11 Abandoned Tube Stations And The Fascinating Stories Behind Them
I think it’s clear from the sheer number of articles we’ve written about it that we’re quite fascinated with the Tube. How could you not, when there are doggos, dancers, trouserless riders, and even ghosts on the line? (We’ll ignore the strikes, delays, heat, and smells for now.) However, not every part of the Tube is equally successful, which is why some of the older bits of the network have fallen into disuse and ruin – giving rise to some downright spooky abandoned Tube stations.
Some were showing their advancing age, some just weren’t necessary anymore, but all have a story behind them. Though some 40 Underground stations have been abandoned or relocated in their time, we’ve selected eleven that are still at least mostly standing, and sport the most interesting tales – all to uncover a little hidden history of the capital’s favourite transport network. They lie forgotten beneath our feet for now, but here’s a little peek inside…
Abandoned tube stations and their fascinating stories
1. Down Street
Once part of the Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway – which gave rise to the modern Piccadilly line – Down Street station was closed in 1932, a mere twenty-five years after opening. Squashed quite closely between Hyde Park Corner and Dover Street (now known as Green Park), it suffered from low passenger numbers due to both the proximity of its neighbours, and the wealth of its local residents, who could afford more comfortable means of transport.
Down Street wasn’t out of action for too long, however; in 1939, it was earmarked for use during the war effort. Once the platforms were bricked up, it was home to the Railway Executive Committee, before playing host to Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet before the Cabinet War Rooms were built – Churchill was known to affectionately refer to it as “The Barn”. There was no further use for it after the war, which means Down Street has stood empty ever since – with a 2015 TfL call for commercial use proposals apparently going nowhere. Now, the London Transport Museum’s occasional Hidden London tours are the only way into the station.
Before there was the most pointless Tube journey in London, there was the Holborn to Aldwych branch – the OG of nonsensical Tube journeys. But first, some extremely confusing background!
Aldwych was opened as Strand station in 1907, and was a project of the Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, which had itself grown out of the merger of the Great Northern and Strand Railway (mooted to run from Wood Green to Strand) and the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway (which would run from Angel out past South Kensington). Their eventual marriage made it convenient to connect the two lines, by linking Piccadilly Circus and Holborn via Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Strand was therefore left stranded as the only station on a weird southern spur of the Piccadilly line, with plans to link it to Fleet Street and the City of London in 1903 being swiftly nixed.
The station was renamed as Aldwych in 1915, and somehow survived nearly another 80 years despite being almost wholly redundant. You’d have to change at Holborn and take a one-stop train just to get there, and with the station located almost on top of Temple station, it wasn’t as if the area was poorly served by the Tube. From 1958, it ran only during peak hours on weekdays, before being finally, mercifully put out of its misery in September 1994 – and then only because it was too expensive to replace the lifts. Really, by far its most important use during its working life was to house the Elgin Marbles, which were stored in the tunnels between Holborn and Aldwych during The Blitz.
Nowadays (yes, we’re not done yet), the Grade-II listed façade looks out over the Strand as a reminder of the station’s former use. Down on the tracks sits a 1972 Northern line train, which has been used along with the station for filming on productions including Sherlock, V for Vendetta, Fast & Furious 6, Atonement, and Darkest Hour. Unless you plan on being cast in something soon, Hidden London remains your best way to see it.
3. South Kentish Town
Frankly, this place was doomed from the start. It had been planned, designed, and executed under the name Castle Road to serve what is now the Northern line, but a few weeks before opening in 1907, the powers that be reversed their decision on the name – a costly volte-face which meant painting over the bespoke tiles they’d already installed. South Kentish Town was dogged by low passenger numbers from the very start, and as quickly as 1908, drivers began ignoring the need to stop there.
A power outage caused by a strike at Chelsea’s Lots Road Power Station in 1924 closed the station temporarily, but when the power came back on, the decision was taken not to bother reopening it. That’s about the most damning indictment of one’s usefulness imaginable, really. South Kentish Town is now home to tricky escape room Mission: Breakout, where you can puzzle out the mystery of a passenger who disappeared from the station in 1924. Knowing South Kentish Town as we do, someone probably just locked up and forgot about them…
4. City Road
Another station that was marked for closure early on, City Road opened in 1901 and weathered calls to shutter as early as 1908. Again, low passenger numbers were the killer, as its lack of use meant that the cost of upgrading the station and expanding the platforms couldn’t be justified. Its closure in 1922 explains, amongst other things, why there’s such an interminable gap between Angel and Old Street on the Northern line.
Though most of the station was demolished in the 1960s, the lift shaft stood standing until 2017, when it was torn down and replaced with an energy centre. There’s good news to come out of this, though, for the centre helps funnel the ungodly heat of the tunnels towards warming up homes in Islington – a nice legacy for a recent disappearance amongst our abandoned Tube stations.
5. York Road
Back on the Piccadilly line now, and as one door opens, another closes – for York Road shuttered on the same day in 1932 that the Finsbury Park to Arnos Grove section of the line opened. It was an inauspicious end to a typically gorgeous Leslie Green-designed station, which had opened in 1906. With Kings Cross being so close, passenger numbers plummeted, and rumours of the station’s closure circulated for years before it was finally shuttered.
It remains one of London’s most complete abandoned Tube stations, with the oxblood tiling remarkably well preserved – and there’s a slight chance we could yet see the rebirth of York Road. An empty stretch of town for a while, the area has now been transformed by the redevelopment of Coal Drops Yard, Granary Square, and Kings Cross in general. This has given rise to the possibility of reopening the station, although TfL remains sceptical, reportedly scared off by increasing journey times on the Piccadilly line.
6. Mark Lane
Another confusing bit of history here, one born out of the marriage of the Metropolitan Railway and the District Railway (see if you can guess which Tube lines they became…), which completed the so-called inner circle: now the modern Circle line. Mark Lane was opened in 1884, to replace a short-lived station to the east known as Tower of London station, which operated for two glorious years before it was decided the site needed a larger station.
Mark Lane was then renamed Tower Hill station in 1946, which is no relation to the modern Tower Hill Tube station – they are (unsurprisingly, given the shenanigans we’ve witnessed thus far) completely different stations that were built next to one another. It was eventually closed in 1967 due to the influx of passengers and the impossibility of expansion. The coup de grace? The Tower Hill station we use today actually uses the same site of the original Tower of London station – yup, the very same one Mark Lane was built to replace. It’s at this point that you begin to suspect the Underground is trolling us, TBH.
You can still see part of Mark Lane today, especially if you frequent the All Bar One on Byward Street. An old entrance to Mark Lane is hidden in one of the arches next door, sealed off by a gate (although if you look on Google Maps, the gate has been somewhat alarmingly left open…).
Ongar has had a strange old existence as abandoned Tube stations go, with both a pre- and post-Underground life. From opening in 1865, it was under the control of the Great Eastern Railway, and mainly used to ferry agricultural products from the farmlands of Essex to the fringes of London. In 1949, it was poached by the Underground and became the easternmost point of the Central line – although British Rail continued to run steam trains on the line until it was electrified in 1957.
The Central line beyond Epping wasn’t especially busy, with Ongar’s neighbour Blake Hall being the least used station on the entire network – reportedly just six passengers a day by the time it closed in 1981. Ongar finally got the chop in 1994 due to cost-cutting measures and low usage, but has lived on as the northern terminus of the extremely cute Epping-Ongar railway, which reopened in 2012 after a previous stint from 2004-2007. It’s one of the few abandoned Tube stations which still welcomes trains, and with four steam trains in operation on the line, it’s one we’d advise you visit!
8. Brompton Road
There’s just something about the Piccadilly line and abandoned Tube stations, because here’s a fourth one. Once nestled between Knightsbridge and South Kensington, it suffered a similar fate to Down Street, in that it was too close its neighbours to ever be truly successful. When the General Strike hit in 1926, Brompton Road shut down for five months, and eventually closed in 1934 after the modernisation of Knightsbridge station.
By the time of the Second World War, Brompton Road had been pressed into service as a Ministry of Defence site, with the upper levels serving as the command centre of the 26th London Anti-Aircraft Brigade (the platforms were bricked up around the same time, so there’s little to see from a modern Piccadilly line trip). Though you can still see the side entrance and bespoke tiling from Cottage Place, Brompton Road has suffered a fate sadly known to many London historical sites: being converted into fancy flats.
Time for a crossover episode now, as the old British Museum stop is the only one of our abandoned Tube stations to also appear on our list of London’s most haunted Tube stations. Spooky stuff, indeed, but first, a little history.
British Museum station stood on the opposite side of High Holborn to the modern Holborn Tube station, and was opened in 1900. British Museum was run by the Central London Railway, and Holborn was run by the Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway, and whilst the two would ideally have been connected, they weren’t, due to tunnel alignment problems arising from the latter’s route to another of London’s now abandoned Tube stations: Aldwych, once again ruining things for everyone.
The low-key rivalry meant, in a Highlander-esque twist, there could be only one, and since Holborn was the better connected station, British Museum shut in 1933 – with Holborn joining the Central line the following day. Possibly in an act of retribution, the ghost of the Egyptian god Amun-ra is said to haunt British Museum, with a rumoured tunnel giving him access from the museum to the trains – one which he supposedly used in 1935 to kidnap two women from Holborn station. Very unlikely, but still quite bone-chilling, so maybe avoid this one if you ever go in search of the city’s abandoned Tube stations…
10. Marlborough Road
Off to the Metropolitan line now, where we could have picked from three abandoned Tube stations: Lord’s, Marlborough Road, and the original Swiss Cottage. All were formerly on the Metropolitan line between Finchley Road and Baker Street, and all closed in 1939-1940 when a new stretch of the Bakerloo opened up a route to Stanmore (now the northern end of the modern Jubilee line), thus easing congestion on the line.
Only Marlborough Road still stands today, a fairly blank building on the corner of Finchley Road and Queen’s Grove. Now used as a power substation to support the newer S stock Metropolitan line trains, I think I preferred it in its previous guise as a Chinese restaurant.
11. Charing Cross
Yes, Charing Cross is not technically one of the city’s abandoned Tube stations. Not all of it, at least. But like Aldwych, you’re likely to have seen the deserted parts of this one on the silver screen, so we just had to include it. The history of Charing Cross station is a tangled web which includes dalliances with Embankment station, the takeover of the Bakerloo’s Trafalgar Square station, and the takeover of a Northern line station known as Strand – which, just to make matters more murky, is not anything to do with Aldywch’s past life as Strand station. Blimey.
Charing Cross joined the Jubilee line in 1979, and acted as the southern terminus of the line until 1999. Plans were afoot to extend the line to Lewisham from an early stage, so Charing Cross was never intended as the final stop – indeed, the tunnels continue almost as far as Aldwych, which gives you an idea of where the route would have headed. However, as the Docklands and the East End began a regeneration in the 1980s, the decision was taken to reroute the line from Green Park (the stop before Charing Cross), and curve it south of the river to Waterloo, London Bridge, and back out towards Greenwich and Stratford.
This left Charing Cross’ Jubilee platforms out in the cold, but the station’s loss is our gain; since it’s been shuttered for only 20 years, the platforms are both modern and well-preserved, making it an excellent filming location. The likes of 28 Weeks Later, Skyfall, Creep, and Spooks have all been filmed down here, giving the place a nice job in the afterlife of an abandoned Tube station.
Also published on Medium.