Canary Wharf Crossrail station: a preview – 16 September 2017

Crossrail is London’s new east-west railway which will start running through central London in just over a year. But for Open House 2017, Crossrail opened up some of the nearly finished stations on 16 September.

It was free but you had to reserve your place. I managed to log on around two hours after booking opened and most of the slots were booked out. But I was amongst the lucky ones to get allocated places for Canary Wharf. To manage the crowds, Crossrail have given people a half hour slot in which to arrive. Ours in 14.30 to 15.00. Although we have to queue to get in, it is all very orderly and pretty fast.

So join me now as I venture into the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station. We entered at ground level at what will be the eastern end of the station. After being checked off the list of attendees, we descended the first escalator.

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Note the yellow colour on the sides of the escalator. This is part of the design. The stations are going to be mainly monochrome – grey, silver, black. But the escalators will have these yellow sides as a visual wayfinder clue. Yellow not only is a stand out colour against the likes of grey, but of course it is used for the way out signs on the Underground.

Having descended the first escalator, we reach the booking hall area which runs above the platforms.

And who should we meet there but fellow Westminster guide, Julie, who has been doing Crossrail related walking tours with the Museum of London. She said that there had been 1500 tickets available for the day at this station alone.

Ahead we see the bank of escalators which run up to the western end of the station at ground level.

 

IMG_2189 And if you look at the wall in the picture below, you will see a silver strip.

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Julie tells us this indicates where the gateline will go. So when the station is full fitted out the area beyond that will be the ticketed area.

Around here are some information panels explaining about the line in general, the archaeological finds and Canary Wharf station in particular.

And then go down to platform level using these escalators.

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At the bottom of the escalator we get to see the platform screens which will separate the waiting passengers from the tracks, just like on the Jubilee line extension.

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They are nearly all installed but there is one section left to do.

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The lighting here is very fresh an it almost feels like daylight even though we are deep underground. We were told that each of the light panels above the doors is highly efficient and uses only to equivalent of a 60 watt light bulb.

Below the lights above the doors will be the train information. This will not only give information about the destination of the train and estimated wait time but also there will be information about how full the train is. That means you can move along the platform to a place where the train is (hopefully) less full.

The trains by the way will have 9 “walk through” coaches but will be much longer than current ones, so will be equivalent to a twelve car suburban train. The stations have been built to accommodate even longer trains, as it is almost inevitable the line will be a run away success and will attract traffic.

And being a modern day station, there are of course lifts to improve accessibility.

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So 45 minutes later we head on back to the surface. And here I am doing what you should never do – facing backwards on an escalator.

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Overall it was great to get an advance peek at Crossrail (I still cannot get used to calling it the Elizabeth line). The station here, like all the new central stations, is on a huge scale – though it is much the same layout as the Jubilee line station at Canary Wharf, so seems quite familiar.

Each station will have some unique feature to tie it in with its local area. This is what the Crossrail website says about Canary Wharf:

“Sitting below a five storey mixed-use development known as Crossrail Place, the new Canary Wharf station helps connect this key business district to the City of London, the West End and Heathrow. At the same time, it acts as a bridge between two communities – Canary Wharf Estate and Poplar to the north.

The 250 metre-long station box is surrounded by the water of West India Quay dock. Designing a station to be built 18 metres below water level presented significant design challenges but has resulted in optimum access to and through the Canary Wharf Estate while retaining a navigable channel for boats within the dock.

The station ticket hall is accessed via eight long-rise escalators from the promenade level entrances at either end of the building. A visual connection between the station platforms and the concourse level above is achieved through the use of large openings between the two floors and a central spine of vertical circulation reinforced by the use of colour and light. More than one hundred thousand square feet of retail and leisure space sits above the station.

A 310 metre-long timber lattice roof, sheltering a striking roof-top garden, lets in light and rain for natural irrigation. Translucent air filled pillows allow direct views in and out of the building. Sustainably sourced beams provide a warm, natural counterpoint to the glass and steel towers of Canary Wharf.

The nautical reference extends beyond the main structure of the building to the angled design of the buttress ends, anchoring the striking timber lattice roof.”

So there you have the official story. Can’t wait until December 2018 when the trains start running through central London.

 

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Mr Selfridge – Fact and Fiction

In the opening credits of the ITV series Mr Selfridge it states it is based on Lindy Woodhead’s book “Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge”.

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Now clearly “based on” can cover a multitude of sins and, whilst a degree of licence in the name of entertainment is standard fare (and understandably so) for many TV dramas based on real people’s lives, we guides prefer to deal in the facts.

So, I set myself the mission to establish quite how “loosely” it is based on Lindy’s excellent book.

The central character, Harry Selfridge, is clearly factual and did indeed live during the period in which the television series is set.  He also had a mother called Lois, a wife called Rose and a number of children, so that’s a pretty good start.

But it’s when we get into some of the supporting cast that feature in the TV series that we discover that many of them do not get a mention in Ms Woodhead’s book and can therefore only assume they are fictional creations.

Many of the store staff that have captured the public imagination – the loyal Mr Crabb, dashing Henri LeClair, Mr Grove, Miss Mardle and Miss Towler – appear nowhere in the book.  The enterprising Victor Corleone and the nasty Lord Loxley and his attractive wife Lady Mae are nowhere to be seen either.

And whilst it is true that Selfridge did fund the building of some “houses for heroes” (in Acton) after the First World War, there is no indication in Ms Woodhead’s book that the architect was a women who had a dalliance with old Harry but was planning to defraud him.

And then there is the little matter of ages and dates.

Harry was 51 when he opened shop in 1909, but the TV series gives the impression he was much younger when he made his first steps towards building his great retail empire.  Whilst they have aged him by series 4 (which is set in 1928), he is still looking like a remarkably well-preserved man for 70.

But not nearly so well-preserved as his mother, Lois, who, despite dying in 1924, managed still to be around for the first couple of episodes of series 4!

His son Gordon did go into the business as suggested in the show, but this was not until 1921.  He only left school in 1918 and was at University until 1921.

Then there is the little matter of Gordon’s dalliance with Grace who is mother to his children and has started to turn up as part of the Selfridge family in Series 4.  However, the paramour in question was in real life called Charlotte and Selfridge senior never publicly acknowledged her existence.

We also have the incident featured in the TV series of Selfridge being injured by falling off the scaffolding at the unveiling of the sculpture Queen of Time at the front of the store in 1928.

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Unaccountably Ms Woodhead fails to report this calamitous incident in her book (although she does mention that Selfridge fell 12 feet and was injured whilst inspecting the building of his new Food Hall in 1935, so we can at least see where the idea came from).

But the reverse also applies.  Just when see something in the TV series and think “that can’t be right…” it turns out to be the truth.

For example, the exterior of the store the production company built for filming purposes at Chatham Dockyard looks like a much smaller frontage than the actual store.  This is not (as one might uncharitably think) because they were skimping on the budget and could not afford the “full” version, but is in fact entirely historically accurate.

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The facade we see today was only completed in the 1920s and so for series 1, 2 and 3 (set between 1908 and 1919) the store did in fact only consist of the first 9 bays of the building (they have cleverly not shown the whole facade thus far in series four, so maybe the uncharitable budget thought has legs after all…).

And what about his daughter Rosalie marrying a Russian called Serge de Bolotov whose mother claims to be a princess called Marie and yet sponges off everyone?  Surely that has to be a dramatic construct?  No, all true!

And there are a couple of fascinating items which have not made it into the TV series but might have done.

First, as documented by Lindy Woodhead, there is the “signature window”.  We know that Selfridge courted the rich and famous but a fact that has (perhaps surprisingly) not made the cut is that when anyone famous came to the store, he would get them to sign the window using a diamond tipped stylus (sadly the window did not survive wartime bombing).

Finally there is the little matter of the 1917 bet Selfridge had with Sir Woodman Burbidge, Managing Director of Harrods. The bet was that by six years after the end of the Great War, Selfridge’s turnover would exceed Harrods.  The bet was called in 1927 and at that point Harrods was still bigger so Selfridge, as the loser, had to pay for a model of the Harrods store.  Not any old model, but one made of solid silver.

This model still exists, though sadly no longer on public display (you can find out a bit more about it by coming on my “Mr Selfridge and his Competitors” walk!). Oddly the story of the bet and the model do not merit a mention either by Lindy Woodhead in her book or in the TV series.

The conclusion in the fact vs. fiction debate?  Let’s call it a draw and carry on enjoying the series!

My “Mr Selfridge and his Competitors” only contains the facts of the history of this and some of the other West End retail titans!. I run this regularly. See here to see when it is next scheduled.

 

 

 

The badge, Madge

Yesterday, I was formally given my City of London Guiding badge. Well not quite. Actually I got my red, white and gold City badge a while back and yesterday was the “ceremony” where we get the certificate to show we have passed the course, and as it turned out we got another badge!

So at 3pm yesterday (Wednesday 7 October 2015), I and my fellow students went to the Mansion House in the City of London where we met the Lady Mayoress, Gilly Yarrow – her husband the Lord Mayor being on tour in South Africa.

Starting with tea and some very nice sandwiches, we then were presented with our certificates and also another badge, which is green and is the Institute of Tourist Guiding London badge.

Here is me getting my certificate from the Lady Mayoress, with the Course Director Trevor Jeans in the background (thanks to Karen for this picture)

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Later here is me on my own, with a grand backdrop, but then pretty much everything is grand here (Karl took this one for me).

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And we had a group photo (Thanks Peter). Not sure why Emmanuel is praying…

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After some mingling (cue, shot of class mingling…)

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Then the Lady Mayoress treated us to a little tour of some bits of the Mansion House the public do not normally get to see, including the Lady Mayoress’s sitting room, and a couple of rather grand bedrooms. The one which the Lord Mayor and his wife use had a great big four poster bed on which their dog had taken up residence and was showing off to the assembled crowd (thanks again to Karen for the picture).

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So we all had a lovely hour at the Mansion House with the very gracious Lady Mayoress. Then we repaired to the pub of course …

And here finally are both the “City” badges I can wear shown side by side.

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I am not sure I am going to bother with the Green City badge as no one will know what it is, and the City’s own badge is much nicer!

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Ah well back to guiding, and Walking London one Postcode at a Time … /https://londonpostcodewalks.wordpress.com/

St Magnus the Martyr – On the road to nowhere?

At first glance this lovely little City of London church looks a bit odd in its setting. It has an elegant tower with a fine clock projecting out over a scrappy courtyard which goes nowhere.

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But surely it was not always thus. Why build a church in a position like this? The answer is connected to the story of London Bridge because until 1831 this Church was on the approach road to the old London Bridge.

First there were wooden bridges and then in the 12th Century Peter de Colechurch built the first stone bridge. Over the years the bridge gathered buildings along its length – houses, shops and drinking establishments and in the middle was a chapel dedicated to St Thomas Beckett. But it was narrow and congested.

So St Magnus was the first church you came to if you entered the City by London Bridge, and indeed there is a little plaque at the west end of the church to commemorate this.

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And by the porch, there are some stones which are fragments of that old London Bridge.

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Inside there is a rather fine model of old London Bridge made by a man called David T. Aggett, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and formerly in the police service. One of the tiny figures on the bridge appears out of place in the medieval setting, wearing a policeman’s uniform.

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And we should not ignore the actual church interior itself.

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This was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and so the building dates from the late 17th Century. Sir Christopher Wren had a hand in the rebuilding and it is said he foresaw the need to widen London Bridge and so built the west end so it could be adjusted by demolishing the last couple of bays and opening up the base of the tower so it could be used as a walkway. But this only happened in the early 1760s.

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By the way the interior is not one which Wren would recognise. For a start it has stained glass windows, which would not have been the case in Wren’s day. They are all post war (except for one in the Northwest corner which is 17th century and came from the now demolished Plumbers Hall – this being the guild church for the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. It is also the guild church for the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers – the old Billingsgate Fish market was nearby).

And in the 1920s, the church was modified and is much more “catholic” in styling than would ever have been the case in England in the 17th century.

More info about the church on its website: http://www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk/ You can see this is a high church by the way they celebrate St Magnus Day.

Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd on (Tooting) Broadway

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A few days ago I was lucky enough to go and see a wonderful production of Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in the rather unique setting of a real pie and mash shop in Tooting.

The shop was established in 1908 at Number 3 Selkirk Road, near Tooting Broadway tube and is still run by one of the original family – Beverley Mason is a great grand-daughter of the founders. Harringtons is a rare survival and is said to be the oldest business in SW17.

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And it was inspired of the Tooting Arts Group to negotiate using this shop to house their production of Sweeney Todd. And as a bonus we had the option to we start with pie and mash in the shop. How could one resist that!

Here are our pie and mash suppers with the liquor. I am assured no cast members were harmed in the making of these pies.

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I know this does not look very appetising but it tasted fine. The green stuff was described as “parsley sauce”. I think historically it would have been what the water the eels were cooked in. I guess they probably sell a lot more meat pies than eels these days, so parsley is used to make the liquid green.

The shop is not that big. The audience only numbered around 30, so we were all close the action. And the production made very good use of the space, employing not just the counter and staircase but also the tables. Luckily the tables are fixed and solid enough for cast members to stand up on them. We were warned though to keep our fingers and drinks off the tables just in case.

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After our pie and mash, we had to get our tickets across the road at a barbers shop (!).

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Here a last customer was having his haircut (not a shave, I noted) as we got a wristband (to show we had paid).

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We were invited into a rear room where there was a small bar and a toilet. Harrington’s did not run to such conveniences, or at least did not whilst the show was on.

As well as beer and wine, gin was on offer, but most people drank it with tonic or as a Gin sling rather than have a tot on its own like Tobias would have. So back over the road for the show.

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As for the show, it was great. I have seen maybe five productions of Sweeney Todd over the years and this was one of the best.

I love this show – I think it is the best Sondheim creation. It has a very satisfying plot with two giant lead characters in Todd and Mrs Lovett, and two great set pieces of musical theatre. And there is great symmetry with the beggar woman warning Todd about Mrs Lovett and Tobias warning Mrs Lovett about Todd. I even found Joanna tolerable – she often comes over as unbearable sweet.

The band of four players was great in support and there was no need for microphones for the performers, as we were so near. The singing was mainly very good although there were a few slips. But when you are that close to the action, you are immersed in the show and it did not matter or spoil the experience.

So thank you to Tooting Arts Club and all the performers. Thanks to Harringtons and the barbers across the road for sharing their premises. It was a wonderful experience.

Balfron Tower – and a Pop(u)lar tour

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Over the last month or so, the National Trust have been running something in E14 which is a little different from their usual stuff. And I was lucky enough to be part of this as a volunteer helper.

Just near to where the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach crosses the A13 East India Dock Road is a remarkable block of flats called Balfron Tower. Designed by Erno Goldfinger with a distinctive separate tower for the lifts, it is symbolic of the optimism of the 1960s when everything seemed possible.This is heroic architecture that sought to offer the best of design to the masses and to offer people escape from the slums that still existed in 1960s Britain.

It was undoubtedly a great improvement on what had been here before in terms of housing but it never really fulfilled its potential as there was never the money to maintain it properly or to provide the concierge and security it needed.

And it did not help that soon after the Balfron Tower was occupied in 1968, there was a gas explosion in a block called Ronan Point which took out one corner of the block and killed 5 people. That building was made of prefabricated panels bolted together, although it was concluded that the builders had failed to put in all the necessary bolts, so the building was not as strong as it should have been. The Goldfinger buildings were made of poured concrete – literally made on site using giant molds of wooden shuttering. So they were much stronger and would not have collapsed like Ronan Point did.

But the tide turned against tower blocks because of this and the antisocial behaviour that occurred in and around the blocks, which made them unattractive as places to live if you had the choice.

Forbidding though this tower undoubtedly is, it is impressive and was recognised as worth keeping by being Grade II listed in 1996. But it is looking a bit sad and much work needs to be done on it. It is going to be refurbished at some point but at the moment is still occupied, although many flats are let short term to local artists through Bow Arts.

Erno Goldfinger (1902 – 1987) was born in Budapest. He studied in Paris but came to London with his wife, aspiring artists and Crosse and Blackwell heiress, Ursula Blackwell. He designed a number of these Brutalist buildings, including Alexander Fleming House (originally offices for the Ministry of Health),  a number of buildings on the Brownfield Estate in Poplar, the tallest of which is Balfron Tower, and Balfron’s slightly younger and taller sister, the Trellick Tower by the Westway .

But his first building in London was a terrace of three houses in Willow Road, Hampstead, completed in 1939 and now owned and managed by the National Trust. This was where he lived for the rest of his life – although he and his wife did spend some two months in early 1968 living in Flat 130 of Balfron Tower to hear about how it was to live in the building for the new residents.

The National Trust opening at Balfron Tower was part of a programme of events presented by Bow Arts in association with the local housing association Poplar HARCA, taking place in and around the Grade II listed Tower.

For this opening, the interior of Flat 130 has been furnished by designers, Wayne and Tilly Hemingway, in the style of a 1968 period flat. It is supposed to be what a family might have moved in with in 1968, so it is not entirely 1968 as they would have brought things from earlier periods, so there is some earlier 1960s stuff and some 1950s things too.

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So the National Trust recruited some volunteers to lead tours, and I was fortunate to be one of these volunteers. The tours sold out in a couple of days and so the National Trust negotiated 6 more days over the last two weekends of October.

The tours started at Langdon Park DLR station and the first part gave an insight into the area and its redevelopment. There was a maximum of 10 people per tour and volunteers worked in pairs doing three tours in a day. My last shift was with the lovely Dalia, seen here near the DLR station by the statue of Teddy Baldock, a local boxer of the 1920s and 1930s known as the Pride of Poplar.

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Then here I am telling the story of Erno Goldfinger and the buildings he was responsible for on the Brownfield Estate.

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The tour entered the tower via the lower ground floor and we went up in the lift to the 24th floor.

We made our way across the bridge into the main tower and along the corridor the Flat 130 which is at the far southern end of the block.

I should have explained that Balfron tower is in effect nine streets stacked one about the other and on most levels the flats are ranged either at the corridor level or one floor up or one floor down. This means that there seem to be too many doors on the corridor, and it also means that the flat with the door next to yours may actually be above or below yours. For example Flat 130 is one floor up on the 25th floor but Flat 131 is one floor down on the 23rd Floor but their front doors are side by side on the 24th floor.

All of the flats have a direct view west to the City.

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And the ones which are one floor down or up go right across the floor under or over the corridor and have a view east over the River Lea. And if you look at an angle northwards, you can see the Olympic Park and Aquatic Centre and Orbit Tower, although it proved impossible to get a picture of that from the flat.

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The ones at the southern end of the corridor (such as Flat 130) also have a view south towards Canary Wharf, the O2 arena, Greenwich and Shooter’s Hill. And every flat has a balcony open to the air – with a built in planter just inside the balustrade, which in Flat 130 had been nicely planted up

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Just to the right of the Blackwall Tunnel approach you can see Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens from the 1970s, which was a lower rise but dense development facing a garden and away from the roads. I understand this estate is going to be redeveloped, as it was not deemed special enough to be listed, even though it is just as interesting as Balfron Tower.

 

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The views change as the day moves on and of course the western view towards the City must get dramatic sunsets. I was not there at the right time to witness one but I did see this wonderful Turneresque sky.

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The last tours are today, Sunday 26 October and that will be the end of the National Trust foray into Poplar.

But they did throw a lovely little party last night for us volunteers, with pie and mash and drinks. Here is a picture of Leigh and Tina on the balcony with Canary Wharf behind (It’s the light that made it blurry not my unsteady hand!)

And here I am with Leigh.

We even had a Goldfinger themed quiz. We were split into 4 teams and sent to one of the rooms in flat 130. We were told the theme for the question and had to nominate one of our number to go into the hall to hear the question and write down the answer. That person returned with the next theme and we had to nominate who would answer that question.There were 20 questions in all, related to Goldfinger and Balfron. (I wonder if there is a TV game show format in this, obviously not limited to Goldfinger questions!)

I was in a team with Sean and Zoe and we were sent to the bedroom decked out with a young boy’s stuff. It had no chairs and the bed was broken, so we could not sit down. We chose the name “Please do not sit on the bed” as our team name, as it seemed better than “the Little Boy’s Room”.

Anyhow we won!!! And we each got a prize. Mine was a cushion covered with vintage fabric, but I was not allowed to take it, as the flat had one more day of tours. But here’s a picture.

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Well it was a great experience, and fun to do. And thanks Katherine and Rosh for the great organisation.

So National Trust what next???

Let’s all go down the Strand – a rare opportunity to visit a disused tube station

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This past weekend (in June 2014) was one of those rare occasions when the disused Aldwych (nee Strand) tube station was open for visits.  It was opened in 1907 and from the start was never much used and it finally closed in 1994 because of the need to replace the lifts.

This station was part of the Piccadilly line one of three tube lines constructed by a Chicago businessman, called Charles Tyson Yerkes. In the early years of the 20th century there were many proposals to build new tube lines in central London but finance was a major issue. Yerkes who had made his money building and electrifying railways and tramways in Chicago moved (some say had to move) to London to try his hand here. He picked up already planned routes and managed to raise funding where others had failed. Amongst the lines he picked up were the Piccadilly Circus and Brompton Railway and the Great Northern and Strand Railway, both of which had got parliamentary approval in the late 1890s.  So in essence the Piccadilly line we see today in the central area follows the routes of these two lines joined together. It was a somewhat more complex story than that of course and a number of options were looked at. But by the time it was being built the little stretch from Holborn to Aldwych was built as a spur off the main line. The station we see today is a weird combination of preparing the way for a larger more important station and doing the minimum to actually have a functioning station, as we vividly saw as we werer taken round the station.

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There is no working lift so the only way down is by the spiral stairs

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And down on the platform there is a train, as it is still possible to run trains along here.

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And there are some adverts – these are not originals but would have been put up for some films or TV programme. This is a favourite spot for TV and film makers to get a vintage tube station.

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We then got to see the other platform which was never really properly used. For virtually all of its working life, there was only a shuttle service between here and Aldwych, and this needed just one platform..

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But London Underground used the site to see how new tiling scheme would look – in this case Piccadilly Circus

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We saw some pictures of other mock ups which had been on this platform, including Tottenham court road and Holborn

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There were some 1970s style posters, and you could see two letters of the old station name of Strand in the tiling..

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After climbing back up the spiral staircase, we had the chance to have a look at the two lifts. The original Art Nouveau style grilles are still above the lifts and we were shown a little feature which allowed evacuation of a stalled lift. If one lift broke down the other one would be aligned with it and the adjoining doors could be opened and the passengers could escape in th working lift.

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One other original feature in the booking hall was these telephone boxes. these are very early and apparently were put in by the National Telephone Company. This was before the Post Office got the monopoly on the telephone system

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There was also a facsimile of the Beck tube map

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And finally we exited through the lift and back out to Surrey Street, noting an interesting sign which tried to encourage interchange between here and nearby Temple station.

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We went round to the Strand just in time to see the next batch of eager explorers go in for their tour.

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A really fascinating hour. It is just a shame that this is not open on a more regular basis so more people can see the strange world of a tube station that should not really have got built but yet survived in operation for some 87 years.