For many years, I have researched the hidden and disused areas of the London Underground for the novel I am currently writing. I knew that occasionally there were tours to such places, but tickets were very rare. So when these Hidden London tours were announced, I wasted no time in signing up!
Euston Station is one of London’s transport hubs, connecting not just the Victoria Line and both branches of the Northern Line but also London Overground and Network Rail. Every time I walk through it, it feels like it’s been deliberately designed to be a confusing maze. But that’s a result of expansion and evolution over the past century, as we discovered during the tour.
We met the Hidden London tour guides (and were given our trendy high-visibility jackets) at an old station building on the corner of Merton Street and Drummond Street, not far from Euston itself. Here we had a brief slideshow explaining some of its history.
The disused building we were in was once the entrance for one of two rival underground railways were built on either side of the existing mainline Euston station. This is why the Northern Line looks so messy on the map – it is actually bringing together multiple railway routes, all developed by different companies.
On the outside, the old entrance still resembles a classic Tube station with its oxblood-red tiling and arched windows. The inside is a different story. Now it is little more than a crumbling shell dominated by a huge ventilation shaft, with the old stairways to platform level walled off.
The tour then moved inside Euston Station and down to the southbound Northern Line platform. I noticed curious looks from normal, boring, unspecial, non-luminous-clothing-wearing people. These must have been tourists, as native Londoners never spared us a glance, of course.
We were led through one of the mysterious black gates you frequently see at stations, blocking off the areas where the public are not allowed to go. This was directly beside the tunnel mouth through which Tube trains burst into the station.
I couldn’t help but grin with the thrill of being allowed somewhere normally forbidden.
The first set of tunnels we were led through were old crossovers between the two different railways. Although the area was well-lit, the feeling of being somewhere long-since abandoned was enjoyably strong. The blue and cream wall tiles were coated with grime, and the floor was thick with a brown-grey dust.
Trains filled the air with a loud rumble as they passed, bringing frequent strong blasts of wind, but inbetween these the atmosphere became thick with heat. Voice announcements from the platforms had an echoing ring to them, distorted by distance. All of which added to the sense of being ‘behind the scenes’.
An unusual relic from the rival-railways days was the remains of a ticket hall, where passengers had to pay to exchange between lines. This office had windows built into the sides so inspectors could spot people trying to sneak from one railway line to the other without paying!
(You might notice another unusual relic in the picture.)
More modern remnants were the rotting posters on the walls, which advertised films, plays and products from the 1960s, when these passages were closed off. Each was a little time capsule of design work, inviting you to imagine how the derelict hallway was once as bustling and lively as any in the present day.
Seeing ‘certificate X’ film posters also reminded me how scary and unsettling cinema sometimes felt when I was young. It’s hard to imagine a creepier place to see a poster for ‘Psycho’.
The passages were by no means empty, with plenty of ageing equipment piled up at the sides. Even the tour guides didn’t seem sure what most of it was for. Like the disused ‘ghost’ stations, these hollow spaces are now the equivalent of an old garden shed used to store bits and pieces which might, one day, perhaps, possibly come in handy.
The tour continued to one of two disused lift shafts, the other being bricked up. This was a cavernous space stretching 18 metres above our heads, ringed with rusting steel girders.
Once this had housed an elevator to take Tube passengers up to the booking hall for mainline trains. Like much of the abandoned sections of Euston, this was now used solely to allow air to escape to the surface.
In the picture you can see a maintenance ladder which stretched about halfway up the lift shaft, leading to a old exit on platform level. I had visions of clambering up this and popping out of nowhere onto a platform, to startle tourists and be blanked by Londoners.
It was dedicated ventilation tunnels that we explored next. These were the most exciting part of the tour, since they were never designed to be seen by the public.
These shafts had no abandoned junk in them, no signage and no old posters. Walls made of circular ribs of metal were coated with black grime and the dusty floor was uneven.
This led to an open space with a zigzagging walkway, along which we all crowded. Here the noise of the trains was louder, and we soon saw why. At the end of each ‘zig’ and ‘zag’ was a shaft leading down to a grill – beneath which we could clearly see a Victoria Line platform.
It felt great to stand there watching the tops of passengers’ heads as they milled about, and to have a bird’s eye view of Tube trains arriving and pulling out of the station. Perhaps it just appealed to the voyeur in all of us!
It was a surprise to find that over an hour had passed and the tour was effectively over, except for the walk back and opportunities for more photos. (Fortunately I had brought a friend to act as my official photographer while I just gaped at everything.) I felt disappointed that we had seen all that we were allowed to see, and could easily have spent more time under the Underground.
One of the last comments a tour guide made added extra piquancy. London Underground is forever changing with the times. Major new work such as HS2 and Crossrail 2 will have a transformative impact on Euston. The abandoned station building we saw will be demolished, and most of the tunnels we walked through will be either repurposed or replaced.
So this part of Hidden London may soon be gone forever, which makes the experience all the more valuable.
I would have happily gone on this tour just for fun, but also proved inspirational for my novel Under. No matter how much research you do or old photos you examine, there’s nothing like actually walking through history yourself.
It’s just a shame I had to give back my high-vis jacket. How am I meant to do those all-night book signings now?