Down Street tube station sits astride the Piccadilly line midway between Green Park station and Hyde Park Corner station. No trains stop there anymore, they just rumble past at full speed.
The Leslie Green designed station was opened in 1907, three months after the Piccadilly line saw its first traffic, but Down Street station closed permanently in 1932. Today, guided by Matt from the London Transport Museum, I descended into the depths of the station to learn a bit about its history. Obviously, to ensure I had a proper understanding of abandoned tube stations, I commenced my research by watching Creep (2004). Nothing like that really happened. Maybe I should have checked Cloverfield (2008) for a more realistic introduction.
We entered through the door marked ‘Keep clear – emergency escape route’
and immediately began to descend the 122 step spiral stairway. Part way down we paused to acknowledge a fire door through which we would later emerge.
In 1938, with Britain on the brink of war, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) was formed to coordinate the then four main railway companies in the event of war. They needed somewhere safe, close to Westminster, to meet and they chose the relatively bomb-proof, abandoned, Down Street Station.
My tour reached platform level at the bottom of the spiral stairway, 22 metres down from street level. This must be the dustiest place I’ve ever been. Black dust. I thought ‘brake dust’ from the trains but apparently, mostly it’s 100 years of human skin cells, never been swept up. Eeugh! We rounded a 90 degree bend and a tunnel opened up before us.
There’s a passage off to the left which leads to the bathrooms. Delightful.
Stairs go upward in complete darkness then we emerged from that fire door we saw on the way in. Back down the spiral stairs, through what was once a typing pool, then through the area where the REC executives would have had their meetings. This would also have been the venue for more than forty meetings attended by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill slept on site here when the blitz was at its height, on a camp bed, in the conference room. All the while we can hear trains rushing past at full tilt. Down a dozen more steps and we’re on the platform. There is still thick black dust everywhere.
Efforts made to soundproof the various rooms we visited seem pretty ineffective to me. All conversation had to cease (and lights out) whenever a train approached, which was every couple of minutes. We visited dormitories, an operations control room, a copier room with three hand-cranked Gestetner duplicators (photo of some dude off his face, been breathing the fumes), the shell of a kitchen that once served 40,000 meals a year and a telecommunications room (then and now pictures below).
All the while, trains were noisily rushing by at full speed on either side of us but nothing stopped.
This has not always been the case. At the end of their working day, REC executives could hail any passing train, just like we might hail a taxi at street level.
It all hinged on that lantern on the right of the photo above. When the executive was ready to leave he’d turn on the red light and the next train along would stop and pick him up. The driver would let him travel up front, other passengers being totally unaware.
Our final stop was this cavernous shaft, capped off at the top with a plug of concrete over a metre thick to protect Down Street and its occupants from German bombing.
Before leaving, Matt pointed out one of the many mysteries of Down Street station. This letter G. Nobody knows its purpose, though apparently there is a similar F at Aldgate?
Back at street level, a couple of points to note. 23 Down Street was luxury apartments where the REC executives went for a bit of rest and recreation. Caviar, champagne and brandy (not rationed) were served here.
Down Street is the only tube station with its own Mews. Here were stationed four motorcycle couriers, including Jill Horscroft, pictured above. Their role was to distribute typed instructions arising from the decisions of the REC to stations and stationmasters around London.
I have nothing but praise for Matt and the Hidden London team who made my visit possible. There is far more to tell than I have recounted above. You have to be there to experience the trains rumbling past at full speed. Only by a personal visit can you truly appreciate how much black dust there was.