I have a slight confession to make.
I’m a massive transport geek.
Now you won’t find me on a train platform taking photos with a little notebook recording S-stock London Midland trains coming in and out of Birmingham New Street, but I doubt you’ll be able to tell me a little fact about the tube network I haven’t heard before. I know which stations were abandoned. I know about the various disasters and mysterious, which stations are supposedly haunted and which areas of London have dummy houses hiding the lines. I’ve read books about tube lines and am secretly jealous of people who’ve walked all the tube lines.
I’d already been eyeing up the Hidden London tours of the underground tunnels in tube stations. And then the news reported that they’d be opening up Clapham South station for tours. I knew I was gonna have to join in.
Clapham South was going to have to be my first stop for a Hidden London tour. Partly because of the whole transport geek thing. Partly because I live in Clapham. I don’t know where the line is below my house, but it must be pretty close because I can pick up the tube’s wifi from my bedroom. Sometimes I hear the tubes rumbling below me at night. It took me ages to get a ticket. It turns out there are quite a few people in London who want to go underground and we did have to wait quite a long time to get on our tour.
Clapham South tube has one of the only purpose built air raid shelters which the public can still access. Before this, Londoners had been using tube stations on the platforms, until a bomb hit the Balham station killing 66 people and then Bank station killing 111 people. The government realised they had to do something and started building underground shelters – without telling anyone what they were doing. Mounds of earth appeared on Clapham Common, and because it was during the Second World War, no one questioned where all the earth had come from or why it had been dumped on the Common.
We headed down hundreds of circled steps to the sound of the air raid sirens. A little cheesy but it did make me think about all of the people who’d had to run down those steps before me genuinely fearing for their lives and homes. When we finally reached the bottom, we were greeted by our guide and a mass of tunnels which seemed to stretch on forever. It was impossible to work out where you were in relation to the ground above. Every time we tried to work out which direction Balham or Clapham Common was, we got it wrong.
The shelters had room for 8,000 people, all of whom had a bunk. There were kitchens, a medical room, toilets and a game room. You had to bring your own stuff up and down with you each night. Believe me, after hauling my fat bum up the stairs at the end of the tour, I wouldn’t have been wanting to do that holding clothes and a duvet. The only time you got to keep your belongings down there during the day was if your house got bombed. So maybe I’d have picked the slightly exhausting option…
Even though the tunnels aren’t often open to the public these days, if you do get a chance to do and see them, take it! The guides were so enthusiastic and even though the tour wasn’t cheap, I feel like I got value for every penny. It’s hard to find a tour in London which is different like this.
I’m already looking into taking another trip down to other stations, like Down Street. That’s how much I loved it.