Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Beneath London Town

by Edwin Hesselthwite

The remains of Brompton Road Tube station, image Copyleft Edwin Hesselthwite.

The London Underground, in all its dishevelled Art Deco glory, often causes people (including us) to wax poetic. The material result is often of extremely variable quality, from Neil Gaiman's superb Neverwhere to the worst and most insipid teenage ramblings (a close third topic amongst London youngsters to watching my girlfriend sleep and the indescribable beauty of a plastic bag in the wind, transcribed in detail across 7 pages). The grandeur of the place attracts those who somewhere, in their deepest heart, think Brandon Lee looked really cool in The Crow. The Underground's glory stems from its status as the worlds first (and therefore least logical) underground train system, and its nature as the essential means of navigating the city.

For those not acquainted with its history and intricacies, the LU was built by private money, using numerous technologies from cut-and-cover for the Circle line to complex insulation for those that pass beneath the Thames. The current integrated system is a massive kludge, and as a result of this there are numerous historical and incomprehensible features (it also will always annoy people by closing overnight, and remains inaccessible to wheelchairs). One of the most notable effects of this is the significant number of abandoned tube stations (here for a detailed history with photographs, here for the easier Wikipedia form) .

Its a topic with scope, to know that the city has a network of abandoned tunnels, that you can glimpse out of the train as it passes (British Museum is the most notable of these, still visible underground despite being demolished above), and those still present above with the red brick exteriors still recognisable in some form. The most famous abandoned stations are Aldwych (because it is still completely intact and used for filming), Down Street because it was used as a base for War Cabinet meetings and the Railway Executive during the Second World War (a story that was used as the basis for the extremely average movie Creep), and British Museum because if you have fantasies that any of them are haunted thats the one to obsess over.

This is the nature of London, continuous occupation and invention for 2000 years means that nothing, whatsoever, makes any sense without context. So, in the spirit of contingency, I give you a couple of photographs of some of the most intact disused tube stations, it took a pleasant Sunday afternoon urban stroll to acquire them.

One final note, in writing this article I came upon this site: Subterranea Britannica. An archive of underground Britain, fascinating.

Down Street Tube station, infuriatingly covered in scaffolding, Copyleft Charles Pooter

1 comment:

Bwca said...

Some of the people you might see travelling on the London Underground are probably Australians on their first day in that city.
They might have just chosen a safe looking person
(wearing genuine leopardskin coat)
to ask directions of, and found that she too was Australian, and heard her surprise at their immediate use of the system.
She told me she had been in London 6 months before she worked up the courage to travel on it.

It was 1976, and wonder if she has been mugged for that coat yet.
"the Journey is the Destination"