|Negley Farson (Wikipedia)
|Setting the scene outside Aldwych Station (Tom Day)
|Mother & Baby drawn by Tom Purvis (author's collection - from 'Bomber's Moon')
|Recreated station signage (author's photo)
The Aldwych Branch settled down to life as basically a shuttle service that ran to-and-fro between Aldwych and Holborn Kingsway Stations. It is possible to walk between these two points in less than ten minutes, so it was never a particularly well used service. Probably because of this relative lack of use, the entire branch was selected for use as a shelter and closed to the public on 22 September 1940, shortly after the beginning of the London Blitz. The station had originally been named consisted of two platforms serving a double track line in two tunnels to Holborn but one platform had been closed in 1917, as just one platform and a single track was more than sufficient to cater for the shuttle service. For shelter purposes, the disused platform was also opened up to the public and the train running tunnels (including the disused tunnel) were used by the British Museum to store some of their collection, including the Elgin Marbles. The electric current was switched off and eventually, the platform was built out over the tracks so as to create a much wider area for the shelterers than was normally found on a working station but initially, some of the shelterers had to sleep on the tracks, as the accompanying photo shows.
|Aldwych Station - then and now (author's photograph)
My entry into the station was through similar "collapsible steel gates", perhaps the very same that Negley Farson and his fellow shelterers had used nearly 78 years previously. I then walked through one of the original 1907 Otis lifts - both of which are now held statically by large steel beams beneath them - into the Booking Office area, part of which is original and the remainder an elaborate film set which has been retained in situ. Following a safety briefing, our group descended the spiral staircase towards platform level. It was whilst walking down the stairs that my memories of this station began to be rekindled; a somewhat musty, damp smell pervaded the staircase and the passageways leading to the platform. There was also a strange, unaccountable feeling of melancholy - as if the old station was trying to tell us that it was lonely and missed the sound of commuters footsteps.
|The beginning of the 132 steps (author's photo)
|Walking through the original 1907 Otis elevator (author's photo)
|A now lonely passageway echoes to the sound of footsteps once again (author's photo)
Once on platform level, I explained a little of the station's wartime history as well as hearing a interesting briefing as to the history of tunnels and tunnellers in warfare through the ages, a fascination which continues to this day. Whilst listening to this talk, we were disturbed by various distant rumbling sounds and periodical bursts of cool breezes, all of which reminded us that not far away, up the line at Holborn, the Underground network was still operating. The area we had been visiting was Platform "A" which had been the working platform when the line closed to the public in 1994 and which, we had been warned at the Safety Briefing, still contained energised live rails and which was still frequently used for filming. The station has featured in numerous movies, ranging from Battle of Britain, Patriot Games, V for Vendetta and Atonement, to pop videos, perhaps most famously The Prodigy's "Firestarter" in 1996.
|Looking south towards the buffers (author's photo)
|Looking north towards Holborn (author's photo)
|The footbridge leading across to the 1917 platform (author's photo)
|"Way Out" sign, together with the 'A N' from STRAND which was the station's original name (author's photo)
After about 90 minutes below ground, it was now time to return to the surface and it was at some point during the ascent of the 132 steps that I became painfully aware of how much we took lifts and escalators for granted. Some of my Army colleagues sprinted up the steps, leaving the oldest man in the group to bring up the rear somewhat wearily!
|The Leslie Green designed Ticket Hall (author's photo)
Back at surface level, I made a brief inspection of the original Leslie Green designed Ticket Hall, with an elaborate "BOOK HERE" sign, as well as discovering an original 1930s direction sign pointing would-be interchange passengers in the direction of the nearby Temple Station.
|1930s signage still extant (author's photo)
|The way out to Surrey Street (author's photo)
As mentioned earlier, many proposals have been mooted to incorporate the Aldwych Branch into various other underground extensions and new lines but personally, I rather hope that the line remains preserved as a time capsule looking back into Underground history.
Blinking as we emerged back out into the bright spring sunshine, it was time for me to start earning my keep again as a guide but thanks are due to Major Christopher Garrard of 29 EOD & Search Group HQ for arranging the visit and for allowing me to add an unusual extra dimension to our Battlefield Study Tour.
Bomber's Moon by Negley Farson, illustrated by Tom Purvis - Victor Gollanz Ltd, 1941