Site Records

Site Name: Down Street Station

Down Street
London W1
OS Grid Ref: TQ28618003

Sub Brit site visit August 1995, 19th October 2001 & March 2009

A few months later the offices were transformed. Mr Cole-Deacon had been a yachtsman and his experience at sea enabled him to utilise every inch of space. The offices were in a short time electrically controlled for ventilation, heating, cooking, lighting, and sewage. Each room had a telephone. Switches were installed that started up a diesel generating plant automatically to light the offices when the main supply was cut off. Perhaps the best way to describe the offices created in the old station (said a report in The Times) was to compare them with the cabins of a modern liner (they were in fact fitted out by the LMS Railway’s carriage works).

One section of the offices was called ‘No. 10’ and was built specially for the use of Winston Churchill and the War Cabinet; it was Churchill who gave it its name. It was early one evening in the autumn of 1940 that a senior Cabinet minister entered Mr Cole-Deacon’s room unannounced. He said he would like to see over “this underground hive of industry”, as he called it. He seemed unimpressed until he came to the officers’ mess and kitchens and the bedroom quarters. Then he said he had been instructed by the Cabinet to find safe quarters for Mr Churchill, who was absolutely fearless in the raids and if he had his way
would prefer to stay at Downing Street. After saying he did not think the offices would be suitable, the minister left, but a short while afterwards telephoned to say that Mr Churchill and several members of the Cabinet would arrive in 20 minutes time.

The telephone exchange at platform level
They came at 7pm when a raid was at its height and an hour or two later a meeting of the War Cabinet was held in the railway conference room. Thereafter, Mr Churchill and his ministers made use of the premises whenever necessary. Mr Churchill was concerned at the interference with the work of the Railway Executive Committee and asked whether it would be possible to construct another suite of offices for the use of the War Cabinet. Mr Cole-Deacon told the prime minister that if he could use an air-shaft for the purpose a complete suite would be ready for use within six weeks. At the end of
that period the work was completed and at the same time the heavy bombing of London ended, so that the suite was never used for its intended purpose although both Churchill and his wife used the place as alternative sleeping quarters from March 1941 onwards. During the bombing Mrs Churchill used the platform exit and would travel by tube train to various stations on a surprise visit to platform shelterers.

Photo:The same two-position floor-standing PMBX as it is roday
Photo by Nick Catford

Churchill referred to Down Street as ‘The Barn’, a name used also in Crossbow committee files. He appreciated, apparently, the ability that working here gave him to continue his work through the air raids — and as a retreat from the distractions of the Cabinet War Room. His access was relinquished in November 1943, however, when it was decided that he should use a different shelter, codenamed ‘ANSON’ if bombing recommenced. ANSON is part of the Rotunda construction.

The kitchen on the eastbound platform, today the room has been stripped our apart from the kitchen sink.
An amusing story tells how one evening the Prime Minister arrived at his room (which in the daytime was Mr Cole-Deacon’s office) and picked up some papers that the secretary and the chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, had been discussing. They were the plans for an intricate railway scheme including the provision of additional lines for shifting traffic from east to west. The plans had not reached the stage for placing before the Cabinet. They were to be considered by the Railway Executive Committee next day, but Mr Churchill, eager to get to work, thought they were for his perusal.
He read through them, grasped what was intended to be done immediately, and made marginal suggestions that were adopted by the members of the Committee at their meeting next morning. The Committee were, however, unaware that the P.M. was the author of the suggestions, as the fact that Mr Churchill and his Cabinet colleagues were using their headquarters as an air-raid shelter was at that time one of the most carefully guarded secrets of the war.

All this discussion about Churchill should not distract attention from the main work of Down Street, controlling the railways. One of the most important tasks during the period of the bombing was that of repairing damage to railway tracks. An incident was reported to the control room at Down Street and whatever the hour of the day or night, the provision of an alternative service was arranged with as little delay as possible to take workers from their homes to the war factories. At this time the maps of the railway systems on the walls of the control room were studded with flags to show

The full Railway Committee Executive in session in January 1940
where bombs had fallen. The control room was in constant communication with the Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry, and other Government departments.

At the shortest notice arrangements had to be made for moving men, guns and ammunition, including sea mines, from one part of the country to another. During the D-Day invasion period more than 70 ambulance trains were run each week, and as late as 1946 the control room still had to arrange for more than 2,500 special trains in a period of seven days.

Photo:Today all evidence of the committee room has gone apart from some arrows on the wall pointing to the committee room. In this view, the photographer is standing in to committee room looking towards the stairway doen to the platforms. The subway now looks much as it did when Down Street station closed with the wall tiles in good confition. The bridge over the eastbound track and platform can be seen at the far end of the subway.
Photo by Nick Catford

Throughout the war the occupants of these offices 100 ft below ground were entirely safe except for the possible danger from flooding that never in fact happened. To prevent any sabotage and ensure that people who did not ‘need to know’ the actual location of these quarters, an arrangement was made with the Post Office that letters could be addressed simply to R.E.C., London SW (most likely they were delivered to Fielden House, which was in SW and then brought by messenger to Down Street).The GPO telephone line (WHItehall 6146) was also transferred from Fielden House in Westminster to compound the misdirection (it is not known whether similar arrangements were made for other secret installations).

For further information and pictures of Down Street station click here

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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