Down Street Tour
As part of London Transport Museum's 'Hidden London' tours, I visited this popular disused Piccadilly line station on Friday, 16th June 2017. This page documents that tour.
The tour commenced in one of the conference rooms at the nearby Athenaeum Hotel, where a couple of location plans of the station were displayed. The poster seen in the image below dates from shortly after the station's closure in 1932 (notice that the station name has been ruled-out, with "Closed" written to the side), when Hyde Park Corner station re-opened with escalator access to the platforms.
The images above this include an isometric plan of the station layout, including where the running tunnels are in relation to the station building, along with a photograph taken of the station during its operational days.
The station building itself is a short walk up Down Street from Piccadilly. The distinctive Leslie Green surface building is in good condition for saying that it hadn't been used as a station for 85 years at the time of photographing. The gold "Down Street Station" lettering visible in the above picture is believed to remain extant behind the wooden boards under the left and centre windows.
Nowadays, access to the station is gained by entering through the rather incongruous grey door beneath the left-hand arched window. The art deco styling to the surrounding brickwork reminds us that the station closed in the 1930s. As can be seen, part of the site is now given over to the "Mayfair Mini Mart" shop.
One of our two guides for the tour, Alex, provides a brief history of the station.
This angular sign is located in the plasterwork at the top of the station's former emergency spiral staircase. Where the original station tiling still exists, it is in remarkable condition.
Jane, the other guide for the tour, explains the reason for the station's delayed opening. We then continue to walk down the spiral staircase before reaching the lower concourse.
Here, Alex explains some of the modifications that were undertaken after the station's closure.
The typing pool area, looking in the direction of the spiral staircase that we have just traversed. The narrow corridor would have been located to the right; its location marked by the scar in the ceiling from where the wall was situated. At this point, we are directly below the street level building, or at least, below Down Street itself.
A 90-degree right-hand bend takes us further along the corridor, to where the Railway Executive Committee's meeting room would have been located. The imprint on the floor provides an approximate position for where the long table would have been situated.
Turning the corner, Jane points out the former location of the Railway Executive Committee Room.
Ignoring the "No unauthorised persons allowed beyond this point" sign (as we were authorised!), we headed into the high level concourse that was built as a safety measure prior to the station opening - the distance between the station building and the platforms being considered excessive, even for the early 1900s, with the result that an alternative, emergency concourse leading to the spiral staircase had to be provided.
No lighting was provided in this area at all; our torches and camera flashes providing the only illumination. A period "To Street" sign was observed shortly after entering this area. Again, this was produced for the benefit of staff working in the offices.
A couple of small (and empty) rooms followed.
The passage had been split in half, with more rooms being situated on the relatively gently-rising staircase. At this point, we were to the right of the lower passage.
Upon reaching another 90 degree bend (this time, a left-hand turn, in order to reach the spiral staircase area once more), the passage levelled out. It was here that the toilet and bathroom facilities were located. At this point, the floor became noticeably wet underfoot. This bath was the first to be observed; a plan for the site suggests that this was designated for female staff.
With a carefully-timed flash, one of the baths could be seen in all of its...er...faded glory! The archival picture on the wall behind shows how the room would have appeared when in use.
The remains of a couple of wash basins could be seen in another of the partitioned-off rooms.
This vintage electric water heater remained in another; I suspect that it would be unlikely to pass any modern electrical safety tests, especially given how much time has elapsed since it was last used.
One of the other surviving baths, located a little further along the corridor. One of the two bathrooms was designated for "staff" use, whilst the other was for "executive" use.
Call me a snob, but these "executive" toilets are not really my idea of luxury!
After passing through the door located approximately halfway down the spiral staircase, we headed back down to the typing pool area. This is it from the opposite angle to that seen previously (i.e. the stairs are now behind the photographer).
We re-trace our steps back to the lower concourse, where Alex talks of the multiple uses given to one of the rooms.
Having traversed the lower concourse to platform level, Jane explains the reason for installing modern signage in the disused station.
The eastbound Piccadilly line is glimpsed through the grille. A diagram was provided on the adjoining wall as a way of assisting anyone entering the station from the running lines with their route to the surface building; however, this was now covered with a substance, which made reading it difficult.
The former "Electrical Services" room, where everything (including the light fitting and lamp itself) have been painted a rather dull grey colour. Oh, what I wouldn't give to have a "play" with all of this vintage switchgear - I like old electrical equipment!
A rather substantial fuse box is visible in the top-right enclosure. Many of the fuse carriers are now missing, although a few remain.
Jane explains the need for installing a switchboard / exchange at the station. This is located at the western end of the eastbound platform.
This former cross passage between the eastbound and westbound platforms was converted for use as a battery room - the batteries providing a much-needed back-up in the event of a mains power failure.
Looking the other way by the telephone exchange. Notice the preserved 'Way Out' cartouche on what would have been the eastbound plaform wall.
Only a very narrow (2 ft wide) corridor is provided alongside the rooms that were constructed on the platform.
After back-tracking to the cross passage, we head onto the former westbound platform, where Alex tells us about the important use that an otherwise miscellaneous room had.
Another view of the track access gate on the eastbound platform - I doubt that a steam locomotive has ever passed along this particular tunnel!
Jane talks us through another room whose history would be largely unknown, had it not been for a picture being taken of the room during the Second World War.
A still image of the enlarged photograph seen in the video above.
Here, Alex demonstrates one of rooms that served as an "executive" dormitory, with all of the "luxury" that this entailed. This is located at the eastern end of the westbound platform.
Alex explains the new use that was found for this this cross passage before mentioning a more recent use for the eastbound platform at the end of the passage.
Jane shows the group the room that served as a kitchen for preparing the meals of the staff that stayed here. We are then treated to a glimpse of a section of the wall that, to this day, is still smothered in 1940s' grease...lovely!
A long-abandoned light fitting in the former kitchen area.
After visiting the kitchen area, we then head next door, in order to see where the food would have been eaten - the mess room.
At the foot of the stairs leading from the 'inward' passageway, signage from two very different eras is seen. The newer signage is mostly for the benefit of contractors working on the line; hence, the somewhat nonstandard approach to naming conventions in comparison to a sign that would be seen by the general public. Finsbury Park was, of course, the original northern terminus of the Piccadilly line.
Looking back down the stairs to the area seen in the photograph below, we see that one half of the staircase is barriered off, and a large pipe is seen emerging from the stairs. Evidence exists that a toilet may have been situated at the top of the stairs in years gone by, along with a more substantial partition as well.
Prior to moving away from the platform area, and heading up the "inward" stairs, Jane talks us through the need to retain a small amount of platform space for hailing passing trains.
Now in the "inward" passageway, we are shown some letters requesting the addition of a telephone exchange to the structure, for use by "a certain gentleman" (i.e. Winston Churchill).
Crossing the bridge leading over the eastbound platform.
Here, we are given a view of the alcove that was constructed in order to house the switchboard that conveyed encrypted telephone conversations between the UK and the US.
What now serves as a ventilation shaft for the Piccadilly line (originally built as the inward concourse for passengers boarding trains at Down Street) also supported offices. Unfortunately, no record of their purpose has surfaced.
These two alcoves would have housed the exit doors for the station's two lifts originally.
Here, Jane explains the modifications that were made to the lift shaft after the station closed.
The name of the manufacturer of this station's tiles, W.B. Simpson & Sons, is fired on a couple of the tiles near the lift exits - one example is listed below. The company is still in existence to this day - their website can be seen by clicking here.
More information regarding the post-station use of the lift shaft.
A 'To The Trains' sign is partially visible immediately opposite the lift exit.
Looking back at the lift exit area from within the lift shaft - a narrow catwalk has been placed across the shaft, allowing for easy passage from one side of the shaft to the other.
As the tour draws to a close, the extra-wide diameter of concourses are mentioned, along with the station's post-war use.
The tour over, we head back up the spiral staircase - all 22.22 m of it!
A copy of the construction plan is positioned on the small landing area between the spiral staircase and the straight staircase that leads back to the grey door on the outside of the station building.
To the right of this are a couple of archival photographs - one from 1930, showing the station after an ornate canopy was fitted over the entrance; the other, a view looking into the ticket hall from street level.
Positioned adjacent the entrance door is a simplified diagram explaining the route to take in order to reach the tracks. This has been 'annotated' in order to provide the number of steps to track level (123) and the height between the entrance door and the lower concourse (25 m). Someone has also, helpfully, added the note for people to "be careful" when descending the steps between the door and the spiral staircase landing!
As always, thank you to the Museum for organising the tour, for the marshals who helped out, and of course, to Alex and Jane, for giving their time so willingly in presenting these tours.