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The London Blitz at Aldwych Station

The London Blitz at Aldwych Station

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.

Actor re-creating what it was like during the blitz in London

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.

Image of what it was like sleeping in the underground during the blitz in London

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.

A list of rules to enter the shelters during the blitz in London

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.

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30 Responses to The London Blitz at Aldwych Station

  1. STEPHANIE May 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM #

    OMG I’m so jealous! I am so interested in underground London, and I’ve read about people living in the tube during the blitz. I just think it’s so interesting. Would love to see this!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 16, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

      Steph you would have loved it I’m sure. I have a heap more photos I’ll have to upload so you can have a look.

  2. AUDREY May 16, 2011 at 3:01 PM #

    What a great opportunity. I’m looking at the photos and I didn’t realize people had to sleep on the tracks! It’s too bad it’s not open to the general public. I’m going to be in London in 3 weeks, and I would’ve loved to check out what tube looked like during the blitz.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 16, 2011 at 3:12 PM #

      Audrey I didn’t realise it was that bad either until I saw some of the photos. At one point the station did have triple level bunks installed but I am sure none of the stations that were used for transport during the day had that luxury.

      I’ll have to look up what’s happening in London in 3 weeks time for you. Worst case I’m sure I can find an old pub for you to enjoy a beer in with me.

      • AUDREY May 17, 2011 at 11:49 AM #

        Yeah, it’d be fun to meet up with a fellow travel blogger. I’ll drop you a line closer to the date (june 10-14). Maybe I’ll even take you up on that vegemite challenge of yours, haha!

  3. CAILIN May 16, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

    That is very very cool. I had never heard of the “blitz” before. Crazy that people lived in the underegrounds like that but very cool that you got to experience a tour like that! 🙂
    I can’t think of a special tour that I have gone on before that isn’t offered to many people, but this made me think of a post by Robert Reid, it might actually be a video….hmmm but it was under ground tours in New York that are no longer offered because of safety reasons.
    I have seen the catacombs in Paris twice which I think are very cool though and not enough people visit or know about them.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:01 PM #

      Cailin how have you never heard of the blitz, you know when the Nazi’s were bombing London and all that??

  4. TONI May 16, 2011 at 9:28 PM #

    Great post bud, such a shame it’s not open to the rest of us all the time; just like seeing how people in war times cope etc.
    The only time I came close to this was when I once did a college trip and as part of that we went to St Pauls Cathedral – our college had such a good reputation (as did the students since we kicked butt) that they allowed us further into the underground crypts than you’re allowed; pretty damn cool =)

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:03 PM #

      I know Toni, guess safety is a bit of a concern though as the stairs were a bit of a walk up so you couldn’t get out in a hurry thats for sure.

      Nice one on getting to see inside St Paul’s Cathedral though I’m yet to go inside for a tour.

  5. MIKE COTTON May 16, 2011 at 9:31 PM #

    Great story Chris, my old man tells me stories of how he and his brother used to watch the German bombers fly over South London. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been for them to see their city get bombed, especially when they were so young.

    My nan on the other hand used to work for the London Fire Brigade as a spotter, high up in the towers, letting the firemen and women know where the bombs had landed and where the fires were spreading.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

      wow Mike that’s an amazing story and I agree, no way I could even attempt to imagine what it was like seeing them fly over or worse be the one looking out or the fires.

  6. CHRISTY @ TECHNOSYNCRATIC May 16, 2011 at 9:52 PM #

    Wow, what an amazing thing to experience! I hadn’t heard of the London Blitz before this either, but it sounds like a fascinating bit of history. 🙂

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:08 PM #

      Christy it was really interesting to see especially given what I’d heard about it from school and so forth.

  7. JILL - JACK AND JILL TRAVEL THE WORLD May 17, 2011 at 4:29 AM #

    I don’t think I’ve been on any tour similar to this – I’d definitely give it a try though.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

      Jill I love these sort of once of tours. Makes for a unique experience and normally they are so much more interesting that your standard run of the mill stuff.

  8. MEGAN May 17, 2011 at 10:10 AM #

    This is really interesting! When I was in London earlier in the year I tried to visit as many blitz related sites as I could, because I’m fascinated by that period in the city’s history. I’ve never heard of this though! Something for next time 🙂

    The first time I visited Paris several years ago I had a friend who worked for city hall, and she took me to visit an old house that had just been restored. Apparently Baudelaire lived there for a time. It was huge, ornate and empty of people. The floors had just been re-done and we had to skate across the parquet on little squares of carpet. It was a really fun experience – but not a tour that’s available for the masses, sadly!

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:11 PM #

      Megan that sounds like a great thing to have seen in Paris and while I’m not so keen on looking up poets I could imagine the room would have been something to see fully restored.

  9. ALOUISE May 17, 2011 at 11:25 PM #

    I was never one for history in school, but I love visiting historical sites when I travel. It’s so much easier to comprehend historical facts when you can visit the places yourself.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 18, 2011 at 8:12 PM #

      Alouise funny you say that. I hated history in school and its only been as I’ve got older that it really fascinates me. I love just walking through old buildings exploring on my own to see what’s there.

  10. AGIRLFROMOZ May 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM #

    Hi, found your blog via 20sb.

    this sounds amazing…..I’m with you and love history so I think I would have loved it.

    as for an unusual travel experience…..when I was in Copenhagen last year, I got to visit the royal palace that is now the home of Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Mary. A big renovation program had just finished, the palace was open to the public for a few weeks before they moved in.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 22, 2011 at 6:14 PM #

      Thanks for the comment AGirlFromOz. Wow nice one on seeing inside the royal palace, it sure wasn’t open when I was there last year.

  11. AYNGELINA May 19, 2011 at 2:44 PM #

    I would LOVE to do this. In Toronto we have a ghost station that is only used for movies now, every once in a while the city opens it for tours but the lines are always too long.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 22, 2011 at 6:15 PM #

      Ayngelina this tour required you to buy tickets in advance so a few people missed out that just turned up on the day from what I saw. I love these sort of things, you get a sneak peak at something unique and full of history.

  12. A LADY IN LONDON May 19, 2011 at 2:53 PM #

    Wow, fascinating history! I didn’t even know there was an Aldwych tube station at one point in time.

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 22, 2011 at 6:20 PM #

      A Lady In London from what I read over on wikipedia about it, the station was once a branch off the piccadilly line that ran up to Holborn.

  13. ANTHONY May 22, 2011 at 5:04 PM #

    I can’t believe how many people were living down there during the bombing. I just learn something new. Thanks for the history lesson mate 🙂

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD May 22, 2011 at 6:20 PM #

      Pretty crazy Anthony thats for sure. Glad to be useful just as I’m learning from all of your blog videos.

  14. ROY | CRUISESURFINGZ June 6, 2011 at 11:19 PM #

    Wow, sounds like an awesome tour!! Is Aldwych station open every anniversary?

    • THE AUSSIE NOMAD June 7, 2011 at 1:42 PM #

      Roy it was for the 70th anniversary so I believe it was only a special event. No idea about next year.

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  1. THE TWITTER 10: JUNE 2011 | THE WORKING TRAVELLER - June 10, 2011

    […] The London Blitz at Aldwych Station Maybe I’m getting nostalgic for the Northern Line but I’m envious that I’ve never had the chance to enjoy this special tour taken recently by the Aussie Nomad. […]

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