Step into the Hidden London exhibition at the London Transport Museum, and it’s hard to tell at first if you’re even supposed to be there.
Construction barriers cover parts of the walls, and most of the light comes from work lamps strung up with exposed wires. Dusty tools rest on the floor. Signs are hung with duct tape. This is the Tube as you would never think to see it, and that’s entirely the point.
Hidden London, which is ongoing at the museum’s Global Gallery through next January, shows visitors how abandoned Underground stations have been used in unexpected ways. The exhibit is two levels and takes about an hour to see. It is free with admission.
For instance, there is Aldwych Station, located on the Strand in Westminster and closed in the 1990s. The station has played itself or other Underground stations in more than a dozen films and television shows, including V is for Vendetta and Sherlock.
And up in Haringey, the abandoned tunnels of Highgate station have been turned into a protected bat sanctuary overrun by flying creatures from the nearby wood.
After seeing diagrams and artifacts from abandoned stations, as well as some vintage “horror-on-the-Tube” movie clips, visitors wind down a narrow, rounded staircase to a space that mimics the Undeground’s bomb shelters during the first and second world wars.
Tube stations helped keep Londonders safe during wartime bombings, though in sometimes packed conditions made clear by the images and bunks on display. One original sign warns that shelter-goers must have a ticket; not valid, however, on the trains.
The Undeground had other wartime uses as well. Down Street station, located in Mayfair and shuttered in the 1930s, served as headquarters for the organisation that ran Britain’s railways during the war. Winston Churchill slept there on occasion, too.
And when The Plessey Company’s factory was bombed during the war, the company built a temporary, secret factory in new tunnels at the eastern end of the Central Line. The tunnels housed about 2,000 workers until after the war, when they went into train service.
If there is an overall message of Hidden London, it is that the Underground is vast and constantly changing. Stations in use today may not be needed in a few decades’ time.
The museum even has a pitch to visitors: “What else might these spaces be used for?” a sign near the exit reads. “If you are a budding entrepreneur with a good idea, Transport for London may be keen to hear from you.”
For more information about Hidden London or to book tickets, visit ltmuseum.co.uk.