Terrific tunnels: discover the delights of subterranean London


As one of the world’s leading cities in so many different ways, London’s famed for its mind-boggling array of different attractions, facets and curiosities. Among these are its rich transport culture – the epitome of which is the London Underground (or Tube), the first subterranean urban rail network anywhere in the world – and the plethora of tunnels beneath its surface (some notoriously rumoured; others well known). And now, for visitors to the UK capital, it’s possible to combine these two interests thanks to the Transport for London body’s (TfL) ‘Hidden London’ programme of tours.

These tours, run by the London Transport Museum and held throughout the summer and autumn (and some next year too), offer members of the general public an all-too-rare chance to check out the fascinating and presently unused Underground spaces that TfL owns. “Our visitors will have a rare opportunity to see a secret side of London and discover the amazing stories of the people who are connected to these hidden spaces,”Chris Nix, assistant director of collections at London Transport Museum, has said in promoting the programme.

So what tours are available and just what ‘hidden’ treasures of London can you discover on them…?

Euston tunnels
Of the annual 42 million people who pass through this major mainline station (which connects the capital with much of the north of the country), very few would think there are intriguing tunnels beneath it that barely anybody’s experienced in decades, let alone that they ought to visit them. But why shouldn’t they? For those interested in and curious about the London Underground, then a trip down this veritable labyrinth of dark and deserted passageways is surely a must – especially if they’re staying nearby in the Euston, King’s Cross or City areas;at, say,accommodation Chiswell Street London City. And not least because it now features a gallery of poster fragments – a unique and eclectic collection of retro advertising art – which dates back from more than half a century ago. The tour runs from Thursdays to Sundays between May 26th and June 19th and from September 22nd to October 30th.

Clapham South Shelter
One of eight subterranean spaces used as a public shelter during the WWII Blitz on London, this mile-long tunnel also housed for a few short nights Caribbean migrants who came to the UK – and specifically – to the capital on the SS Windrush ship in 1948, as well as visitors to the Festival of Britain three years later who didn’t have a place to stay. Visitors can retrace the steps of the desperate, displaced and, indeed, tourists of previous times, as the TfL ‘Hidden London’ tours of this space take place between Wednesdays and Sundays from July 14th-August 21st and on the same days next year from March 2nd-26th.

Down Street
For genned-up tourists to the UK capital, the terrific Cabinet War Rooms are a well-known attraction, being the fascinating refuge for Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill – and, yes, his Cabinet – during the bombing of London in the early 1940s. But what’s far less known is that that underground base beneath Westminster’s Horse Guards Parade wasn’t Churchill and co.’s first during the Second World War. That honour goes to the tunnels underneath Mayfair’s Down Street in which, for a short time before the Cabinet War Rooms were up and running, made for something of a makeshift Government HQ.

A bombproof bunker below the stretch of the city between Green Park and Hyde Park Tube stations, it made use of the tunnels associated with Down Street station, which had closed a few years before war broke out due to low passenger numbers, and so was converted into what was officially known as the Railway Executive Committee’s bunker. During the early days of the war when it was frequented by Churchill, he was spoilt with 1928 Perrier-Jouet champagne, Cuban cigars and brandy – one assumes none of which was rationed! Tours of the bunker site will take place between August 4th and September 11th, then in the autumn between November 24th and December 18th and next year between January 11th and March 5th.

55 Broadway
Often referred to as London’s first ‘skyscraper’, 55 Broadway in the St. James’s area of London is a 14-storey-tall Art Deco treasure that opened in 1929 as the headquarters for the London Underground network. With its majestic, almost austere but highly charismatic appearance, the Grade I-Listed building’s exterior is a must-see for travel enthusiasts and, inside, offers impressive meeting rooms and a spectacular view of the city from the top floor. So, what better companion piece to the subterranean tours of the Tube-related tunnels mentioned above than a tour of this legendary grey-stone icon? Ninety-minutes long, tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays this year (specifically, on July 2nd and 3rd, August 13th and 14th, October 8th and 9th, November 19th and 20th and December 3rd and 4th).