As I mentioned in my last entry, I received a tip-off from a friend the other day that Aldwych Station was, for a limited time, going to be reopened. It would be highly remiss of me not to investigate, and so I did.
Aldwych, or Strand, as it was originally called, is perhaps the best known of the abandoned Underground stations. This is partly because of its location, partly because it was closed relatively recently (in 1994), but mostly because ever since its closure, it’s been preserved by London Underground.
Since then, it has been used for various purposes. Most commonly, it’s used for training. However, it’s best known as a film location, due to the fact that it’s one of only two fully intact abandoned Underground stations (the other being Charing Cross on the Jubilee Line), and therefore can be used for filming without disrupting services.
This time around, it was being used to host an exhibition about the current programme of engineering works on the Underground – the great project known in publicity as “Transforming the Tube.”
Londoners will probably know this programme better by its informal titles of “Planned Engineering Work,” or “The Reason I Had To Get A Sodding Bus.” I know I’ve moaned about it often enough, on one occasion running into no less than four different closures on the way to a meeting with a friend. However, the exhibition did a pretty good job of explaining what was going on. Apparently the problem is that they only have four hours a night to work on track repairs, therefore closures are necessary to ensure that a damn thing gets done.
The exhibition explained why upgrade work was needed – basically because the time was rapidly approaching when the system would simply be unable to cope with the demands placed on it. Some of the signalling in place dates back to the 1940s. There were some photos of signalbox interiors to prove it, and I have to say, they did have a certain retro charm. I wonder if they’d let me have the equipment when they’re done with it?
There’s also the inevitable London Olympics business. I have to say, the whole “We’re upgrading for the Olympics!” thing slightly annoys me. I mean, it’s great that we’re getting upgrades, but the fact that it took the Olympics to actually force TfL to pull their finger out makes me wonder if we’d be getting them if it weren’t for the need to impress the visitors. Still, better than nothing I suppose.
Then there’s the need to take care of changes that the original builders of the Underground never really anticipated. The need for step-free access to stations, for instance – in the 1920s, the disabled were pretty much expected to stay at home and not make a fuss about things. These days, we’re a little more enlightened (however, just try taking an electric wheelchair around the West End one day – it’s a bugger). In addition to more step-free stations, the new S Stock trains will have wheelchair access.
The question of air conditioning and why we can’t have it was briefly touched on. Long story short, we can have it on the Sub-Surface Railway (District, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan Lines) and trains are on order. However, the Deep-Level Lines (all the rest) are so cramped that air conditioning equipment would actually create more heat than it would compensate for. The Victoria Line is having upgrades on its ventilation fans.
The rest was largely to do with improving track and signalling, installing CCTV, blahblahblah. Lots of stuff about commitments , improvements, reductions in bad things etc. All rather went over my head, if I’m honest.
I must admit that, like an awful lot of people there, I wasn’t all that interested in the exhibition (or at least, it wasn’t what had brought me there). I was more interested in having a look around Aldwych. I’d been through it once or twice while it was still open, but never since closure.
Fortunately, London Underground had anticipated this, and provided a number of displays about Aldwych itself. The staff, who were very friendly and helpful, were also showing people around. Sadly, we weren’t allowed beyond the booking hall, but there was interest to be found there. David Leboff, in his book The Underground Stations of Leslie Green, praises the office for being “amongst the most complete of any [Leslie] Green station.” It retains, as you can see in these photos (I hope) a lot of original features. Its closure in the 1990s, along with the fact that it was never a very important station anyway, probably saved it in this regard. Leboff also notes that the decor below street level is in very poor condition, but says of the frontage that it’s “the simplest of all Green designs.” I rather like it.
If you’re interested in this exhibition, it’s running until 9th July. Entry is free, it’s open until 7 every day and it doesn’t take long to get around. Ideal to look in on on your way back from work.
https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/underground-cinema/ – Earlier entry discussing the film career of Aldwych, including a photo at platform level.