Hidden London: The Exhibition - A Review
Today (11th October 2019), London Transport Museum in conjunction with Discover Britain, launched a new exhibition entitled Hidden London: The Exhibition that I have been eager to visit since I heard it was being created and even more excited to share about it since I saw a preview of the exhibition earlier on this week. I've held back describing it until now but since it's now open to the public this is what I think...
Essentially this presentation attempts to give the visitor a glimpse of what it would be like to visit one of the many locations on the London Underground that still exist today, but are no longer open to the public. It uses cleverly interwoven audio/visual effects along with real life exhibits and personal acounts of what it was like either to visit these places now or more importantly in some cases, what it was actually like when they were in use.
The exhibition takes place on two levels of the area the London Transport Museum reserves for special exhibitions. You start off by going through a simulated lift door arched by what looks like the entrance to an old 1900s style Underground station, which automatically opens as you approach. Inside is a recreation of a ticket office modelled on one in closed Aldwych staton's ticket hall and you are informed that there are a number of presentations on this floor about some of the early closures on the London Underground, sometimes quite soon after they opened.
Recreation of a closed off corridor in Euston station, now with more modern electicity and fibre cables since installed
Some of the recreations are so realistic it's hard to distinguish the difference between the exhibition and the real locations, such is the attention to detail. I especially liked the way some of the exhibit captions are taped to the walls with gaffer tape... SO adding to the theme of these locations being places that aren't really intended for public gaze!
At the end of this floor there is an area where there is an audio visual presentation on two screens showing many of the locations that you can visit on one of the Hidden London Tours. Here you can either stand near a simulation of a ventilation grille looking down into an Underground Station where you see people going about their daily routine, oblivious of the fact that you're looking down on them. You can do this in real life on the Euston tour offered by Hidden London and the emulation is eerily similar to the real thing. Alternatively, you can sit on a bench in an "underground station" and take it all in!
The audio visual presentation is superb. It combines montages of atmospherically filmed images from these hidden locations interleaved with clips from films that have been made in disused stations and locations. In fact, there are a couple of very well coordinated moments where a scene in a film is cleverly interleaved with an image filmed at the actual location! If you visit I would recommend watching the entire presentation as it's clear a lot of thought and effort has gone into this in fact the sound and pictures are so convincing that, at times I could almost feel the air about me moving as I was watching!
Once you've seen everything on the top level, there's a spiral stair case down to the second half of the exhibition which has been convincingly distressed to look like one you would find in an abandoned Underground station such as Aldwych.
Once on the bottom level there are two main regions to visit. To your left, the area is themed around Down Street Station, which closed in May 1932, especially concentrating on what you would expect to find there during it's brief re-use during the Second World War as the secret offices of the Emergency Railway Committee.
There's a recreation of the telephone exchange found in Down Street (that's still there to this day) where you are encouraged to attempt to patch some telephone calls using instructions given to you over a crackly phone line, a very popular activity by both young and young at heart when I was there!
Changing the plugs to make a connection!
There's a reconstruction of how the platform area was walled off to create space for the Emergency Railway Committee and how one part of it was converted into a swank dining room for officers and senior members of staff complete with a butler (on a video wall) who explains how those of senior rank got this nice treatment when others may have had to do with more... basic conditions (all historically true).
But in this area, what impressed me most was how they give you a very realistic impression of how close to the railway you actually still were if you were actually standing in Down Street station during this time (inches away). Throughout the exhibition there's a subliminal sound track of rumbles and distant train noises, but every so often, you suddenly hear the sound of a train approaching. As it passes the sound becomes very loud indeed and just as it peaks, you suddenly see glimpses of a train pass through two grilled areas in the wall... all I can say is that I've experienced this in real life at Down Street and I can't think how they could have made this simulation more accurate than it is actually presented in the exhibition. Hats off to the creative folk who recreated this - I do know for a fact that the sound recording you hear was made in Down Street.
The other side of this lower section is devoted to how the Deep Level, partially built stations were actually converted into air raid shelters during the Second World War. Not only have they provided many different illustrations and displays to represent what people would have endured when using one of these shelters, but there are actual examples of fixtures that have come from these locations including bunk beds, sinks and even a water fountain. The most moving bit about this section is that it includes first hand accounts from people who remember sheltering in one of these places.
The final farewell to the visitor at the exhibition is a short section about the fact that, although hidden places like these still exist as a time capsule of times gone by, there's also a reminder that we are moving on and many of these places which have remained untouched for sometimes decades, also disappear or are re-purposed as Transport For London is essentially a modern transport system.
All in all I think this is a marvellous exhibition and most definitely captures the atmosphere of what it is like to visit these locations that most don't know exist and to be honest most will never get the chance to visit. Hidden London have surpassed themselves in creating this exciting and stunning recreation of the parts of the London Underground network that aren't normally visible to the general public.
The exhibition opened on 11th October and runs until January 2021 [EDIT: this closure date has now been extended to at lest due to COVID-19 to a date in the future, at least early in 2022]. If you've enjoyed reading the material on these pages or are interested in the abandoned/hidden locations on London's Underground and would like a glimpse of what they're like, if you can get to London, I would most definitely recommend a visit to London Transport Museum in the coming months and head for the back for the Hidden London exhibition.
One final plug... I've not been on all of the Hidden London tours myself, but the ones I've been on have been fantastic. On all the ones I haven't been on, I've been given glowing reports about how interesting and well organised they are. On each tour, you're lead by a team of volunteers who, not only are experts in the subject in which they are talking about, but convey their enthusiasm about the subject matter into the tour making the visitor feel even more excited at actually being at these locations. One I have been on and I've added to this web site is a tour of The Forgotten Tunnels of Euston.
Be aware though that some of these tours can sell out exceptionally quickly so I'd advise that you join their mailing list if you're intereseted in attending any of these tours.
Well done London Transport Museum and the team behind the Hidden London Exhibition!
Last Modified: October 13th 2019, based on an original published draft on 11th October
Minor edits based on COVID-19 restrictions and conditions - January 6th 2021 - and keeping abreast of the horrible sutuation as it continues :(
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The Hidden London roundel and London Transport roundel designs are trademerks for and are © Tranport for London and are presented here to promote the Hidden London exhibition and tours and not for any commercial or non commercial purpose of my own.
I was not asked to produce this review, neither was I paid for, or given any material in exchange for a favourable review ;) I just really liked it and figured I'd write up a review of genuinely what I thought of the exhibition!
All material on this page is © 2019 Hywel Williams unless otherwise noted.
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