Down the Tube – Secrets of the London Underground

The London Underground is one of the oldest in the world. The oldest parts recently celebrated their 150th birthday. And whilst it might not be able to compete with the modern, high-tech networks in some other cities, it surely has its very own charm and identity.

No it does not run 24/7… apart from New Years Even. Although some lines have started a night tube service on weekends.

Yes it lacks air-conditioning on most of the lines (and only works half of the time on those chosen few)

No it does not come cheap, compared to some others.

But it is still one of the quickest ways to get from A to B when in London. And we do love it, even if we complain about it (we are Brits, that’s what we do).

If you are a tourist in this city, chances are you will use it a lot and completely rely on it.

So let me introduce some tube trivia and secrets of the underground to keep you entertained and busy during those rides.

Ghost stations

Over the years the tube network has changed and evolved. Station entrances have moved or were closed, lines have disappeared, others were added or extended.

What this leaves you with it is a mishmash of old, not so old and new.

Every now and then you will come past a disused tube station, called a ghost station (in fact, there are 49 of those dotted around London). Sometimes you need to know they are there to see them, others are quite obvious.

If you travel on the Piccadilly Line, you come across 2 such ghost stations, York Road between Kings Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road (this also explain the unusually long distance between the two stations) and Down Street between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner.

The platforms are still there, however they were bricked off when the stations were taken off the grid.

So pay attention next time you are passing. Look out of the window and you might see the brick walls.

When walking along the south side of Aldwych, you will come across an old station building with its distinct red glazed brick facade and the station name ‘Strand Station’ and ‘Piccadilly Railway’ still visible on the facade. This station has been closed for over 20 years now and used to be part of the Piccadilly Line, although not actually part the current route. It was a separate shuttle route from Holborn down to Aldwych. Despite its name still standing proud on the facade, for most of its life the station was actually called Aldwych, not Strand (it probably didn’t help that there used to be two different Strand stations, the second one nowadays being part of the Charing Cross underground station).

To this day the station is still operational and regularly used for filming (as it can be used without interfering with the normal tube service).

If you change for the Piccadilly Line at Holborn, you can still make out the entrance to the old platforms. Go up the stairs to the Eastbound platform, but before turning right to access the platform, look straight on and examine the wall closely. Can you see it? Exactly. What looks like a wall at first glance is in fact a doorway, hiding the tunnel to the unused set of platforms.

During Open House weekend you might get a chance to visit the foyer of Aldwych Station, however access to the platforms is unfortunately not granted.

Split personalities

I have already pointed out ‘Strand Station’, which in fact was called ‘Aldwych’ for most of its life. But this is not the only station with a ‘split personality’. Over the years several stations changed name, with references to the original name still visible today.

Take Arsenal. Named after the nearby football club and stadium. However it originally opened as ‘Gillespie Road’, its former name still written on the wall (as part of the original tiling) at platform level.

Old roundels

I think it’s safe to assume we are all familiar with the Tube roundel in its present form, probably one of the most iconic transport logos out there. But over the years and decades this has evolved quite a bit. So as you travel through the network, you might notice a few roundels that look a little different. It is fun paying attention and noticing those hints from the past.

Check out the one on platform level at Caledonian Road or the one outside Charing Cross station.

Covent Garden station still has an old roundel with an all red disk rather than the red circle and white disk.

And at Maida Vaile station you will find a beautiful mosaic roundel.

Tube Trivia

  • Angel station has the longest escalator anywhere on the network.
  • The shortest tube journey is on the Piccadilly Line between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. Less than 300m (and to be honest, it takes longer to get in and out than it does to just walk the few meters down the road).
  • The one between Charing Cross and Embankment probably a close second.
  • Less than half the Underground is in fact under ground.
  • The Circle Line no longer runs the full circle. You will have to change at Edgware Road.
  • If you decide to actually walk any of the stairs at deep-level stations count the steps… chances are the signs are wrong.

So tell me your stories about the Tube. What weird and wonderful things have you discovered? Which is your favourite station? 

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  1. Andi Saunders

    Arrived at Russell Square today but resisted the overwhelming temptation to count & climb the 175 stairs as stated on the signage ?