Site Records

SiteName: Down Street Station

Down Street
London W1
OS Grid Ref: TQ28618003

Sub Brit site visit August 1995 & 19th October 2001

[Source: Nick Catford]

A suction fan drew fresh air down the lift shaft passing through a thermostatically controlled heater and gas filtration units before being piped at pressure around the bunker in trunking installed between the ceilings and floors and the curved surfaces of the tunnels. Final delivery was at, or near, floor level. Running the bunker at an overpressure ensured no poisonous gasses would be sucked into the complex. The spent air was extracted by fans through grills in the ceilings and was discharged via non-return flaps into the running tunnels of the Piccadilly line. Gas doors were fitted at the ends of each corridor.

After the war this hive of activity ended and Down Street remained largely forgotten until the 1990's although it was retained as a point of emergency egress and new lighting was installed along with signs in one of the cross passages indicating left for eastbound trains and right for westbound trains to help maintenance staff orient themselves on arrival.

In the 1990's tours of Down Street were organised by the London Transport Museum and it soon became a top attraction with a long waiting list for visits. Demand far outstripped the available tours and they were eventually withdrawn when spiralling insurance costs and the difficulty in finding staff to run them meant it was more trouble than it was worth for the Museum.

Photo:The emergency stairs and the WW2 lift
Photo by Nick Catford

Site visit on 19th October 2001 by Sub Brit member Hwyel Williams

We walked down a small narrow flight of steps arriving at the top of the original spiral staircase, complete with its maroon and cream tiles so typical of other stations built during the early 1900s. There were 103 steps in total (23 for the narrow straight staircase and 80 in the spiral shaft, with the shaft itself being 22.2 metres in height) Even at this point there was evidence of use during WW2. Above was a reinforced concrete and steel cap to prevent bomb penetration down the emergency stair shaft. Behind a door at this level, an emergency generator would have been housed which could provide power for the whole complex below should the mains be cut. The room was now empty, save a single tank mounted near the roof. The floor was damp and the room smelt quite musty.

Looking down the centre of the spiral staircase, a space could be seen which had originally been occupied by a small two person lift which was installed to make access easier during the War. The lift itself along with its machinery had long gone but the door still remained along with the remains of the lift summoning button.

We then walked down the spiral staircase. This new aluminium staircase had replaced the old crumbling steps comparatively recently. Marks on the wall where the old stairs had been flush with the tiled walls could be seen since the new stair way left a small gap between itself and the wall. Why build a new spiral staircase in a disused station? Well, Down Street is in fact one of the designated emergency exit points for the Piccadilly line and for this reason the staircase and corridors down to platform level are reasonably well lit.

Photo:The main distribution frame (telephone exchange)
Photo by Nick Catford

We stopped about two thirds of the way down at a doorway to see a passageway that was unique in an underground station. Due to the fact that this was the last but one of the original Yerkes stations to open, some extra features had been added. This doorway provided an alternative emergency exit down to the passageways below. During WW2, this corridor had been equipped with bathroom and toilet facilities and signs on the wall indicated that this was also an alternative route to the offices below to enable part of the complex to be closed off for privacy.

A wall had been built down the tunnel forming a narrow corridor with doorways to our left opening into several small rooms. The first doorway revealed the toilets - two cubicles containing two porcelain base units, but the water cisterns had long since been removed as had much of the plumbing. The next two doors revealed two bathrooms, one of which still had its original electric heater and tank. The final room contained two very dirty wash basins. Going further down the corridor wasn't possible as the air was unsafe to breathe! Had we been able to go further, the corridor would have led to a stairs leading down to platform level.

At the bottom of the spiral staircase, the first impression I had of the tunnelling down here was a strange feeling of scale. The foot passageways had been tiled using cream and purple tiling (now very much coated in dust) but everything seemed somehow bigger than I'd expected. The interconnection tunnel I was standing in seemed to have a larger diameter than a standard underground station foot passageway. It was soon explained that when the station was being built, the railway company was running out of resources and had none of the metal tunnel casings that were usually used to make foot passageways left. They did however have an excess of standard rail tunnel sized casings so these were used instead giving the rather strange illusion of scale. The corridor we were now standing in would originally have served as the station's exit; there was also a parallel entrance tunnel from the lifts which we were to see later on.

Photo:At the bottom of the stairs
Photo by Nick Catford

Along the walls of these passageways several painted signs could be clearly seen, one of which read 'Enquiries & Committee Room', a reference to the committee room used during the War. There was also additional evidence of War use here with a slightly raised floor area with a narrow section to our left sectioned off by a barrier. The raised area was originally walled to provide a separate room which was used as a typing pool for the officers and civil servants that used the complex during its days of active service. The partition walls down this corridor had been removed in the 1960s to enable ease of access when a new signalling system was being installed in another part of the station. The narrow section would have been a corridor around the walled off section. We walked around a corner to the part of the tunnel that was actually used as a committee room by Churchill and the war cabinet.

To our left was a small entrance; the other side of the alternative emergency exit passage (the bathroom corridor mentioned earlier). Looking through this door, a stairway could be seen leading upwards to the bathroom area. The stairway had a partitioning wall down it's middle, though it was unclear exactly why this had been done, since within the partition the stairway was blocked at both ends.

Then, walking a bit further we came to another corner and a short staircase which led down to what originally would have been the platforms. We were now standing on the small T junction between the two platforms, which we could see had now been bricked off.

We were then led onto what originally would have been the eastbound platform, it had been bricked up for almost its entire length save the small door sized grilles. Turning left into a small corridor, we were led into a small room which contained some switches and dials. Strangely, everything in this room was painted grey; even the glass on the dials, the light fitting and the light bulb! This room was to provide the electrical switching necessary to switch between mains electricity and the emergency generator.

Photo:Original tiling and 'Way Out' cartouche
Photo by Nick Catford

From the grey room, we were led into a small room which contained telephone switching equipment. This was the communications exchange for the complex and any calls made to and from the offices would have been routed through here. A thick layer of dust now covered all the surfaces and switching relays and the operator's desk was falling apart.

At the end of this short corridor was a doorway. This opened directly out onto the tracks and although locked, a quick look through its keyhole clearly revealed another use for the station since its closure; a small portion of the west end of the station had been completely removed to provide access to another tunnel, built soon after the station closed, situated between the main two running tunnels; a siding where broken trains could be moved to, or where trains could be reversed.

Along the curved tunnel wall of this room the original station tile pattern could dimly be seen through the grey paint; one of the only places in the station where the original decoration hadn't been completely obliterated. Here also, someone had carefully removed the paint revealing a perfectly preserved 'Way Out' cartouche.

We then carried walking along the old east platform into another bricked off area. This we were told was the old officers' mess, complete with wallpaper and the remains of a button which would have been used to summon the staff! A little further on we came to the kitchen area itself. Although most of the cooking equipment had been removed there were marks on the wall where things had obviously been stored and a sink unit remained intact in one part of the room.

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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