55 Broadway – Open House London

55 Broadway
55 Broadway

I always make a habit of visiting some interesting buildings when Open House London comes around. This year I was lucky enough to visit 55 Broadway, the former headquarters of London Underground, near St James. The Underground Group was formed from a group including the Tube railways, London General Bus company, tram operators and electrical supply companies, and in 1927 when they decided they wanted their new headquarters to reflect its bold vision of the future, they hired architects Adams, Holden and Pearson for the job.

55 Broadway
55 Broadway

It was a challenging job from the start. With its irregular shape and depth (St James’s Park station sitting just 7.3 metres below the site) Adams, Holden and Pearson’s job was a difficult one. They managed to get around it, however, by incorporating the cruciform layout into their design.

Epstein's controversial sculpture
Epstein’s controversial sculpture

Charles Holden, later known for his work on the Northern and Piccadilly Line extensions, used Portland stone and added bronze features to the building. Carvings by Eric Gill, Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein (who’s “Night and Day” caused controversy) adorn the outside of the building, which is now Grade 1 listed.

Visitor pass
Visitor pass

We started off outside, where we were introduced to the history of the building and got to see the original foundation stone.

Foundation stone
Foundation stone

The tour took us up several floors, including the seventh floor with its original management rooms, outside to see the roof gardens, and right up to the flagpole.

Map in the foyer
Map in the foyer
Lord Ashfield plaque
Lord Ashfield plaque
Roundel design in the building
Roundel design in the building
Early tube map
Early tube map
Inside the building
Inside the building
Management rooms
Management rooms
Management rooms
Management rooms
In the garden
In the garden
View from the roof
View from the roof
View from the roof
View from the roof
55 Broadway
55 Broadway

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!

Bob Mazzer: Underground – Howard Griffin Gallery

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Highly appropriate seating in the Gallery

I headed to Shoreditch to catch the Bob Mazzer – Underground exhibition at the Howard Griffin Gallery, on from 12 June-13 July. The Gallery was decorated in a basic style but as a nice touch had seating from old Tube trains. The photographs themselves were taken across a 40-year period, during which Mazzer explored the London Underground and captured intimate, humorous pictures. Among my favourites were the man standing on a ladder whose face was obscured by a clock on a platform at Stockwell, and the couple embracing while round the corner a man urinated against the wall – quite a contrast!

Metroland

The end is in sight for my visit-every-Underground-station project – after Saturday’s excursion I only have fifteen stations to do. Fifteen! I can hardly believe it.

So what did I do on my Saturday excursion? I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – I headed to the end of the Metropolitan Line, one of the oldest parts of the network, to check out the stations there. These were built before the Green Belt around London was constructed, hence why they are so far out compared to the rest of the stations (Zone 9 no less!). The villages here are actually in Buckinghamshire, and you can hardly believe you’ve just got off the tube, so different is the entire area to busy central London.

First of all, Chalfont & Latimer station (the junction from which you branch off to either Chesham or Amersham) seems to be a housing estate with a main road running past. It was very quiet: this attractive-looking tree and bench seemed the most noteworthy landmark in the place.

Just outside Chalfont & Latimer station

I visited Chesham first. I really liked Chesham – it had a really old villagey feel and I could see the hills on one side. There was a market on when I was there, too.

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Chesham town centre

I didn’t like Amersham quite so much, as it wasn’t as pretty – I suspect Old Amersham is the ‘pretty’ village, but I didn’t have time to go there. What I did like – in both Chesham and Amersham – was the number of charity shops. I love a good old charity shop rummage: on this occasion I came back with two bags, one from each town. I love them both, especially the leather one, which is basically Proper Vintage.

Tapestry bag
Leather bag
Leather bag

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.

Steam returns to the London Underground for the 150th anniversary

I make no secret of the fact that I have a bit of an obsession with the Tube. So, it seems, do plenty of other people, given the popularity of the heritage train trips that have taken place over the last couple of weekends. I entered the ballot and was lucky enough to be allocated a ticket for Sunday night’s run from Kensington Olympia to Moorgate. I was sent the details in the post, including this beautiful purple celebratory ticket.

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This train was comprised of the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘Jubilee’ carriage no. 353 (built in 1892) and the Chesham set of coaches loaned from the Bluebell Railway. At one end of the train was the newly-restored Met Locomotive No. 1; at the other was the Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive ‘Sarah Siddons’.

This journey involved being pulled by the steam locomotive for the first few minutes, after which the train moved in the other direction towards Moorgate, pulled by the electric locomotive. I chose this journey because of the price – £50 as opposed to £150. This way I was able to experience a steam journey as well as an electric one.

I spent Sunday exploring some tube stations in the north before heading to Kensington Olympia station about an hour before I needed to – I was so paranoid in case I was late. I had time to get a coffee  and sit down for a bit, which was just as well seeing as I was going to be spending a lot of time in the cold!

I got back to the station at 5.20 on the dot as the letter had instructed. There were several people milling around already. I had been worried in case the trip was cancelled due to the snow, but this didn’t happen. We had to register at the table corresponding to our carriage (mine was D), and received a wristband, the kind you get when you go to a gig.

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Clearly this makes the trip so much cooler

After that, it was a matter of waiting for the train to arrive. A couple of District Line shuttle trains from Earl’s Court arrived first and the passengers seemed rather puzzled to find so many people lined up on the platform. It was pretty cold, and it was snowing, but there wasn’t much shelter, so everyone was a bit squashed huddling under the canopy.

Eventually the train arrived and I clambered into my carriage. I was pleased to get a window seat. The train began to move and whistled loudly. Several people armed with cameras waved us off from the road.

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The journey was brilliant. I imagined myself as a nineteenth-century passenger travelling on the Underground. The smoke flew past our carriage, clouding our view of the tunnel walls. I can imagine that this experience would have been none too pleasant one hundred and fifty years ago, with open windows and even more smoke.

I recorded a video showing the train on its way through Earl’s Court station:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7ZE9zbc8mI]

At every station along the route, from this one to West Kensington where we changed direction, right through to Moorgate via Bayswater, Paddington, Farringdon and Barbican, there were crowds watching and taking photographs. Some people had obviously come prepared with cameras, others appeared bewildered at the sudden appearance of this historical relic. They waved, and I waved back, feeling rather like royalty!

All too soon, it seemed, the train reached Moorgate. Here, we had the chance to take pictures of the train before it set off on its next journey. I took full advantage of this opportunity. I was pleased that one of the brand new Hammersmith & City Line trains was standing alongside the heritage train: an impressive juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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I had a brief look round the London Transport Museum pop-up shop; I didn’t buy anything but I made a mental note of several items to purchase later.

I know spending £50 on an Underground journey sounds crazy, especially since I could use my Travelcard to travel along this stretch of track whenever I like. However I don’t regret it at all: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a journey back into the Underground’s past.

The end of the line

The New Year only began a fortnight ago but already I’ve been keeping up with my exploration of the Tube. Last week I travelled on the eastbound Piccadilly Line and ticked off a few stations. I didn’t quite make it to the end as I had to go back into central London to meet a friend*, but I did manage about four stations and also took a detour to take a look at the window of George Moore Menswear at 99 Myddleton Road, near Bounds Green station. I read about the store in this blog post by Peter Berthoud: this is no ordinary window display. Established during World War II, the business was run first by George and then by his son Brian. When Brian retired, he left the window display as it was on the last day of trading. The items in the window – from shirts and jumpers to underpants and socks – are slowly decaying. I took some pictures, but sadly the window was rather dirty so they didn’t come out very well.

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On Saturday, I set off to finish what I’d started, sitting on the train all the way to where it terminated at Cockfosters.

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The end of the line: Cockfosters station

Out here, it hardly seems as though you’re in London at all. There is a nice park close by, which I walked around for a little bit. I then rode one stop to Oakwood, from where I took the bus to Enfield town centre and from there to Forty Hall. This recently restored seventeenth-century house was home to Sir Nicholas Rainton, a former Mayor of London, and is free to visit. I wandered round for a little while and spent some time looking out onto the lake.

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After taking the bus back to Enfield, I spent some time looking round the shops. There are several decent shops here and I was particularly impressed with the Waitrose, which had a huge alcohol display right across the glass wall.

Afterwards I got on another bus, which took me to Turnpike Lane – another station crossed off the list.

* We went to see Great Expectations at the new Leicester Square Odeon Studio, as we had free cinema tickets thanks to O2. I’m not a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but I enjoyed the film, which was well-acted particularly by Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

Aldwych: The Secret Station

I am a massive geek when it comes to the Tube and I am trying to visit every station on the London Underground map. The London Transport Museum has an events page which I check regularly and I was thrilled to see that they were opening up Aldwych Station, closed since 1994, for tours. I didn’t have to go alone – a couple of my friends were interested in visiting too. We queued up outside the station entrance last Friday night – a bit different from our usual end-of-week shenanigans.

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The station, on the corner of the Strand and Surrey Street, was named Strand when it first opened in 1907 but renamed Aldwych in 1915 when another station (which later became Charing Cross) was given the name of Strand. The Aldwych name was printed on a canopy extending from the front of the station, which was removed when it closed: this is why the station façade bears the name Strand.

The station was doomed from the beginning: when the Piccadilly Line was created by the merger of two separate projects, Aldwych was left as a single station on a short branch south from Holborn. Though it had two tunnels, only one was generally operated as a shuttle service; it was rarely crowded even during rush hour, and from 1917 was closed every Sunday. The second tunnel was bricked up during the First World War and used as secure storage for National Gallery paintings.

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The light use of the station was such that in 1922 the booking office was closed and tickets were sold from booths inside the lifts. In 1958 the line was used only during rush hour, and in 1994 the station was closed to the public for good, owing to the prospect of replacing the ageing lifts: London Underground felt that the cost could not be justified. An extension of the line to Waterloo station was proposed on several occasions but was rejected each time owing to complicated political reasons. I feel this is a shame as if this had gone ahead I’m sure it would have been well-used.

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I was fascinated to learn about the history of the station during the tour. We began by meeting in the booking office, where one of our guides gave us some background information and pointed out some features of note. The ticket office itself was built in the 1980s as part of the upgrade to the ticketing system, however other ticket booths were original ones and much of the tiling and flooring dates from 1907 when the station was built. The wash basin in the ladies’ bathroom is also, apparently, an original one, and I was impressed by the Art Nouveau designs above the lifts.

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After the short talk we were given a little time to look around and take photographs, a procedure which was repeated at each point on the tour. After this it was time to make our way downstairs. Long-time users of the London Underground will probably be familiar with the seemingly never-ending spiral staircases built into stations such as Covent Garden and Goodge Street. This staircase was similar but it didn’t seem to take nearly as long to reach the bottom, perhaps because I was excited about the tour!

Our second stop was by the lifts. Six lift shafts were – inexplicably, according to our guide – installed, but only two lifts were ever actually built. You can look through the railings at the dark, deep lift shafts: I found this rather spooky.

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Next, we visited one of the platforms. This platform was in use as a shuttle service up until the closure of the station in 1994. A working Tube train still exists on the line. This platform is frequently used for filming, owing to its old-fashioned look and feel. The original tiles still exist, though have in some areas been painted over. Movies set in the mid-20th century are those most commonly filmed here, such as Atonement (2007) and The Edge of Love (2008). Contemporary films tend to use the old Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross, as they were closed more recently and therefore have a more modern appearance. Our guide told us that the posters on the wall, as well as the picture of the Tube map, were not original and were actually put up for filming.

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The station was used as a shelter during World War II and played host to a large number of people. The poor facilities gradually became replaced with chemical toilets and metal bunks, and a canteen, first aid post and a library were installed. Entertainment was put on for the benefit of the shelterers and church services were even held on Sundays.

Our final stop was at the other platform, which was bricked up and used as storage during World War I. It was used for the same purpose during the Second World War, when the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum moved many valuable artefacts down here, including the Elgin Marbles. The tiling on this platform is unfinished, suggesting that heavy use of the station was not anticipated even when it was first built. The original track, including wooden sleepers, is still in place here. Filming has taken place on this platform too, and some of the posters were put up for this purpose. Others, however, were placed here to test out new forms of paste before using them on the rest of the Tube: as our guide pointed out, since some of the posters have been here since the 1970s, the paste must have been effective!

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Sausage rolls with your shoes, anyone?

This platform has also been used to test designs for other London Underground platforms, including the new Victoria Line in the 1960s, and the refurbishment of Piccadilly Circus in the 1980s. However, the original Strand station name can still be seen on the tiling behind the posters.

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Standing in front of the original ‘STRAND’ sign

After the tour, we headed back upstairs and were given mulled wine and the chance to hear the TfL Choir in action. They sang classic music hall songs including ‘Daisy Bell’ (1892) and ‘Let’s All Go Down the Strand’ (1904) as well as several Christmas carols.

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I had a brilliant time on the tour and I’m really glad I went. I feel it was worth paying the extra £5 for an evening tour (the daytime tours cost £20, the evening tours £25) for the mulled wine and the concert. Further visits to the station should be posted on the London Transport Museum’s events page, which I recommend keeping an eye on.

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Thanks to the tour guides, many of whom are volunteers, for their knowledge and enthusiasm. I would like to credit the Aldwych: The Secret Station booklet handed out at the end of the tour for providing me with extra snippets of information which I used in this post.