Access All Areas: Subterranean Shelter – Clapham South public tour

I was lucky enough to snap up a ticket to the Hidden London Access All Areas Subterranean Shelter: Clapham South tour in association with the London Transport Museum. This was a unique opportunity to go underground and explore one of the shelters that was built during the Second World War as a refuge for Londoners to stay safe from the Blitz. I arrived at Clapham South station on Sunday morning and excitedly awaited my turn.

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Entrance to the shelter

We were given wristbands and taken down the road to an imposing white cylindrical building, set into the side of a housing estate. I am sure the residents were bemused by all these people going in and out all day. We were taken around the space by several guides, all of whom were really knowledgeable and helpful. This is just as well as the shelter is a big place, and it would be very easy to get lost if you were separated from the group.

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Inside the shelter

Clapham South subterranean shelter was one of eight shelters built between 1941 and 1942, 120 feet below ground and underneath even the tube itself. Previously, people had been sheltering in tube stations but even they were not safe in case of a direct hit: for instance, an bomb at Balham tube station in 1940 killed 66 people. The eight shelters together could hold 64,000 people, though in reality the total was never much more than 12,500.

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One of the long tunnels making up the shelter

The shelter at Clapham South was dug out by hand by workers on 12-hour shifts, with no protection from the conditions. Once the death toll reached double figures they were finally provided with a shield. The resulting tunnels were made of cast iron and concrete, with two entrances: one at Balham Hill, the other at Clapham Common. The excavation caused a huge mountain of dirt to appear on the Common.

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Photograph of a newly-opened deep shelter

Once construction work had finished, the worst of the Blitz was over and the shelters were initially used for other things, such as military occupancy. In 1944, however, the V1 and V2 raids began, and the shelters were hurriedly converted to their original purpose. Up to 8,000 people could be accommodated at Clapham South, though in practice the shelter never held more than 4,000 at once.

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Former bathroom
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Remains of what was once a bathroom

Clapham South shelter was well-organised. On entering, a shelterer would be allocated a ticket to a dormitory; these dormitories were typically named after admirals. The shelter had a superintendent and a small hospital, with a doctor, nursing staff and a consulting room. For entertainment, music was played over the PA system, and sometimes dances were held. Chemical toilets were provided, with an innovative air compression system to shoot waste to the surface every few days. There were eight canteens dotted around the shelter, staffed by volunteers, with food provided by London Transport. The food was off the ration, but more expensive than it was at the surface: a cup of tea, for instance, was tuppence.

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Directions
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This area of tunnel was once a surgery

The shelter was connected to the Underground via a tunnel designed, but never used, as an emergency exit. Sometimes, shelterers were allowed to leave this way to hop on a train and get to work in the morning. Plans to convert this and some other shelters to an express Northern Line after the war never happened, owing to lack of funds. Instead, another function had to be found for the shelters once the war had ended in 1945.

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Entrance to the Northern Line

After the war, Clapham South was used as a penny hotel, cheap accommodation for those visiting London on a budget. It was also used to house some of the arrivals from the Windrush once they arrived from the West Indies. During the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shelter was transformed into the Festival Hotel, costing three shillings a night. Used mostly by young students, female guests got sheets for their beds while men had to content themselves with blankets. The shelter was also used to house troops during the funeral of George VI and the coronation of Elizabeth II.

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Sleeping quarters in the shelter

After a fire took place in another shelter, it was decided that the shelters were no longer safe for accommodation. What then should they be used for? TfL took over the shelters in 1998, and many were used for archive storage. Here, the last archives left in 2008, but they are still in place in some other shelters, such as Goodge Street. Another is now used for growing micro salad for an upmarket restaurant.

I loved my fascinating tour of the Clapham South shelter. Everyone was really knowledgeable and it was amazing to be in such an atmospheric place.

Access All Areas: Charing Cross station tour

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Underground at Charing Cross, waiting to go through the barriers

The tube is one of my obsessions, and I’ve already toured the closed Aldwych/Strand station, so I was thrilled to have the chance to tour the disused Jubilee Line platforms of Charing Cross station. The tours, organised by the London Transport Museum and Hidden London, sold out almost as soon as they went on sale. We were told to meet by the barriers in Charing Cross underground station – this was unusually quiet for a Sunday, perhaps because the main line station was closed.

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This walled-up entrance was once the way to the Jubilee line

We were issued with wristbands and taken through the barrier and down the escalator. Once we had reached the bottom, a door in the unassuming wall directly in front of us was opened and we were ushered through to find another escalator, this time switched off, so that we had to walk down it. At the bottom were the platforms, decorated with film posters left over from the Underground Film Club‘s recent residency.

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Hidden London poster

The Jubilee line was first opened in 1979, two years after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee which lent its name to the line as well as the silver/grey colour of the line on the tube map. Known prior to its construction as the Fleet line, after the tributary of the Thames that also gave its name to Fleet Street, it took over what was formerly the Bakerloo line between Stanmore and Baker Street, continuing on to Charing Cross, a station with a chequered history, having originally been two separate stations that were united only when the Jubilee line platforms opened.

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Poster showing the stations along the Jubilee line when it first opened

For twenty years the Jubilee line served Charing Cross, alongside the Bakerloo and Northern lines. However, in 1999 the Jubilee line was extended: the line was rerouted from Green Park to Westminster, carrying on south of the river to the Docklands area and the O2 (then the Millennium Dome), curving back up and terminating at Stratford. The Green Park-Charing Cross section of the line has been closed to regular tube trains ever since, though it is still used as a sidings and in certain circumstances trains can be sent down here to help avoid congestion – one of my friends was once on a train that was temporarily rerouted down here, and when she told me about it I was VERY jealous.

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One of the platforms

Our knowledgeable and informative volunteer guides told us all about the station, its history, and how it is used today. It is often used for testing new features.

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The yellow wall signifies that there is an exit on the opposite side
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For the first time in this station, the name of the station was positioned lower on the wall so it could be read from the train
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In case of emergency, shining a light on these yellow panels makes them glow green, so that they stand out in the darkness

The station is sometimes used for storage.

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You wouldn’t get this in a normal station – it is used for moving things off and on trains

The station has a distinctive look that you can recognise if you see it on screen – so long as you know what to look for.

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The open ceiling signifies air vents.

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We were shown a series of short film clips featuring Skyfall (2011/12), Paddington (2013) and the TV show 24 (2014), filmed on these platforms. As I had learned at Aldwych station, historical TV programmes and films tend to be filmed in that station, whereas more modern shows tend to be shot here at Charing Cross.

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This is the escalator that Bond slid down in Skyfall: thankfully with the spikes at the bottom removed!

After we had explored the platforms we were divided into two groups and taken to see more hidden parts of the station.

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In the film Creep (2004) a creature comes out of this very hole.

My group visited a construction tunnel first – entering via the door that Daniel Craig pops out of in Skyfall, blending in seamlessly with the hordes of commuters.

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It was dark and rather disgusting in the tunnel – but still incredibly exciting

When the Jubilee line was first being built, constructors couldn’t dig directly beneath Charing Cross station, as this would have been too disruptive for traffic. Instead, they sunk a hole next to the National Gallery – where the Sainsbury Wing is located now – and tunnelled along from there.

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We were walking under Trafalgar Square at this point

An older part of the tunnel is now entirely blocked up, in a location directly beneath the Fourth Plinth.

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The tunnellers used the same methods as the original Underground workers did back in the nineteenth century.

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Posters comparing the construction of Underground tunnels, almost a century apart

Once out of the tunnel, we changed places with the other group, causing passing tube-travellers to look somewhat bemused as we emerged from one door in the wall only to enter another one shortly afterwards.

We had to don hard hats for this part of the journey.

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This is the cooling system for parts of Charing Cross station. I had no idea, waiting for a train, that there was all this space above my head.

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From here we could LOOK DIRECTLY ONTO THE PLATFORM AND THE TRAINS.

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Train is gone…
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Train has arrived

I had hoped that somebody on the platform would look up and get a shock, but sadly it was not to be. However, the guy in front of me later managed to frighten a tourist by waving to her from the passage.

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We went off down the passage in the other direction to see where the cooling system begins. It’s possible to see it from outside the station, if you know where to look. It was raining outside and we could feel the rain on our faces.

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That was the end of the tour. We were taken back to the top of the escalators to make our own way home.

I had an AMAZING time and would definitely recommend the tour to anyone who might be interested. It is sold out at the moment but there may be more tours announced in the future, so I’d recommend signing up to the London Transport Museum’s mailing list to be the first to find out about any future dates. The guides hinted that there would be more exciting tours to look forward to – I’m hoping for Down Street but I’ll have to wait and see!

London Transport Museum

I visited the London Transport Museum as a child, but I imagine a lot will have changed since then; also, I can’t remember most of it. So I decided to visit again on Wednesday, after a visit to the Library (which I had arranged on behalf of one of the library groups I am a member of).

The Museum underwent a complete refurbishment a few years ago, and looks very smart. Housed in the old Covent Garden Flower Market, the old and the new fit together very well. The Museum is set out in such a way that you travel through time over two hundred years of history. This is great fun – you get into the lift and as it takes you up to the second floor, you can see the years counting down!

The first part of the Museum looks at the methods of transport available before the railway. London had a much lower population than it does now, and most got about by walking, except for the rich, who ventured out in contraptions like these:

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I feel sorry for the guys having to carry this

As far as the river was concerned, most people crossed via boat: London Bridge was the only bridge for several years. Back on land, different kinds of carriages monopolised the roads, and horse-drawn buses became popular:

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Horse-drawn tram

The Museum then covers the history of the London Underground, starting with the steam-powered Metropolitan Railway and following with the electrical trains of the Tube.

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Early steam train on the Metropolitan Line [flickr id=”8800428528″ thumbnail=”medium” align=”left”]
Tube carriage

From then, the museum’s scope widens further: it continues to explore the role of railway transport – including the Underground – but also encompasses trams, buses, taxis and – to an extent – cars.

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Buses, trams and taxis

Towards the end, mention is made of cycling, and there is a reference to the forthcoming CrossRail line.

I also took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs. Curated to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground network, it displays 150 of the best posters created to promote the Tube. Viewers are invited to inspect them all and vote on their favourite.

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Poster Art 150 exhibition

FACTS

Address: Covent Garden Piazza, London, WC2E 7BB

Website: ltmuseum.co.uk

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (11am-6pm on Friday)

Prices: Adult £16.00, Concession £13.50, Child £2.50; under-18s free

London Transport Museum Depot Open Weekend – We Love Steam!

As a bit of a tube geek, I clearly wasn’t going to pass up the chance to visit the London Transport Museum‘s Acton depot on their annual spring Open Weekend. The depot is crammed full of all the things that won’t fit in the museum proper in Covent Garden, and there are plenty of gems to discover, such as this ornate arch:

The depot is basically a giant warehouse and it takes a good while to explore. I liked this rather sweet model of a steam train, and this fascinating cross-section of Westminster station.

There were countless maps, including this one from 1910, showing how the Underground network has changed over the years.


Several corridors were lined with old Tube signs, including those from now-defunct stations such as Ongar and Aldwych.

The largest part of the depot was filled with vehicles: examples of Tube trains and carriages from various eras, as well as several styles of buses.

My trip to the depot was fascinating and I’m glad I went along. London Transport Museum host a couple of these weekends a year, as well as various activities, which are displayed on their events page. I definitely recommend taking a look.