Learning about the history of a place is what really tickles my travelling taste buds. So when Justin from 48houradventure.com invited me along to one of the events setup to mark the 70th Anniversary of the London Blitz I jumped at the chance.
At the now closed Aldwych Tube Station the London Transport Museum re-created what it was like for people during the blitz. With actors setup in the old tube carriages and some noise for added effect they described what is was like for so many people who literally lived on the Underground during the bombings.
There was the guy who would peddle his goods to the people never missing a beat to make a buck, the woman who was to spend her first night in the underground and the Red Cross attendant who helped to direct the people and give what food and drink they could manage.
To learn that well over 100,000 Londoners called the tubes home at night was a mind-boggling number to try to comprehend. Then for them to go on and describe how the people would sleep end to end huddled together with minimal bedding on the platforms and tracks while the bombs rained down above, well it must have been one of the most frightening experiences to ever go through.
Aldwych Station was one of the few tube stops proposed as a suitable shelter early in the war as it could be closed without affecting the rest of the underground network. This also made it a suitable place for deep storage by the British Museum where they kept thousands of valuable artworks including the Elgin Marbles and Parthenon sculptures. Even some 15 years after the war the storage shelter was still a quarter full with the museums possessions.
The added bonus to this tour was that we actually got to enter the closed station. While it has been opened to allow TV shows and films crews to film in the past, it’s only other use is as a training ground by the undergrounds emergency response unit. The station cannot be opened for regular public tours because of safety concerns as the lifts no longer work leaving the stairs as the only way in and out of the lower levels.
This rare sneak peek into London’s history was so much more rewarding than the usually high trafficked main attractions. I left the tour knowing I’d seen something so many people walking past the old station will never get to see and I think there is something rather special about that.
Have you been on a special tour like that before or found another hidden treasure in your travels that was only open for a limited time. If so I’d love for you to share it in the comments below.