ALDWYCH - HOLBORD BRANCH PROPOSED
The line from Aldwych to Holborn was first suggested in the late 1890’s as part of a proposal to ease some congestion on the main line north of Kings Cross by building a roughly parallel deep tube line, extending southwards as far as Holborn. These plans were then incorporated into the 1899 Great Northern and Strand Railway (GNSR) Act of Parliament; running from Wood Green to Stanhope Street on the north side of Aldwych, an area that was under development following massive slum clearance to the south of Holborn. Stations were to be built at Wood Green, Hornsey, Haringey, Finsbury Park, Holloway, Bingfield Street/York Road, Russell Square, Holborn and Strand (later to be re-named Aldwych)
Finance for the new line was difficult to find and eventually the scheme was taken over by an American sponsor, Charles Tyson Yerkes, who was already financing various other underground railway projects in London, one of which was the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway. Yerkes decided that to make both schemes financially viable they should be incorporated into one line, which resulted in a further Act of Parliament in 1902 to extend the line from Piccadilly Circus to join with the GNSR at Holborn. At the northern end the line was to be cut back to Finsbury Park and at Holborn the line to Strand was to be built as a short spur. It was intended that some trains would terminate at Strand while others would run through Holborn terminating at Hammersmith.
A part of the Bill to extend southwards from Strand to The Temple was not pursued. Contractor Alexander Ross & Co began work on the line in 1902, with most of the tunnelling completed by 1904.
The short section from Holborn to Strand was, however, causing problems. On the surface the London County Council (LCC) were keen that the station should blend in with their new Kingsway development and underground the railway company were unhappy with the track and tunnel layout, which they felt, would prove restrictive. Changes were proposed that required a 3rd Act of Parliament, which was passed on 4th August 1905. The Holborn - Strand line was to become self-contained with two platforms at Holborn instead of one as originally proposed. A single trailing junction would link the branch to the eastbound main line just north of the station to facilitate stock movements. The second platform would be a shorter bay platform, which would allow two simultaneous services to run between Holborn & Strand.
The final agreement with the LCC resulted in a relocation of the station a little to the south with the main station entrance designed by Leslie Green fronting onto The Strand and a secondary entrance round the corner in Surrey Street, both entrances being faced with the standard blood red terracotta tiling and incorporated into office buildings clad in Portland Stone. The station stood on the site of the Royal Strand Theatre (exactly occupying its footprint) whose programme was curtailed mid season to accommodate the new station. The platforms at The Strand were only 250' long, 100 feet shorter than most other platforms on the main line and they were only tiled along part of their length as the company only intended running short trains.
Their pessimism was confirmed shortly after the station opened on 30 November 1907, 11 months after the main line. The service was initially worked by a two car train shuttling in the eastbound tunnel with a second train running in the westbound tunnel during rush hours. There was also a special theatre train leaving Strand at 11.13 p.m. calling at Kings Cross and Holloway before terminating at Finsbury Park.
In its original configuration, the GNP&BR station at Holborn had four platforms (see plan above). Two platforms catered for through-running services, the other two platforms serving the Aldwych branch. One of these was a through platform whose track connected north of the station to the northbound track to Russell Square, the other was a bay platform where trains terminated.
To enable the southbound tunnel to avoid the branch tunnels to Aldwych, it was constructed at a lower level to the other tunnels and platforms. The tunnel towards Covent Garden (at this point heading southwest) passes under the Aldwych tunnels.
Unlike other stations designed by Leslie Green for the GNP&BR, the station frontage of Holborn was constructed in stone rather than the standard red glazed terra-cotta. This was due to planning regulations imposed by the London County Council which required the use of stone for façades in Kingsway. The station entrance and exit sections of the street façade were constructed in granite and the other parts were built in the same style but using Portland stone.
Traffic was light from the opening day; bus and tram services in the area were good, both Temple and Holborn Stations were close enough to walk and the office development in the area did not progress as quickly as expected. On March 3rd 1908 and all day service was provided by a single car in the westbound tunnel only and a few months later the late night theatre train was withdrawn.
The line still failed to attract passengers and after 1912 the service ran from the eastern platform at Holborn to the Western Platform at Strand with a spare train being kept on the other line. In 1915 the station was renamed Aldwych and at the same time Charing Cross on the Hampstead Line was re-named Strand. Two years later the Sunday service was withdraw and the eastern line was abandoned altogether and the track was lifted. During the First World War the disused platform at Aldwych was used to store art treasures from the National Gallery. Between the wars, the single car service was maintained
ALDWYCH IN WW2
As the international situation deteriorated during the build up to the Second World War London’s museums looked to safeguarding their treasures and as in WW1 tube tunnels figured in the authorities' plans. On 30th June 1938 London Transport granted the government a licence for ‘emergency storage of articles’ at Dover Street for the London Museum (Lancaster House). It agreed to provide the same facilities at Brompton Road for the Victoria & Albert Museum but this consideration was overruled by interests of national security.
In the same month, representatives of the British Museum, the Public Record Office and Office of Works made a joint inspection of the Aldwych branch, which led to an agreement that the museum and PRO would have joint custody of the tunnel for the duration of any coming war. The passenger service was suspended from 21st September 1940 to allow the station to be put to war time uses.
Only a small proportion of the museums artifacts were destined for tube stations and others were dispersed to locations much further away in Wales and Northamptonshire. Nonetheless on 2nd September the famous Elgin Marbles (or Parthenon Sculptures), weighing 100 tons, were transported in crates by low-loader lorry to the London Transport depot at Lillie Bridge, Kensington, and then transferred to railway wagons for their final journey to Aldwych. Later part of the British Museum library and various oriental antiquities joined these treasures and the public war memorial to the Machine Gun Corps was also housed in Aldwych station for safekeeping.As time passed doubts arose over the safety and suitability of tube tunnels for storage and in January 1941 Sir John Forsdyke of the British Museum informed the Office of Works that the tubes were not to be regarded as safe enough to house irreplaceable objects and serious damage might occur if they received direct hits from bombs weighing 1,OOOlb or more.
At Aldwych the museum’s occupancy was not exclusive in any case. Following a fact-finding visit on 20th September 1940 by Lord Ashfield, chairman of London Transport and Sir John Anderson, Minister of Home Security, part of the tunnel was handed over two days later to the local authority (Westminster City Council) for use as a public air raid shelter to relieve overcrowding at Holborn station. Spaces were provided in the station area and along 320 yards of running tunnel towards Holborn for 2,500 people until the shelter closed in May 1945.
In March 1941 events took their own course; press publicity forced the Borough of Westminster to take over much of the museum’s section of the tube in the eastern tunnel under Kingsway. Additionally it was discovered that partition walls erected for the air raid shelter were impeding the airflow around the museum artifacts and to avoid risk of deterioration all British Museum library material was removed to safer storage at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire. The Elgin Marbles remained behind, however, as did the war memorial. The latter was hoisted to the surface again on 5th April 1946, the railway line and Aldwych station reopening on 1st July 1946.
The Elgin Marbles themselves enjoyed something of a charmed existence during this period. Although the millionaire art dealer Lord Duveen of Millbank had funded a new gallery for the Marbles in 1938, this was not completed before the outbreak of war. The monuments' storage underground was fortunate as the gallery built specially for them was badly damaged by enemy bombing and, of all the old Greek and Roman galleries on the ground floor of the museum, the old Elgin Room was the only serviceable accommodation. It was to here that the marbles were returned, being retrieved from Aldwych station starting 25th November 1948 and attracting considerable press (and public) attention, as they were trundled on trucks through the passages of the station. It was only in 1962 that they were finally installed in the reconstructed Duveen Gallery.
Aldwych station’s suitability for art storage was not forgotten and during the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, the Tate Gallery made enquiries about using either this station or Piccadilly Circus for sheltering valuable artworks in a nuclear war.
When the Piccadilly Line was built two platforms were provided at Holborn for the Aldwych branch. One is well-known and was in use until the service on this line ceased in 1994; the other was tucked in between the northbound Piccadilly and the other Aldwych platform, located somewhat to the south, such that its extreme northern end abutted the extreme southern end of the eastbound Piccadilly. It was connected to the latter by a cross passage, the door still being there today.
The disused Aldwych branch platform at Holborn also found new use during the second world war it was converted into a labyrinth of offices, with a central corridor running along the old platform edge and feeding platform level offices on the west side. On the east side the trackbed allowed two levels to be constructed, the upper being used as dormitories. There must have been about 50 offices in all as well as a kitchen and canteen at the far south end. Two separate telephone exchanges (one Post Office, one London Transport) served the offices; both were connected to the London London Transport main railway (RL) automatic telephone system, the Control office at Leicester Square, the dispersed London Transport headquarters at Dover Street and the Railway Executive Committee headquarters at Down Street. After the war the place was briefly used as a staff hostel for people who had lost their homes.
Through the 1950’s and into the 60’s the platform area was used as a staff hostel and more recently has been used as a store for London University. The short section of tunnel between the platform and the junction was used as a workshop.
THE PASSENGER SERVICE RESUMES
The passenger service resumed on July 1st 1946 with a peak hour (7 - 10.30 am and 3.30 - 7 pm) service Monday - Friday. Initially there was also a service running between 7 am and 2 pm on Saturdays but this was withdrawn after 18th June 1962.
After the war there was a revival of a pre-war plan to extend the line southwards to Waterloo. Although the extension appeared on some maps it was finally dropped in the 1960’s with the introduction of the Red Arrow bus service.
In 1956 some pre-war experimental stock was refurbished and used on the line until 1963. That year a three car train of 1962 stock came into service on the line and in 1973 this was replaced with the new standard stock used on the rest of the Piccadilly line.
When the Fleet Line (later to become the Jubilee Line) was being planned in the 1970s, it was envisaged that it would run from Charing Cross via Aldwych and Ludgate Circus and on to East London. The eastwards plan was scrapped, but a few hundred yards of experimental tunnel were dug close to the East London Line at New Cross and the main running tunnels continue much of the way from Charing Cross to Aldwych. This tunnel still exists but is unused.
ALDWYCH BRANCH CLOSES
On 4th January 1993 it was announced that London Underground Ltd. was proposing to close the line because the lifts, which date back to the lines opening, were worn out and needed replacing at a cost of £3 million. This couldn’t be justified with only 450 people using the station each day. The date set for closure was 2nd April 1993 but after objections were received this date was put back with the last train finally running on the 30th September 1994 when for the first time in its 87 year history the platforms and the trains were crowded.
For many years the disused platform at Aldwych has been used for testing new lighting, architectural features, paints, tiles and finishes prior to use on the Victoria and Jubilee lines and the Heathrow extension. Many of these ‘experiments’ can still be seen on the platform today.
Since closure, the line has continued to bring in regular revenue no longer from fare paying passengers but from film and television companies who want to film a scene on the underground. Both Aldwych and Holborn have been seen on numerous TV programmes and even music videos such as ‘Firestarter’ by The Prodigy.
The line is still used for testing new features from time to time but as the lift cables have been cut (with the lifts held in place by girders) it is now easier to use Platform 6 at Holborn. This has been fitted with an experimental projection system for projecting advertisements onto the trackside wall. The projectors switch off as a train approaches and on as it departs. The platform has also been raised in line with the train doors, presumably as an experiment to facilitate wheelchairs.
Another form of income has come from public tours organised by the London Transport Museum. These tours included the disused platforms at Aldwych with its associated subways and stairways and the short sections of tunnels to the north of the platforms. Private visits have also been arranged for interested specialist groups like Subterranea Britannica who have been able to walk down both running tunnels from Aldwych to Holborn and visit the hostel on Platform 5. Unfortunately the Museum have now stopped running these tours
Both Platform 6 at Holborn and Platform 1 at Aldwych have changed little since closure in 1994 and have been kept clean and tidy for the film companies. On the platform at Aldwych the original ‘Strand’ name in the tiling was cleared of numerous posters (by the author) a few days before closure and is still clearly visible. Some of the posters on the wall are not original but have been put there to depict a particular period during filming. The trackwork and infrastructure remains in good condition and a train of ex-Northern Line 1972 tube stock is permanently stabled on the branch; this train can be driven up and down the branch for filming and to keep the trackwork in good repair. The physical connection with the Piccadilly line Eastbound remains, but requires manual operation. In 2002, a heritage train of 1938 tube stock was used for filming, which required temporary removal of the 1972 unit to Ruislip for the duration.
On the surface, Leslie Green’s original; frontage has been restored and removing the canopy overhanging the pavement has revealed the original ‘Strand’ name. Leslie Green’s ticket office has also been fully restored to its original condition partly as a museum exhibit and partly for use as a film set. Platform 2 at Aldwych still retains evidence of the experimental tiling and paintwork. There have however been recent changes to Platform 5 at Holborn. This is accessed through an inconspicuous grey door at the end of Platform 4 from where a short corridor leads to the old bay platform
The stub end of the bay has recently been repainted and one section has been taken over by the National Grid as a sub station. Moving down the platform the war time offices and dormitories with the narrow corridor along the platform edge have now gone. Until recently it was still possible to see many of the original features, the curved passage was still clearly visible in the ceiling on the upper level and in the small rooms on the lower level the green and cream tiles were still in place including the tiled name Holborn on one wall, the ‘n’ being lost behind a partition wall. One door had a sign on it indicating the Central Line Model Railway Club once used it.
There are occasionally proposals to reopen Aldwych station. One of the more prominent suggestions is its potential use as part of an extension to the underground section of the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Charing Cross; this would include a station on the site of Ludgate Circus station/City Thameslink station. The extension would be entirely underground, and would run along the route of the abandoned Fleet Line. It may re-use some of the disused tunnels constructed during the project. What is certain is that London Underground has earned more revenue from the line in the years since closure than at any time before it and this unlikely anachronism is likely to survive as a monument to folly if not as a working tube station.
TOUR OF HOLBORN IN 2008
For many years after closure the cross passage from Platform 4 was blocked by a metal grille, so Piccadilly passengers could see through onto the derelict platform but this has now been replaced by a door.
Although the track is still occasionally used by film crews the platform is used for the storage of permanent way materials and scaffolding with a portacabin at the northern end. Like Aldwych the station is used to try out new signs etc and at the time of our visit a number of station signs and maps indicated that the station was now on the Central Line, at track level it was still Holborn Station but at higher level it had been transformed into St. Paul’s! A small signalbox is still in place at the southern end of the platform.
Stairs lead down to a subway to Platform 3 but this is also blocked at the platform by a new door. Returning to Platform 4 we made our way to the south end of the platform where another door opened onto a narrow corridor with locked rooms either side and at the end of the corridor another door opened onto the long abandoned Platform 5.
When Holborn was last visited by Sub Brit in August 1995 this area was unused and consisted of a narrow walkway with offices on the right hand side and two levels of rooms on the left hand side. This area is now in the process of being refurbished, the rooms on the left have now been dismantled and those on the right have been painted including the brown and white tiled walls. New lighting has recently been installed and it would appear that the platform area is being made ready for some new use.
Beyond the platform, there is a heavy gas-proof door and beyond that the former workshop before the tunnel opens out onto the crossover where trains passed over from the east side of the. On this occasion we did not have permission to go beyond this point.
- London Transport Museum (old pictures from 1907, 1925 and 1958)
- London’s Secret Tubes by Andrew Emmerson & Tony Beard - Capital Transport Publishing 2004 ISBN-13: 979-1854142831
- Abandoned Stations on London’s Underground by J E Connor - Pub. Connor & Butler 2008 ISBN 978 0 947699 41 4
- Rails through the Clay by Alan A Jackson & Desmond F Croome - Pub. George Allen & Unwin 1962.
- Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia