The history of the disused London Underground station Aldwych.
I have always been fascinated with derelict and abandoned places since I was a child. It was probably the result of reading too many Enid Blyton books and dreaming of being an explorer. Growing up in London, I have seen a few stations renamed or cease to exist over the years – such as the King’s Cross Thameslink station where I used to pass through on my way to work in the early Noughties or the Jubilee line platforms at Charing Cross. I had read about the disused underground station Aldwych online – and passed the familiar red tilework of its former entrance on The Strand many times and found there were rare opportunities to actually visit it.
After ages of keeping my eyes peeled for a potential chance to visit, the London Transport Museum occasionally opens the doors for its Hidden London tours of Aldwych for a limited time only so a friend and I jumped at the chance to go. The one hour tour was arranged by the London Transport Museum with volunteers generously providing their time to share their knowledge of the history of the Grade II-listed building.
Finding out the history of Aldwych – a station just a stone’s throw away from Temple – could easily make you question why it was even opened in the first place. Owners knew it wouldn’t be a busy station and despite building three lift shafts – which could hold six lifts – only one was ever used. It was the lifts which prompted the final closure of the station in 1994 because the expense of fixing them could not be justified for such a lightly used station.
Aldwych station was originally conceived as the southern terminus for a new underground railway line owned by Great Northern and Strand Railway in the late 1800s. However when the tube project merged with another – becoming the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway – the Piccadilly line was born, with Strand station – as it was known in the early parts of its life – becoming a branch off the main line.
After the demolition of the Royal Strand Theatre on the site, construction of The Strand station started in October 1905 and was opened in November 1907. The design followed that of architect Leslie Green‘s standard station design – distinct dark red glazed brick on street level, with platform walls tiled in cream and green. Above the entrance, featured arched windows with office space. Green also designed Oxford Circus, Elephant & Castle and Leicester Square stations, among others. Strand station was a L shaped building with entrances and exits on The Strand and Surrey Street – which can still be seen today.
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I love a good pop-up restaurant or cafe and am a fan of retro interiors, so I was excited when Canteen and London Transport teamed up to create a 1950s-themed canteen for this year’s London Design Festival. TFL delved into their archives of photos of the staff canteen which used to fuel the bus and tube staff back in the 1950s, to recreate a contemporary vision of their former catering division.
The Canteen pop-up was located in Design Junction – one of the main venues of this year’s London Design Festival. The huge space within the Old Sorting Office in New Oxford Street was transformed into several levels of design celebration – mini showrooms, a cinema and pop-up bars and restaurant.
Like a staff canteen, we got in a small queue to choose our food and drink from the menus on the wall, against a backdrop of the familiar London Transport symbol. As it was lunchtime, we opted for the traditional British dish of pie and mash with gravy with a cup of Rosie Lee (slang for tea to those who might not know!). I loved the novelty of getting the food on a tray and trying to find a seat.
The seats in question were vintage patterned benches and lovely curved wooden chairs from furniture brands Very Good & Proper and Modus. As we sat down and tucked into what I would describe as tasty, comfort food, our scenery was old photos of transport workers tucking into their lunch on the wall. I was fairly peckish, so after my pie and mash, I ended up ordering fresh, hot scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam – yum!
All in all, the service was fast and friendly, the food was good value and tasty and the interior was cool… I just wish it was permanent. But isn’t that what makes pop-up venues so special?
After our leisurely lunch – fortunately as we weren’t actually TFL workers on a break, there was no clock-watching or work to rush back to – we checked out the displays and showcases on the three levels at Design Junction. Lots of treats for the eye and inspiration for the home.
- London Transport pop-up Canteen is open from now until Sunday 23rd September 2012 at Design Junction, 21-31 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BA. Nearest tube: Holborn (Piccadilly and Central line).