Monday, 27 September 2010

Tour of Aldwych disused tube

On Friday I visited Aldwych tube station which has been closed to the public since the dim and distant early 1990s. The visit was part of the series of events being marked around the city on the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. Starting on September 7th 1940 London was pounded by the German air force until 1941 intensively and thereafter Londoners also had to deal with rockets and other nasties dropped from planes.

The first thing to say was that the event was really brought to life by the superb actors and actresses laid on by the LT Museum. When I first heard that they would be part of the experience I wasn't that interested, more that I just wanted to see this hidden piece of London under our streets. But they were magnificent. What you forget is that the Blitz was a human story rather than an issue of bricks and mortar.

Split into groups, and moving frm carriage to carriage in a 1930s tube train, we heard from each of the actors representing quintessential characters that you could expect to come across in the shelter as the bombs rained down their hail of death above. There was the cockney wide boy selling nylon tights, all jokes and winks but then angered at being called a “spiv” - noting with an emotional outburst that the “v” in spiv stands for “vagrant” - the man who'd made him a vagrant was Hitler when he bombed the east end he cried.

And of course there was the hardy Women's Volunteer Service woman with the BBC English who bossed us around and told the men to control themselves in the dark so that propriety was observed at all times! Human nature doesn't change.

Mabel the saucy housewife flirted with one of us (not me, sadly) and affected to be full of gossip without a care in the world but when the loud sirens came she was all of a flutter, and actually managed to inject a note of trepidation into all of us as the climax to the visit drew near. Suddenly there were flashes of light coming from down the tunnel with loud explosion noises as the bombs from above came very close indeed. Suddenly the stout and sturdy WVS lady was trying to rouse us into a rendition of roll out the barrel while Mabel cowered under a headscarf and started to shake.

Intense. It made me think of the stories that my own family told me about that time. How one day a bomb hurled my grandmother across a room and on top of her new born girl. Which was just as well because her body blocked a shard of glass from killing her. Or how my other grandmother, living in a church in Blackheath, saw the opposite side of the street taken out by bombs before her eyes. They lived with that every day and we should never forget it. London wasn't beaten. Nor will it ever be.

I have put a whole selection of photos from the visit on flickr here - watch the show. And just try to imagine what it must have been like.


  1. What a great post. You forget how recent all of this was.

    My partner's grandma was walking home during one of the first bombing raids over Blackheath, when her Dad ran out of the house and pulled her into the cellar just before the bombs started coming down. When they emerged, the fence post from the front gate had gone through a window and come to rest on her pillow.

    My own gran was in the East End - Plaistow. She doesn't like to speak about it, which really speaks volumes about how bad it must have been.

  2. if your partner's grandma was in blackheath she probably knew mine!