwych and 11 for Down Street).

It is said that tickets for these trips were as rare as chicken's teeth and it's believed that there was a waiting list in excess of 2000 to see Down Street. I'm not sure about this myself as it is my understanding that the tickets were allocated more on a "first out of the hat" basis from those who applied.

Another reason cited was that the stations (especially Down Street) were becoming increasingly dangerous. With Health and Safety rules becoming increasingly more stringent and the British public becoming increasingly litigious, I suspect this also factored in the demise of the public tours.

Here is a response given by the Museum to someone requesting a visit to an abandoned station:

Unfortunately the Museum does not currently conduct tours of disused Underground stations. These were discontinued in 2000 for reasons including safety of passengers and Underground staff track training. In addition, the security, health and safety regulations are now much more stringent.

However, we do have extensive information, including photographs, on this subject in books and on our computer database. These can be found in the Learning Centre, here at the Museum's Covent Garden location. Most of these books are also available to purchase from our Museum and online shops (see www.ltmuseum.co.uk).

Another very useful website is www.starfury.demon.co.uk/uground [ED: since moved to underground-history.co.uk]. Here you can find information and photos of disused stations, tunnels and other hidden bits! Photographs and descriptions give you 'virtual' visits to Aldwych, Down Street, Brompton Road and the abandoned 'Northern Heights' project on the Northern Line. You can also make a 'virtual' visit to the Kingsway Subway (Trams).

While it's nice to see the Museum plugging this web site, it's a shame they no longer conduct these tours.

Currently, the prospect of visiting disused stations is virtually nil with the exception of Aldwych, where I've recently heard that specially arranged group visits can occasionally be negotiated by established societies.

3. I've found a station you don't cover called Strand!

Several people have contacted me telling me that I've missed out a station that they've discovered that I haven't included on my site. It's situated at the end of the Strand opposite Bush House (which used to be the BBC's World Service building) near Aldwych... Aldwych opened under the name Strand, but was renamed a few years later as it was on the unfashionable end of the Strand. Since closure, the Aldwych name sign has been removed to reveal the original station name on both station facades.

Aldwych Strand entrance

4. Who do I contact to film on the Underground?

Anyone wishing to film on any part of the underground should contact London Underground's Film & Photography department. They can issue a permit to do so, providing they're happy with the use you're going to make of your film/photographs. In my experience this used to be free if you complied to their terms and conditions, but now appears to be rather an expensive document to get hold of even if they're happy with what you wish to do, even if you're a student or a non-commercial venture. {link}

I also have to add that there may have been exceptions applied when I asked for permission, however I was never made aware of any charge for a permit - either directly nor by third parties at the time.

5. Can you tell me some statistics about the London Underground?

Sure! These figures were compiled after the Jubilee Line Extension opened so should be reasonably accurate.

Deepest station beneath ground: Hampstead, 58.5m (192ft)
Deepest point beneath ground: Northern Line, at the proposed Bull & Bush site, 67.4m (221ft)
Deepest point below sea level: Just south of Waterloo, 21.3m (70 ft)

Highest point above sea level: Metropolitan Line, beyond Amersham 150m (492ft)
Highest station above sea level: Amersham 147m (482ft)

Longest continuous tunnel: Northern Line, East Finchley to Morden (via Bank) 27.8km (17.4 miles)

Number of escalators: 417
Longest Escalator: Angel 60m (197ft), with a rise of 27.5m (90ft)
Shortest Escalator: Chancery Lane 9.1m (30ft) with a rise of 4.6m (15ft)

Number of lifts: 64 (though this figure keeps on rising as the Underground improves disabled accessibility)
Deepest Lift: Hampstead 55.2m (181ft)
Shortest Lift: Chalk Farm 9.3m (30.5ft)

Number of open stations: 267
Average train speed (including stops): 30Kmh (20.6Mph)

Oldest section of the Underground: 10th January 1863, between Paddington and Farringdon.

For a more extensive list, see uk.transport.london 's FAQ list, or Clive Feather's UndergrounD pages.

6. Are there any ghosts associated with the London Underground?

Yes, several stations are said to be haunted. Here are the most famous (Thanks to Going Underground & Metro news paper's TfL web site section [no longer available]):

Aldwych

The station was built on the site of a theatre. Some people have claimed they have seen the ghost of an actress, who was upset by the theatre's closure, walking the tracks at night.

In 2002, a 15 strong camera crew spent 24 hours in Aldwych as part of *LivingUK's Most Haunted show. Nothing conclusive was discovered, but the show definitely captured some of the station's atmosphere.

Covent Garden

People claim they've seen the ghost of a tall man in a long coat walking the station since the 1950s. He is supposed to be William Terriss, an actor, who was stabbed near the Adelphi Theatre in December 1897. Apparently he regularly frequented a baker's shop which stood where today's station stands.

Highgate (High Level Platforms)

The cutting that exists above the current station used to be a steam line that ran to Alexandra Palace before it was eventually closed (with plans to convert it to be used by London Underground abandoned in the late 1940s). The rails have long since been lifted, yet residents still say they hear the sound of trains passing through the cutting.

Elephant & Castle

When the station is empty, people have said that they have heard the footsteps of an unseen person running in the station.

British Museum

Probably the most well known ghost story on the London Underground. Some people claim that the old abandoned British Museum station on the Central Line is haunted by the ghost of a mummy from the nearby Museum. Soon after the station closed, a news paper (anyone know which one?) offered money to anyone who was willing to spend the night in the closed station! I don't think anyone took them up on the offer!

Some people believe that the station is linked to the Museum by a tunnel, but this is most likely the result of a film named Bulldog Jack made in 1935, soon after the station's closure. A tunnel is discovered which links the station (renamed Bloomsbury in the film) to the British Museum.

There are many other reported sightings.

7. Can you recommend any silly tricks that I could play on my unsuspecting non-Londoner friend?

Bill Bryson, in his book Notes From a Small Island suggests that you take your friend to Bank station, hand them a Tube Map and tell them to find their way to Mansion House. If they believe the the Map, they'll probably take the Central Line to Liverpool Street, change onto the Circle Line and travel 5 stops to Mansion House. Alternatively, they spot the slightly shorter route of taking passenger walkway to Monument and then taking the Circle line for 2 stops to their destination.

You meanwhile, can go and have a nice cup of coffee before walking one block on the surface to Mansion House to greet them, as the stations are only about 100m apart

8. Are there any Urban Legends associated with London Underground?

Oh Yes - loads! Here are some of the most common ones I've heard.

BBC Broadcasting House Platform

This is probably the most persistent rumour I've heard. Although practically possible as the Bakerloo line passes quite close to BBC's Broadcasting House, there's no evidence of such a platform to be found both within the building nor on the Underground. See here for my more detailed treatment of this subject.

There's a Special Platform for Buckingham Palace

Again, this is quite a popular urban legend that has no foundation in truth. Neither the Victoria Line, which passes quite close to Buckingham Palace, nor the Piccadilly Line have any branches or platforms that would enable such a thing to be possible.

It's true that there is a very long reversing siding built at the end of Down Street's location, which runs almost all the way to Hyde Park Corner, but this doesn't diverge towards Buckingham Palace. In fact, there is access to this spur at Hyde Park Corner, though engineers, due to the difficulty of driver access, no longer use this.

There's a tunnel that exists/being built that connects London with the Burlington Bunker

A rumour exists that a tunnel has been built - or is being built (depending on who you talk to) that connects the Underground with the so-called Burlington Bunker in Corsham. This was a nuclear bunker that was built during the cold war, where it is said that the government would be evacuated to in a time of national crisis.

While it's now been established that this (now decommissioned) bunker exists, there is no evidence of the tunnel. Further, a tunnel of this nature would be spectacularly expensive to construct since Corsham quite a distance from London.

Rumours also exist about tunnels to other bunkers - again very unlikely due to the costs involved.

Corsham on the other hand is still a hive of conspiracy. Although people have now been shown around the once top secret decommissioned bunker, a part of the bunker is believed not to have been decommissioned and is still being kept active for some unknown reason...

There exists a secret government platform/base at xxx

We're a nation of conspiracy theorists - what more can I say? I've been asked if it's true whether there's a secret military use to many of the disused stations over the years and for the most part these rumours are false.

It is true that, over the years, some locations have had a connection with civil defence; none of the disused stations (or any other part of the network) has been used for anything other than transportation.

That's not to say that there may be links to other tunnels, secret or otherwise, especially in central London - I personally don't know of any.

It is also true that some lift shafts and the spiral staircase at Brompton Road were, until recently under the control of the Ministry of Defence. This location was auctioned in the summer of 2013 and I am currently unaware of its status. I can however assure any conspiracy theorists hungry to suggest that there's an evil laboratory or such like there that the area is completely empty, having been left as it was at the end of the War, complete with a map on the wall in the map room and a gas filtration unit. I've spoken to several people who've been there and several television crews have filmed there including Carlton television and also the BBC's Blue Peter.

The Bakerloo Line originally went to Camberwell

The Bakerloo Line never went as far as Camberwell, but it is true that there were plans to do so as part of the New Works scheme shortly prior to the Second World War. These plans were revived shortly after the War, and for a short time the extension even appeared on the Underground map.

Because of this appearance on the map, many people, even today, believe that an extension was made - or that the lines extend beyond Elephant & Castle all the way to Camberwell. While it's true that the lines do run beyond the station, they are merely reversing sidings - and there are no secret government bases down the tunnels there either!

No building work took place for a surface building at Camberwell, though a location had been established for the building, should it have been erected.

9. Are all the small maps you use to show the locations of abandoned stations part of a full sized map?

No, they were all individually drawn. Some have asked if I could draw an entire Underground map with these stations added, but I'm afraid that's not possible as I would breach London Underground's copyright on the map, which understandably, they protect fiercely. There is good news however as, on my Links & References page, you'll find just such a map, entitled London Underground - A Diagrammatic History, by Douglas Rose, which not only shows the locations of all the stations on the underground, both open and closed, but also shows the dates the stations and lines opened and where appropriate, closed.

10. Have any stations changed their names over the years?

Yes, many of the stations on the Underground have existed under different names over the years. I have compiled a relatively comprehensive list of these stations.

11. Can I hire a disused station for a party or event?

The answer in most cases is "definitely not"! They're dangerous places and there are many reasons why they can't be used for any public purpose. The only exception to this used to be Aldwych's booking hall which was occasionally hired out for private parties and functions at London Underground's discretion.

I've recently been told that London Underground now discourage this use and rarely if ever hire the booking hall for parties.

If you still want to contact them about this, contact London Underground in their headquarters on 55 Broadway.

12. I've heard that there's a strange building somewhere in London that looks like a house, that's just a facade to hide the railway form view. Is this true?

What you've heard of is almost certainly 23/24 Leinster Gardens, near Paddington. See here for more details.

13. I've heard that a station was so badly bombed during the Second World War that it was too difficult to retrieve the bodies so it was sealed up instead. True?

Not exactly. This story may have come about from one or more of the occasions when the London Underground was bombed during the War, while being used as shelters, causing many fatalities. The most likely source is probably when Bank station was bombed in October 1940, where a bomb blasted through the ticket office, which was full of people at the time, killing over 50 people. On 14th December 1940, Balham station suffered a direct hit, with a nearby sewer being severed - 60 people died as a result of this incident.

There are many more incidents like these that happened during the War years, but in no case were areas concreted off - bodies were recovered wherever possible and given respectable burials, with the stations being restored as quickly as possible to full use.

I suspect the reason so much mystery has arisen around these accounts is because at the time, reports of such high fatalities in single bomb strikes were suppressed to help keep up morale and so news about incidents like these often came through the grape vine which I'm sure suffered from distortion as the news passed from person to person.

14. Hey, you haven't updated these pages for ages!! What's up?

[Modified October 2009] About a year and a half ago I felt compelled to write this FAQ entry because I felt I was receiving unnecessarily blunt emails asking me why the website wasn't being updated as frequently as it used to be - I'd like to thank people for reading the open letter below and understanding - these emails stopped immediately.

I'm treating this FAQ entry as an open letter/email for reasons that will become apparent.

First, let me explain that this web site was a labour of love for me - nothing more. Although there is now a small revenue from Google ads - this barely pays for the web hosting and up until I set that up, everything came from my own pocket. I had some fantastic opportunities to visit some of these locations and while I lived near London, there were many opportunities to do research for the site. Naturally, I wanted to share these experiences with others and that's what Underground-History has always been about. It's come as somewhat of a surprise to me that people are sending angry sounding emails asking when the next update will be and demanding why I'm not keeping the site up to date.

At the end of 2006 I moved back to my home country of Wales near Swansea to be nearer my family. Understandably this means that I'm a lot further away from London than I used to be. I felt the timing was good - the web site was largely complete by then covering almost all of the sections I originally intended to cover - and a whole load more!

It was a chance to put what had become quite a time consuming hobby on the back burner for a while, so that I could I concentrate on new opportunities and outlets.

Will it be updated in future? Of course - when something new and important comes up I'll cover it but my proximity to London inevitably means that it won't be updated as regularly as I was able to make back when the narrative was originally being put together.

I'm also hoping to organise another walk or two like I did a couple of years agoalong historic routes touched by the London Underground - but current personal circumstances make this prohibitive at present.

One final thing to ponder on. This site regularly clocks between 700MB and a Gigabyte of traffic a *day* due to the high photographic content and sheer number of people who visit every day (averaging at around 750 individuals a day, but on some days a whole lot more). Single day peak is just over 85 Gigabytes. There are many commercial sites that would be out of business if they got that sort of attention so I'm indebted to my web host DiY Host (now known as FreeVirtualServers) for allowing the site to continue for such modest fees they charge not to mention the excellent online customer service in the rare occasions when things go wrong (almost always my side not theirs)!

All I ask is that you enjoy the site for what it is - a unique dip into a part of London that most people will never get a chance to see, and I feel privilaged to have done so through sheer circumstance, coincidence and events and contacts coming together just at the right time. Please don't get annoyed if you feel I'm not updating the site as regularly as I used to. There are reasons - some logical, some geographic and mostly, the work is now largely complete. At one time this was a living document being updated on a weekly or even daily basis. It's now more like a published work that gets updated when needed.

Hywel Williams

15. Are you the Hywel Williams I've previously heard about, famous for...

The answer is, probably not! Although Hywel may seem an unusual name for most countries, it's quite a popular name in my home country of Wales - as is the surname Williams. So no, I'm not Hywel Williams, Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Carnarfon for Plaid Cymru nor am I Hywel Williams, historian and regular correspondant for the Guardian. I'm also not a post doctorate research associate in University of East Anglia.

Aside for this project, other projects I have a noteable web presence for are Geograph, a project aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland where I submit photographs under my own name and Geocaching - but I use a pseudonym for this hobby rather than my real name!

The name Hywel is common today due to a Welsh king Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) who was a well respected leader and through his cunning, united most of the kingdom of Wales. He's also famous for codifying and writing down Welsh law - one of if not the first time law was codified in this way. More can be found about Hywel and his law in Wikipedia.

16. Why don't you "modernise" the look and feel of this web site?

Were I to start writing this web site today, no doubt I would use some form of content management such as Drupal or Joomla. The fact is that when I started writing this in 1999, the only real solution to publishing on the web was to do it yourself, so the entire site has been put together by myelf using HTML, PHP and Javascript.

As the content is now largely static, I currently don't see the need to transfer the existing content to a newer format - but should the site ever become as dynamic as it was in the early 2000s when it was under constant development, I may consider this route.

Last modified: July 5 2010

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