This is of course the purpose of the experiment. Organized by the London Transport Museum, which invests ticket proceeds in its educational programmes, these behind-the-scenes tours of the London Underground are run by Hidden London at eight different stations. The initiative takes advantage of the fact that many areas of some stations are now disused, for reasons ranging from lack of ridership to changing line layouts.
“All of the stations offered to visit have a different story to tell,” says Pat, adding that visits are scheduled at different times of the year to maintain demand. Most of these tours are related to World War II, when the subway tunnels were used as air raid shelters. Clapham South station, for example, has almost two kilometers of underground corridors, while Down Street, the station used as a secret bunker by Churchill during the war, was closed to passengers in 1932. Yet it still exists, bathed in the dark and steeped in history beneath the streets of District W1. And where the old Charing Cross station keeps a resolutely modern style, the hidden parts of Aldwych and Euston stations are real time capsules where you can admire the architecture of the time and real vintage advertisements.
For the next visit, I go to Moorgate. This name the station inherited from an ancient gate in the city walls overlooking the marshland of the Moorfields. These days the area is made up of commercial buildings and cafes, but Moorgate has lost none of its historic feel. Inaugurated in 1865 on the Metropolitan Line, the oldest metro line in the world, this station once saw gas-lit wooden carriages pass by.
“The first trains didn’t even have a window,” says my guide, Tommy Carr. “According to the logic of the time, there was nothing to see in a tunnel, then they realized that passengers would still like to see the stops. The station was originally shallow, created using the old method known as the covered trench: digging a huge trench, laying the rails and building a roof. It was before the arrival of the metro in deep underground.
We set off to explore the bowels of the station, through a maze of maintenance tunnels and disused elevator shafts with ghostly lighting. A corridor covered with mosaics and closed since 1939 still bears the fragments of advertisements for books or soap; further on, we discover a tunnel boring shield, an imposing hollow metal cylinder placed on the side which protected the workers digging the tunnel by hand. With its 5 meters long, the shield was simply abandoned on site at the end of the work.
Less than 90 minutes later, I find the surface, slightly dazed. Functional, sprawling, nowadays there is no shortage of qualifiers to describe theUnderground of London, and this incredible expanse coupled with a great history means that parts of the network will remain forever frozen in time.