Sunday 24 February 2019 – Euston Station London.
Wow. That was a pretty cool day!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this was definitely better than I expected. It was also what I needed to get out of a fairly long photographic malaise. I haven’t been wanting to go out just with the intent of taking photos for months, so paying for an expensive event was a good motivator to get out.
I am not sure how often London Museum/Hidden London run this photographic event, but if you are interested in seeing a very small and normally unseen part of London’s history, have an interest in photography and a good tripod; this event, while not cheap, is very worth investigating. Hidden London run a number of tours into disused London Underground stations, most of these are very busy and are not specialist photography tours. This tour is different, focused on photography, with a maximum of eight people, split into four groups of two and across four zones s no-one gets in anyones way. The visit allows for two hours underground, though I would have liked at least one more.
Steve and I met outside Euston station and were joined by the other six members of the group along with three staff from Hidden London. Our bags were searched (I guess for hidden bombs) and we donned hi-viz jackets; promptly covering them in camera and tripod bags. We were escorted into the station, through the ticket barriers, down to the Victoria Line platform, and then through one of those locked doors that you see every day and sometimes wonder what lurks behind.
This door took us to a short set of up steps that used to be the end of the platform, and back to the 1960s…
Once inside and the door closed to the normal people we were given a quick safety briefing and then a history of the tunnels, what we were about to see and a quick look at the four locations we would shoot in.
The mainline station at Euston was served by two underground lines. The first stage of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway opened in 1907, and The City and South London Railway, running from Stockwell to the city, was extended north to Euston in the same year.
The two lines, from competing companies, were separate and had stations on either side of Euston mainline station. However, they did agree to building an interconnecting passageway that contained a ticket hall and lifts to the mainline station platform.
The two above ground station buildings for those underground lines were closed in September 1914 after the two railways were taken under the ownership of the Underground Electric Railways of London, though the lifts and the tunnels remained in place. Eventually these two lines turned into the two branches of the Northern Line. Eventually the interconnecting tunnels were closed in 1967 when the Victoria Line was opened.
One of the key attractions for the tours is that tunnel walls are still liberally adorned with posters from the weeks and months before closure. Mostly they are badly damaged, though some are in remarkably good condition given they have been stuck to walls for over 50 years
After the brief history lesson on what we were seeing we were split into four groups of two, Steve and I pairing up. We were given a guide to ensure nothing untoward happened, and I guess to make sure we didn’t scarper into the tunnels for further exploration, though it was tempting…
We were allowed 20 minutes in each of the four zones, there was enough room for two people to take photos without getting in each other’s way. Steve and I have shot together before so know how we work. We are quite different in style and method, which is even better.
Our first 20 minutes was spent in a section with a number of posters as well as one of the old lift shafts. With the advent of the Victoria Line the lift shafts and old tunnels are part of the air conditioning system for the Victoria and Northern Lines. Nothing was wasted. My attempts are capturing the lift shaft failed, for some reason I did not think to bring a flash… I did have a tripod, though shooting vertically was quite difficult.
There were a few old posters here, but none of them were in particularly good condition. Though tatty and old is good.
The airconditioning is all quite modern, and I was surprised at how small the units were, probably explains why the Victoria Line is so hot in summer !
A lot of the old tile work in these stations is from Leslie Green, the man pretty much responsible for all the design and tiling in 50 stations built between 1903 and 1907. His work is iconic, and glorious and you always know when you are in one of his stations.
Section two was also comprised of two shooting areas, the first along one of the vast air venting tunnels. There is nothing pretty in this dark section, just dirt, dust and rusty pipes. It is very dirty here – we were warned before coming to not be wearing our finest. The plates making up the air conditioning ducts are all stamped with their details, size, bolt holes, batch and date manufactured. This one is from 1965. I love that sort of detail!
The second part of this section allowed us to peer down into the Victoria Line and the tops of the trains as they passed. It had been surprisingly quiet so far, but coming through the vents was the sound of a busker playing a bouzouki or similar instrument, it was eerie and appropriate. I have never noticed the vents before, and have yet to see them now I know they are there. I am not entirely sure how they can be some invisible, they are hardly small. It was quite fun watching people move on and off the trains, and seeing the trains whizz by underneath.
Section three was the main passenger link between the platforms of the two lines. It also contained the lovely tiled ticket office, which I managed to take a very poor photo of as I ran out of time due to there being so much to see.
Strangely none of the posters had a year on them, even the ones with dates.
This is my favourite of the posters.
Section four was the most one most used by those who work on our tube system while we sleep. There are stacks of tools, and large metal components, brooms and a bunch of stuff that I did not recognise at all.
There were a number of posters here, a lot had been ripped and damaged over the years and it was really interesting to see the layer on layer on layer of paper that had accrued over the years. Though the famous Psycho poster is still there 🙂
I had a bit of a play with some long exposures at the far end of the tunnel. It was quite dark here so perfect for attempting some ghostly walking, though I ran out of time to get anything I really liked.
Far too soon the visit was over and we had to down cameras, pack bags and head back above ground. I really could have done with another hour or two, and to have been able to explore a little further…..
It was a fabulous experience, and one I would highly recommend. Do the photo tour rather than the general one as you get to take a tripod and spend some proper time.
Thanks Steve for organising, and Hidden London and London Transport Museum for making it available!