Thanks to steady employment, Things sometimes cannot be done. This past couple of weeks, visits and write-ups have been thin on the ground. I apologise. And it was only a few weekends ago that I had to pass up a Sunday morning jolly on a 1938 Tube train (Thing 39). That was down to an unfortunately scheduled series of night shifts, just in case you’re wondering. Little did I know (until Martin told me) that the same 1938 train was sitting, on Friday, at a disused Tube station under Aldwych.
Aldwych was originally called Strand
Fortunately, especially as it’s a Thing in itself, I’d ordered a couple of tickets for the London Transport Museum’s Blitz Experience tour of Aldwych Station. It closed in 1994, offering nothing more than a peak-hours shuttle service with Holborn. The lifts were a bit too knackered and would have cost a bit too much to replace. And so the station, the maintained track and powered rails that run through it, and its stabled 1972 Northern line train, generally remain the preserve of television and film crews, save the odd anorak tour. Until this weekend.
The crew: Nicky, Martin, sign, Lynne
Seventy years ago, thousands of Londoners took to deep level Tube stations to shelter from falling German bombs. We entered the ticket hall to be addressed by an ARP Warden. He seemed to be considerably put out that we had all neglected to bring our gas masks, buckets and blankets. After a short while, the warning sirens sounded. We were directed down the 160-step spiral staircase (that’d be quite good phrase to use if you’re find yourself: a. testing an audio system for sibilance, b. wondering if you’re drunk yet) in single-file. Plenty of time, though, because the bombers were still five minutes away.
Air Raid Precautions Warden
In the lift lobby, we were met by a well-to-do lady of the WVS. After being chastised once more for neglecting our masks, buckets and blankets, some fortunate members of the group were praised for wearing scarves and hats. The smog is bad, apparently, and it’s just nice to see a man in a hat. We were shown to the platform and boarded the Museum’s fabulous 1938 train.
One chap who wasn’t wearing a hat was the spiv. Holding court in the front carriage, he wore quite an elaborate tie and bore promises of black market goods. Oranges, ham, ladies’ tights. He had steak on offer, too, strongly denying any equine origins. No bananas, though.
Moving down the train, we met Elsie. A well-meaning and well-presented wartime housewife, she sat knitting in a corner. She spoke of the impacts of the war on working class Londoners; evacuation, rationing, sheltering. She wasn’t without time for a good bit of punnery, though. On cooking a pig’s head, she suggested it was best to leave the eyes in. That way, it’d see you through the week. Boom boom.
Elsie on 1938 Stock
A subsequent on-train address from the WVS posho was abruptly interrupted by falling bombs. We were ordered off the train and whipped into singing the popular classic about visiting Tipperary. Being neither Irish nor a toff, I had no idea what the words were. I must’ve looked like Redwood. As the WVS posho attempted to keep order, Elisie began to lose her mind. As the all-clear sounded, it took the combined efforts of Spiv and WVS to bring her out from under a blanket.
After the opportunity to take another snap or two, it was time to head back up those 160 step. To the exit through the station’s wooden lifts, outside to see a splendidly restored wartime bus. Then to the pub.
Loitering miscreant. Thanks to Heather.
More photos, as per usual, on the flickr.