No return to the Aldwych
Deep in the heart of London lies a Tube station for ghost trains only. Simon Calder visits a film set and tourist attraction
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 05 February 1997
Sadly, the last train ran from the station on 30 September 1994. Since then, the elegant 90-year-old station has been through a series of transformations. Whenever a film company wants a location for an underground sequence, it is directed to the platforms and tunnels 100 feet below the Strand in central London. The video for the current Suede hit, "Saturday Night", was shot here, though the signs read Holborn, half-a-mile along the tunnel.
As you discover on the excellent London Transport tour of the station, its original name was Strand - you can just make out the sign above the elegant terracotta portal. In the idealistic days at the turn of the century, Strand was intended to be the terminus for trains from the northern suburbs. But then an American entrepreneur bought up the rights granted by Parliament for the as-yet-unbuilt Great Northern & Strand and Piccadilly & Brompton lines. He realised that joining them was the way to make a fortune. So when Strand opened in 1907, it was already stranded at the end of a branch line from the mighty Piccadilly. The first train set the tone for most of the next century: it carried no passengers.
The station enjoyed a flash of glamour in 1908, when the odd post-theatre express ran non-stop to Finsbury Park. In 1915 the name changed to the geographically correct one of Aldwych, while the station settled into life as a WC2 backwater, whose main customers were BBC World Service staff commuting to Bush House across the road.
Ambitious plans to connect Aldwych with Waterloo were abandoned, though, with the hindsight so common in British transport policy, it would have provided a valuable link with the Eurostar train terminal. Similarly, the Jubilee Line was once intended to serve Aldwych, but the route was diverted south of the Thames.
Finally, as part of the cuts that saw Ongar and North Weald vanish from the Tube map (apart from the Let's Go version), Aldwych was abolished. Fortunately for visitors keen to explore hidden London, it occasionally opens for tours organised by the London Transport Museum. The next opportunity is a week on Sunday, 16 February, but bookings are heavy. Aldwych is much more of a success as a tourist trap than it ever was as a Tube station
To book the Aldwych tour, which starts at 12.30pm and 2.30pm and lasts around 90 minutes, call the London Transport Museum on 0171-379 6344 and ask for Marketing. Tickets cost pounds 7.50 for adults, pounds 5 concessions.
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