Since opening in 1907, Aldwych Tube Station never gained the passenger numbers it was designed for. The now abandoned Tube Station was originally named Strand, after the street on which it is located. It was the end of the line of the short Piccadilly branch from Holborn. The Piccadilly Line was one of three new railways under central London completed in the early 1900s by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. It was created by merging two separate Tube lines, which left over the spur (short section of track) that led to Aldwych, as it was renamed in 1915.
Read on to find out about the station’s pivotal role in the two World Wars, and how it has been used for filming and more since its closure.
The station was mostly served by two-car shuttle trains, using only one of its two tunnels. It was considered for closure several times due to low passenger numbers. From 1962 services were only run during peak weekday hours. In 1994 the station was closed completely as replacing the lifts was considered too expensive to be viable considering the low income generated by the station. The lifts were integral to the station’s operation as the platforms are deep underground, with 160 steps being the only other means of access.
Aldwych Tube Station During WWI
The eastern platform of the station was not used for any train services from 1914 onwards. When German bombing raids rained down on London during World War I this disused platform was used as an emergency store for around 300 paintings from the National Gallery. During a period of heavy German bombing in 1917 thousands of people sheltered deep underground in Aldwych.
Tube services resumed after the war, but continuing low usage led to the booking office closing in 1922. As a result, small ticket booths were added to the lifts, enabling the operators to issue and collect tickets alongside operating the lifts. This kept staff levels at a minimum to keep costs low.
Aldwych Tube Station During WWII
By the end of the 1930s another war loomed, with longer range aircraft posing an even greater bombing threat. In anticipation of war, the government introduced Air Raid Precaution measures, but these did not include providing deep shelters for civilians. There were fears that if people were encouraged to shelter in the tube they might refuse to return to the surface again!
War broke out in September 1939, but large-scale air attacks on British cities did not begin until a year later. From 1939, the disused eastern platform and tunnel were used by the Victoria & Albert Museum and British Museum to store thousands of valuable artefacts, including the Elgin Marbles. Sheltering in Tube Stations was still officially discouraged, however this didn’t stop Londoners taking matters into their own hands, which eventually led to a change in government policy.
A month into the devastating air raids ithe government announced that Tube Stations would be used as shelters, whilst keeping disruption to the Tube network at a minimum. Aldwych was ideally suited for use a shelter as, being on a branch line, its closure would not impact the rest of the network. In September 1940, the Tube service at Aldwych was suspended and the parts of Aldwych that were not in use to store artefacts were converted into a public air raid shelter. Upon opening, the shelter often became overcrowded as bombing raids shattered the streets of London.
To begin with conditions were unsanitary and basic with no toilet facilities, simply buckets at platform level, due to the lack of water supply or mains drainage. People slept wherever they could find space, often crammed in between the rails. As the war waged on, conditions gradually improved; three tier bunk beds and chemical toilets were installed, and a ticketing system was introduced to control numbers. By 1941 the shelter could accommodate 1500 people, with a canteen, first aid post and a library. Entertainment was provided, including a show featuring George Formby which was broadcast on the BBC. People were effectively living in the station, often working in the day and then retuning to the station at night. A community spirit emerged amongst the residents, and though the station was certainly not comfortable, it became an integral part of thousands of people’s everyday lives.