No doubt about it: there’s something spooky about the London Underground. From classic Doctor Who to An American Werewolf in London and the as-yet unaired series 3 opener of Sherlock, the Tube has featured as a backdrop to all sorts of spectacular and unnerving adventures. As the world’s first underground rail network, it has managed in the last 150 years to etch itself indelibly into the British psyche – a separate world running just underneath our own where seemingly anything can happen.
Perhaps nowhere typifies this sense of intangible possibility more than the abandoned stations. Silent, hidden and deeply spooky, they lurk out of sight around corners, below thrumming lines and behind steel doors. Out of sight and out of mind, they nonetheless exert an almost subconscious pull on visitors, thrilled by the peculiar creepiness of an empty platform. If you’re ever looking for a quick thrill in central London, be sure to check out these silent ghost stations:
Neglected, unloved and fairly useless even in its own lifetime, Down Street opened its gates in 1907, only to promptly close them again in 1932 for lack of use. Situated between Green Park and Hyde Park on the Piccadilly line, it was intended to give the wealthy citizens of Mayfair easy access to the sprawling tube network – until someone realised that the Inter-War rich were exceptionally disdainful of travelling underground. When Down Street shut in the early thirties it was already in a state bordering on disuse. Today, the redbrick facade still stands – a curious utilitarian structure nestled among expensive hotels. In death, however, the station did attain some prominence: during the dark days of the Blitz, its sunken empty tunnels were home to Winston Churchill’s war cabinet.
The history of Embankment Station is long, torturous and would probably take up more space than it’s worth. Over the course of many years, a silly number of stations were all opened next to each other, only to be later combined when the tube was nationalised to create Embankment and Charing Cross. But this elimination of unwanted stations didn’t extend to filling up the old tunnels. Today, a few fragments of the interchange between Embankment and Charing Cross survive in the form of winding tunnels and stark concrete spaces. Access is difficult and strenuously discouraged, but the few intrepid explorers who have made their way inside have brought back some bleakly beautiful pictures of this interchange all but forgotten by time.
Holborn’s Aldwych Platform
In 1994, TFL closed the door on one of London’s oldest and most-useless platforms: the Aldwych branch line at Holborn. For the best part of a century, an irregular shuttle service had ferried passengers between the two stations, despite them being within easy walking distance. It wasn’t until the nineties rolled round that TFL finally axed both the line and the useless station, gifting Holborn an empty platform that continues to intrigue people to this day. Part of this fascination comes from the station’s original policy of using grilled doors to close off the platform, allowing passengers to peek in on their way to work and marvel at the haunting emptiness – a tendency TFL capitalised upon by selling advertising space on the officially defunct line. Since the middle of the last decade though, the Aldwych line has been completely shut off. Now it’s the archetypal empty station: desolate, silent and with a heavy, apocalyptic atmosphere.
Little remains today of Mark Lane Station. Opened in 1884, it ran right through until 1967, when nearby Tower Hill was opened to deal with the overwhelming number of commuters. Unlike some old stations that still retain their tiling and posters, Mark Lane was completely stripped down following closure: its tunnels reduced to cold concrete cellars. Nearly half a century of redevelopment later, most of the interesting bits have been hacked off, re-appropriated or demolished to make way for new incoming lines. But a few fragments still exist, deep underground: old staircases, a section of line and some broken platform. Above ground, it’s a different story. Only a gated off section of a pedestrian subway marks where Mark Lane once stood, serving passengers for 80 years.
South Kentish Town
South Kentish Town had barely opened before it shut its doors again: victim of almost chronic under-use. Constructed in 1907, it temporarily shut down in 1924 following a strike, then simply never opened again – festering deep underground right up to the present day. These days it’s strictly off-limits, and as it forms part of an active maintenance tunnel for TFL employees getting inside undetected is virtually impossible. However, a few explorers have managed it, bringing back pictures of a vast station as gloomy as it is empty. Up on the surface the original entrance still stands: a squat, red building that now houses an off licence, curiously out of place below the high station windows. The whole place has a sort of mournful air, though the feeling of inaccessibility gives those few photos of the inside an almost mystical quality, like some rare gem.
To a pedestrian walking through Whitechapel, nothing remains to indicate where St Mary’s Station once stood. Flattened by a German bomb during WWII, while people cowered on the disused platforms below, the remains of the building were broken down and carted off in the ’40s, leaving no trace of the former entrance. Below the Earth though, it’s a different story. Closed down in 1938 and largely bricked up during the Blitz, St Mary’s nonetheless survives – a collection of grim, graffiti-encrusted corridors and tracks leading nowhere. In the 70-odd years since its abandonment, TFL have routinely repurposed various bits of the line, leaving very little to mark the resting place of this old East End station. What does remain is cold and bleak and difficult to access. However, a tiny portion still remains visible to those travelling on the District Line: an old connecting line known as St Mary’s Curve can just about be glimpsed when arriving at Aldgate station from the Western side.
Situated in a desolate industrial area mere minutes from Kings Cross, a squat red block building hidden by steel fencing marks where York Road Station once stood – operating an infrequent service for 26 years before it finally closed in 1932. Of all the missing stations of the London tube, this is one of the most-complete. Below the surface stairwells, lift shafts, platforms, lines and even toilet cubicles still remain in relatively good condition – in part due to a 2005 plan to reopen the station as part of the vast Kings Cross refurbishment. In the end the idea was abandoned and York Road left to gather dust and cobwebs, piling on top of the eight decades of neglect already suffocating every surface.
The archetypal ‘ghost’ station, Aldwych is now so regularly open for tourists that it’s in danger of losing its ‘abandoned’ status. Long-favoured by film and TV companies thanks to its tendency to close at weekends, the station has since become London’s default place to film tube scenes – cropping up in V for Vendetta, 28 Weeks Later and Atonement. With an intact platform, plenty of spare track for wandering along and slices of 1990s London still decorating the recesses of its tunnels, Aldwych feels at times like somewhere that was abandoned in a rush only minutes beforehand. You half-expect to come across a half-eaten sandwich and a still-warm cup of tea left behind as hundreds of commuters fled some unseen horror. Today, the whole pile is an iconic Grade II listed building, a far-cry from the unloved wreck that seemingly shut its doors for good in 1994.
If you wanted to set a horror movie in a tube station, you could do worse than the old stop servicing the British Museum. Unlovely and unloved, this desolate concrete crypt closed down in 1933 and has since been comprehensively gutted. The platforms are gone, tunnels have been sealed up and grime-encrusted stairways now lead nowhere at all. In fact, these few shattered remains feel less like parts of a disused station and more like ghostly memories of some forgotten time – closed off, shrouded in darkness and quietly depressing. So far from the surface or any operating station that light rarely creeps in, the air has a feeling of industrial grease and grime that’s both frighteningly atmospheric and just plain grim. Difficult to get to and off the itineraries of all but the most intrepid explorers, British Museum is a ghoulish, unpleasant stop on any tour of London’s vanished stations.
If you’re reading this a year or two after publication, you can skip Brompton Road. As of August 2013, the station has been at the centre of a protracted bidding war for redevelopment rights – allegedly involving everyone from Qatari Princes to mysterious Ukrainian billionaires. Closed in 1934, except for a short period when it may have served as an interrogation room/prison for Nazi would-be peacemaker Rudolf Hess, the station is currently in remarkable condition. Tiling still decorates the walls and old wartime maps remained pinned up with anti-aircraft gun positions scrawled across them; a historic curiosity now but valuable information some 70 years ago. As of writing, it remains to be seen what will become of the station – with rumours suggesting everything from a new nightclub to a tourist museum (presumably focusing on the Second World War).
Another station with only a limited lifespan, City Road was opened in 1901 and swiftly shut down again in 1924 when it became apparent no-one was using it. Since the 1960s, very little has remained to mark where the station once stood – and the underground sections have fallen into a sort of morose disrepair that manages to completely bypass romanticism and go straight to ‘gloomy’. The tunnels and platforms are largely shattered and lifeless and only a few winding ramps and unstable stairwells indicate that this was ever anything other than a mysteriously hidden wasteland. Not particularly hard to get to, City Road pulls down its fair share of illicit visitors each year – but with stations like York Road still in fairly good lick, it’s hard to imagine why anyone might bother.
King William Street
King William Street may well be shortest-lived and most-venerable station on this list. Opened in 1890 as the Northern terminus of fabled City and South London railway – the world’s first electric underground line – it was swiftly decommissioned in 1900 when the popularity of the line convinced its owners to undertake massive expansion. With a long passageway wandering underneath the Thames to London Bridge (now closed off), the station was a masterpiece of late-Victorian engineering; evidence of which can still be seen in the few remaining accessible tunnels. It’s now one of the most-famous disused stations in all of London, not to mention the longest-abandoned of them all.
Charing Cross (Jubilee Line Platforms)
Hidden behind a pair of vast steel doors, unsuspected by the thousands of commuters who stream through the station every day, a whole extra section of Charing Cross lurks patiently beneath the streets. Between 1979 and 1999, the two additional platforms served the Jubilee line – both of which now remain in almost frighteningly good condition. Posters are still up, tiling remains on the walls, seats are still bolted into the platform and the tunnels run on and on as if waiting for the trains to return at any day. Even now the empty platforms see the occasional bit of use: Javier Bardem’s underground escape in Skyfall was filmed here, mere metres away from the blissfully ignorant rushing crowds.