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Beneath the Grave – Ghosts of the Central Line

Good evening, fright-fans, it is I, Tom, your extravagantly-cleavaged Master of the Dark [picture inadmissable]. As Halloween approaches with the inevitability of death, I thought an appropriately-themed entry might be in order. As last year’s entry on the ghosts haunting the Northern Line was so popular, I figured I might continue the theme with the hauntings on the old Central London Railway or, as the kids call it nowadays, the Central Line. Mind the gap…

Northolt

You’ve all heard of the Beast of Bodmin, but did you know there was a Beast of Northolt? In the early 1990s, there were several sightings of a big cat alongside the Central Line between Northolt and Greenford. Accounts vary as to the species of cat, although most seem to settle on “puma.” Whence it came and how it got to Northolt without being noticed remain to be explained.

Marble Arch

If you should find yourself leaving Marble Arch late at night, when the station is quiet, you may find yourself being followed up the escalator. Several people have reported a sinister man in 1940s clothing who they sense close behind them on the escalator and see out of the corner of their eye. Upon turning around completely, the man vanishes. Again, no explanation has been offered as to who this restless spirit might be.

British Museum

Perhaps the most unlikely ghost out of the many on the Underground was sighted at this now-closed station. The ghost would, so the story goes, appear at one end of the platform and walk to the other, wailing mournfully. What marked this particular spectre out, however, was the fact that he was dressed in the clobber of an Ancient Egyptian. Being the intelligent and probably very sexy reader that you are, you’ve no doubt figured out why there might be an Ancient Egyptian haunting British Museum Station. To be more specific, the Egyptian is said to have some sort of link to the so-called Unlucky Mummy (pictured right), a sarcophagus lid in the Museum that is said to be cursed. This is just one of many legends attached to it, the most interesting of which says that it was responsible for sinking the Titanic.

Even bearing in mind that I’m a sceptic, I’m inclined to take this one with a pinch of salt. The accounts are lacking in detail and only emerged shortly before the station was closed down. I’m inclined to believe it was the invention of a journalist looking for a spooky story. Nevertheless, the story persists, albeit with the ghost now haunting Holborn. Why Holborn and not the closer Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road stations? It is a mystery.

Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane has plenty of secrets of its own, but in the tunnels between here and Holborn, there’s said to be one more surprise. During the 1960s,drivers stopping at signals here would often be freaked out by the appearance of a man standing next to them in the cab. Apparently some sort of fellow crewman, he would be staring straight ahead, and would vanish as soon as the train pulled away.

Bank

I covered the manife-stations (see what I did there) at this stop in last year’s entry, but I thought I’d mention that it’s a haunted station on the Central Line for those pedants who’ll leave comments if I don’t.

Liverpool Street

This terminus is built on the site of a plague pit and one of the several incarnations of the notorious Bedlam. The building of this and neighbouring Broad Street Station involved the disturbance of many final resting places, so really it would be surprising if there were no hauntings here. Sure enough, Liverpool Street and environs are said to be haunted by the ghastly screams of a woman.

The most popular suggestion for the screamer is one Rebecca Griffiths, an inmate at Bedlam in the late 18th century whose illness included a compulsive need to hold on to a particular coin. Upon her death, one of the staff (who were not known for their selflessness) stole it from her lifeless fingers and Rebecca’s inconsolable spirit searches for it still.

More recently, in 2000, the Line Controller sighted a man in white overalls in the tunnels who should not have been there. He sent the Station Supervisor to investigate, who found nothing. What made this particularly peculiar was that the Supervisor found no man down there – even though the Controller could see the man on the CCTV screen right next to him.

Bethnal Green

I’ll finish with the Easternmost of the haunted Central Line stations that I’m aware of, and one of the most frightening hauntings. This one is traceable to a specific incident that took place on 3rd March 1943. As often happened in the East End at that time, when the air raid siren sounded, the local people made for the Tube station. Unfortunately, on this night it had been decided to carry out a test-firing of an experimental new type of rocket in nearby Victoria Park. Panicked by what sounded like a very nearby explosion, the crowds surged forward. A woman on the stairs lost her footing and fell, taking several others with her and causing further panic, which in turn worsened the stampede and the crush inside the station. 173 people were killed in the disaster, crushed or asphyxiated. For reasons of morale, the Bethnal Green incident was covered up until 1946.

From 1981 onwards, however, there were reports of an extremely unnerving nature from the station. Staff working late at night spoke of hearing screams – at first one or two, then more and more, clearly identifiable as women and children. These screams would go on for up to fifteen minutes before dying down.

There you have it, readers. I hope you enjoy your Halloween this year and whatever you do, don’t have nightmares…

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Seen (by someone else) at Notting Hill Gate

Check this link out, my droogs:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/36844288@N00/sets/72157624079183751/with/4695639446/

Posters from the 1950s uncovered at Notting Hill Gate. Alas, not accessible to the public, but this photoset by London Underground is the next best thing.

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This train will not be stopping at…

A couple of entries ago, I got to talking about Tube stations that get used for filming. I briefly mentioned Vauxhall Cross, the abandoned station that appears in the mediocre James Bond movie Die Another Day. Which brings me to today’s topic. I call it “Tube stations that don’t actually exist that appear in films and on TV and that.”

Vauxhall Cross is one I’ve been asked about more than once, with one person being quite adamant that there genuinely was such a station. It appears, as I say, in Die Another Day as part of Q’s research facility. Bond is given the invisible Aston Martin Vanquish, seen by many fans as a bit far-fetched (actually, the technology used to make the car invisible genuinely was under serious consideration by the US military at the time). Not sure quite what they meant about it being far-fetched, it’s not as if the series was noted for its gritty realism.

The film did not make use of a real station, nor was there ever a Vauxhall Cross station. Although Aldwych was used for research purposes, the actual station was a very convincing mock-up. There is a station at Vauxhall Cross, and it’s called Vauxhall.

The station appearing in the movie is apparently on the Piccadilly Line, approximately where the abandoned Down Street is. Down Street is just off Hyde Park and, as I mentioned a couple of entries ago, was a government base during the Second World War. However, it’s nowhere near Vauxhall. The idea, according to the Underground History website, was that a fictional branch line was built from Green Park. This makes some sense – the Victoria Line hadn’t been built when the Piccadilly Line appeared, so there was no Underground interchange at Vauxhall until the 1960s. None of this explains why Bond reaches the station via Westminster Bridge, though.

Presumably in the James Bond universe the Victoria Line wasn’t built. Sorry, Brixton.

Probably the best known fictional Underground station in London is Walford East, seen left. This is the station that serves Albert Square in long-running BBC soap Eastenders. The station is a very convincing mock-up, and thanks to the wonders of CGI, can now even boast trains.

The station is on the District Line. In the Eastenders universe, Bromley-by-Bow doesn’t exist. Of course, if you’re going to be pedantic, you could point out that the distinctive red-tiled Leslie Green frontage wouldn’t be seen on a purely District Line station. This kind of architecture was only seen on the lines owned by Charles Yerkes’ Underground Electric Railways Company (roughly speaking, the Bakerloo Line, the Piccadilly Line and the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line). Fortunately, I’m not going to be pedantic, so you’ll just have to forget that last paragraph.

On the subject of the architecture, David Leboff notes that while this station doesn’t precisely match any real Leslie Green station, the designers are to be praised for both their imagination and authenticity in designing the Arts and Crafts-style frontage.

Yr. Humble Chronicler is not a regular viewer of Eastenders, but given the unrelenting horror that seems to be in constant progress throughout Walford, the sensible thing to do would be to abandon the station and shut the whole place off from the rest of the world. For the greater good.

Alistair McGowan once suggested that Walford East was not actually on the District Line, but was on its own “Eastenders Line.” This consisted of two stations – Walford East and Up West.

The last station on our quest is well known to fans of British sci-fi. It goes by two names – Hobb’s Lane and Hobb’s End. Hobb’s Lane was mentioned in the 1959 BBC science fiction serial Quatermass and the Pit, but never actually appeared. In this serial, construction workers uncover a Martian spaceship buried beneath the streets of Knightsbridge that begins to have strange and horrifying effects on the locals…

Presumably Hobb’s Lane was on the Piccadilly Line. For the movie version of the serial, made by the now-legendary Hammer Films, the Underground was more prominent. Indeed, the works that uncover the downed spaceship are in fact an extension of the Central Line into North Kensington.

Hobb’s Lane/End is often used in other works as a nod to the classic serials. The Tube station itself appears in the comics Caballistics Inc. and Scarlet Traces: The Great Game.

If you get the chance, the Quatermass serials are well worth catching. They were among the first science fiction shows on British television and are an obvious ancestor of Doctor Who – indeed, there’s even a popular fan theory that the two are set in the same universe, seemingly confirmed by a few minor lawyer-friendly references in Who.

So, just remember – this train will not be stopping at Walford East, Vauxhall Cross or Hobb’s End. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause to your journey.

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/vauxhallx.php – Underground History on Vauxhall Cross.

http://underground-history.co.uk/walford.php – Underground History on Walford East.

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Underground cinema

The Underground is a great place to use in a film. It’s an icon of the city, much like the Houses of Parliament or Tower Bridge. It’s something that thousands use daily. It has that slightly spooky air about it. And it’s instantly recognisable. All you need is an Underground sign and people know where you are.

Filming on the Tube, though, is not so easy. It runs from early in the morning to late at night, and the rest of the time is needed for maintenance work. Although there are plenty of abandoned Underground stations, most of them are wholly unsuitable for filming – they’ve been allowed to grow derelict and they’re on lines that are still in use (i.e. even if you find one in good condition, filming will be interrupted every couple of minutes by a train).

If you want to film on a regular station, you just need to find a preserved railway. Alas, the only preserved sections of Underground are the Epping-Ongar branch (formerly the outermost extremity of the Central Line) and Quainton Road (one time part of the Metropolitan Railway). Neither of these are exactly what you think of when you think “London Underground.” What you really need is an abandoned station, in good condition, not on a running like. Oh, hey, Aldwych, didn’t see you there.

Aldwych, pictured left, was a perfect filming location even when it was still in use. It was built at the end of a stubby little branch off the Piccadilly Line, served by a shuttle service from Holborn. It was never hugely patronised, and one of the two platforms was disused by the First World War. During the Second, the whole branch was closed and used as a safe house for part of the British Museum’s collection. In 1994, the whole branch was shut down for good. The building, carrying the original “Strand” name, is still visible on the Strand.

However, it’s kept maintained and makes an excellent filming location – the fact that London Underground tend not to modernise stations unless it’s necessary (a policy Yr. Humble Chronicler applauds) means that it can be dressed up to represent more-or-less any time period from 1907 to the present day. As I say, even before it closed, the branch was little used enough that the station could be used by film crews. These days, London Underground can even provide you with a 1972 Northern Line train kept on the line especially.

It’s appeared in The Krays (as Bethnal Green), Death Line (as Russell Square), Superman IV (as the Metropolis Subway), Patriot Games, V for Vendetta, Atonement, Creep and The Bank Job, among others.

If that’s not quite to your tastes, say you need something more modern, you could always take a short stroll down to Charing Cross. While (obviously) the Bakerloo and Northern platforms are still very much in use, the Jubilee Line used to terminate here. When the Jubilee Line extension was completed in 1999, it took a jag south to Waterloo from Westminster. Charing Cross was left as the only abandoned station on the whole Jubilee Line and, of course, it had its own stretch of line. It’s not quite as popular as a filming location (perhaps because the rest of the station is very busy), but it was used in Creep (again) and 28 Weeks Later.

Failing that, of course, supposing you want something bang up to date, you might try the Waterloo and City Line. This line is closed on Sundays, giving you a whole day to play with. The trouble is that the Waterloo and City Line looks rather different from the rest of the Tube, due to the fact that it was built as an extension of the London and South Western Railway and only became part of London Underground in 1994. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop the crew of Sliding Doors from filming there or, in 1940, the crew of On the Beat.

This sort of thing is not for everyone. Some aren’t so fussy about where they film. Some don’t mind dereliction and passing trains. So it was for the crew of Neverwhere, the cult fantasy series set below London. They managed to get the use of the long-closed Down Street station for a banqueting scene. During the Second World War this station, abandoned even then, was used by Winston Churchill before the Cabinet War Rooms were completed. Apparently, due to the lifts being out of use, government officials were dropped off by passing trains from Green Park or Hyde Park Corner. Thus was it for Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (the writer) talks about flagging down trains when filming was over. Unfortunately, Down Street is no longer allowed to be used for filming, and is strictly for emergency access only.

Kudos to An American Werewolf in London for actually filming at Tottenham Court Road, by the way.

So, what about Die Another Day? That was a pretty prominent appearance by an abandoned Tube station, right? Wrong. But that will have to wait for another time…

Further Reading

http://underground-history.co.uk/creep/ – An analysis of the locations used in Creep. The home page has a lot of interesting info about closed stations and bits of stations, as well as a photo of the train kept on the Aldwych branch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYD44UMtNh8 – Footage of Aldwych shortly before closure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q4uMNTEgDs – Footage of a preserved Tube train on the Jubilee Line, including a shot of the Jubilee Line platforms.

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