The vibrant and cosmopolitan city of London is easily navigated by use of the Underground railway. But how many of us, as we use the Tube, are aware of the hidden world of which we are briefly a swiftly hurtling part?
A whole world lies beneath London; a world of ghost stations, old sewers, and disused shelters. Only the most intrepid urban explorers have braved its depths to report back on the hidden world of engineering feats and interesting historical artefacts that lie beneath our feet.
Down there, human beings have created a new environment, a labyrinth of tunnels to control water flow, and conduits for power and other utilities. There are places of utility, and places of safety – the common factor is humanity, and our constant battle to hold back the forces of nature.
We have even corralled whole rivers to create the ever-changing city above. The river Tyburn is one of many London rivers forced down a series of culverts and sewers for the entire length of its course to the Thames.
One hidden space is the Kingsway telephone exchange, built as an air-raid shelter in World War II, and was once Britain’s deepest telephone exchange. It used to be a state secret, and is now once more all but unknown – practically forgotten in the darkness. Sadly, it is not open for visitors, merely for rule-breakers who have been given the secret to accessing its location. It is shocking that this important piece of British history cannot be accessed by the general public. It is, indeed, a question for serious discussion – many feel that the inhabitants of London should be able to reclaim these lost spaces, and the many other tunnels and underground spaces, many of which are not even on the map.
More well-known, but equally inaccessible by tourists are the many ghost Tube stations, some of which have fallen into disuse, some of which were never actually used in the first place. Their fascinating history is mostly hidden from view.
King William Street, for example, was used from 1890 to 1900. It was the terminus of the City & South London Railway – the world’s first electric underground railway. The route proved extremely popular, and this station was just too small to accommodate the numbers of passengers.
A large number of track sections and service tunnels exist around this old station, some sections of which are a time-capsule, with posters and other notices left from the time of the Second World War.
Another fascinating slice of railway history is the ‘Mail Rail’, which the post office used to move mail between the sorting offices. It ran for 6.5 miles, and had eight stations. The whole thing has lain unused since 2003. Thank goodness, this will eventually be open to the public as a tourist attraction – the museum and railway are expected to open in the next five years.
A slice of underground history that is, fortunately, now accessible to the public is ‘Churchill’s War Rooms’. This warren of underground rooms was the secret headquarters of the government throughout the Second World War. Hundreds of men and women worked down here, in the vital business of running the country, and co-ordinating the war effort. You can imagine what it was like for them as you explore the maze of rooms beneath Whitehall. The Map Room, centre of operations, is still preserved exactly as it was at the end of the War.
So, from the hidden to the celebrated, it is fascinating to think about the hidden world of London’s underground.
Content Courtesy- www.traveleze.co.uk