I’ve visited several “secret” stations on Hidden London tours, and recently was lucky enough to go to Down Street, also known as “Churchill’s secret station.” Down Street opened on 15 March 1907 on the new Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNP&BR), part of what is now the Piccadilly line.
Designed by Leslie Green, the station was situated on a side road called Down Street, in between two popular stations in a rich area – so it wasn’t used much from the start. The station layout was designed by Sir James W Szlumper, Chief Engineer for the railway. A dispute about the escape route led to several redesigns, and the station opened after the rest of the railway with an extra cross passage, stairs and landing. It closed on 21 May 1932, with its passageways converted to act as a ventilation shaft for the Piccadilly line.
Down Street wasn’t empty for long, though. A Railway Executive Committee was formed to coordinate British railway companies in the event of war, ensuring the smoothest possible travel for people, the military, and supplies. A headquarters was needed: the Underground was safe and this station’s central location was ideal. Plans were drawn up to convert the station: the lift shaft was capped with concrete and air filtration protected against gas attacks. The REC met in the Committee Room, while a typing pool sat just outside and a telephone exchange was situated on the now boarded-up platforms, along with dormitories for those staying overnight: the need for secrecy meant staff could not be seen going in and out all the time and they needed to stay and sleep in shifts.
Executive staff members had sole bedrooms, as well as posh furniture and good food: catering was provided on-site, as well as bathroom and toilet facilities. A team of four motorcycle despatch riders carried letters from above ground. Executive staff members who needed to leave could use the red stop signal located on the platform, stop a Piccadilly line train, and board the train in the driver’s cab.
Churchill used these rooms for 40 days from October to December 1940, at the height of the Blitz when the Cabinet War Rooms weren’t ready. He was impressed with the accommodation, unsurprisingly. One meal he shared with some REC and War Cabinet members included caviar, champagne, brandy and cigars. Later, rooms were built for him in the passageway that London Transport engineers had originally insisted be kept free for escape purposes, although he may have never used it.
These days, Down Street is still used for ventilation purposes. If you look carefully when travelling on the Piccadilly line between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park, you may catch a glimpse of this hidden station.