Travel tales

London underground: Euston’s secret tunnels

London underground: Euston’s secret tunnels

For years I commuted to work in London on the underground to Euston station. I’d walk through its miles of tunnels and down to the Northern Line every day – usually on autopilot and hardly noticing where I was. But I never knew I’d been walking right past the entrance to a network of deserted underground tunnels, some of which have been sealed off for over 100 years. Most of the time these secret tunnels are locked away and inaccessible to the public, but every now and then the London Transport Museum runs special Hidden London tours where you can get a glimpse into the hidden tunnels and ventilation shafts right below our feet. When I found out I couldn’t resist a trip underground to uncover Euston’s secret tunnels.

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Vintage posters in Euston’s secret tunnels

Vintage station posters

Euston station opened in July 1837 as the terminus of the new London & Birmingham Railway, which connected London and the Midlands for the first time. Back in those days the station only had two platforms – one for arrivals and one for departures. Later on more routes were added to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and passenger numbers grew and grew. In 1903, two rival underground railway companies were given permission to build stations at Euston so they could take advantage of all this extra traffic. But they weren’t allowed an entrance inside the station. Instead two stations were built, with one on each side of the station and a shared underground ticket office built in the middle of them.

Euston’s secret tunnels

Euston’s secret tunnels

In 1914, the two companies merged and the station buildings were closed. The City and South London Railway building was demolished, but the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway’s original station is still standing – and was the starting point for our tour. Located in Melton Street to the west of Euston, I’d probably walked past it plenty of times over the years without ever noticing it. But it still has that classic London Underground look, designed by architect Leslie Green who’s responsible for a lot of the old Tube stations with their arched windows and ox-blood red tiles. The building’s still in tact from the outside, but all that’s left inside now is a huge ventilation shaft that helps cool the Victoria Line platforms down.

Lift shaft in Euston’s secret tunnels, London

The old lift shaft turned ventilation

Before setting off on the tour, our group were kitted out in yellow high-vis jackets. You’re also advised to wear closed shoes – and probably want to avoid wearing white as it’s grimy underground. Our trip into Euston’s secret tunnels started in one of the less mysterious ones – the Bank branch of the Northern Line. But we left the commuters behind on the platform and followed our guide through an unassuming door at the end of the platform. When we emerged on the other side, we’d gone back in time. Inside was a network of old tunnels and ventilation shafts. Some were abandoned in the 1960s and some go even further back. Some are brightly lit and piled up with tools and spares, and others are dark, deserted and dusty.

Euston’s secret tunnels on the London Underground

A bit of mood lighting

The tunnels are like a time capsule of what was happening when the platforms were closed. Posters from the 1960s show the films, plays and products that were being advertised then – from Psycho to perms. There’s even a poster announcing the station redevelopment that led to these tunnels closing. ‘London Transport regrets any inconvenience caused’ – some things never change! The tour takes you through different sections of tunnels, with a guide to explain what each was used for and when it was closed. We were on a special photography tour, so our group of eight was split into four pairs and had 20 minutes in each section, long enough to really explore each area and uncover – and photograph – its hidden details.

Vintage posters in Euston’s secret tunnels

1960s posters

First up was the old lift shafts, which are now used as ventilation shafts for the Tube. They stretch 18 metres high, with a maintenance ladder running to the top. There’s a hatch up there and I could imagine someone scaring the passengers by suddenly popping up out of the ground. Walking on through the tunnels, we came to one of Euston’s unique quirks, its underground ticket hall. It was the crossover between the two original underground railways, where passengers had to pay to swap from one line to the other. And if they tried to sneak by, the office had windows built into the sides so the ticket inspector could spot any fare-dodgers. It’s really well preserved with all the original tiling – and I couldn’t resist trying out the window.

Euston’s secret tunnels, London

The underground ticket office

As well as the old passenger tunnels and platforms, we also got to walk through some of the ventilation tunnels. These were never designed to be seen by the public, so there were no posters or tiles, just an industrial landscape of metal tubes and bolts, coated with years of grime. With just a few bulbs hanging down and no one else around they felt spookily atmospheric. In some sections we had to find our way by torchlight, past bricked up doors and dead ends – you could imagine how claustrophobic it’d be down there if you didn’t have someone guiding you. Our final stop was a zig-zag walkway with ventilation grills looking down on the Victoria Line platform, where you could see trains coming and going, and passengers getting on and off. So if you ever feel like someone’s watching you on the Tube platform, they could be!

Ventilation tunnel in Euston’s secret tunnels

The deserted ventilation tunnels

Two hours later, we emerged back onto the Northern Line platform, shook off the dust, handed back our high-vis jackets and were back in the 21st century. It was a fascinating look into some of the Tube’s secrets and how much it’s changed over the years. The twists and turns of Tube station tunnels start to make sense when you look at the history and how its grown. And it’s always evolving – new HS2 and Crossrail lines mean Euston is being redeveloped again, and the station layout keeps changing. Even the old Melton Street building is scheduled for demolition, so there might not be many more chances to uncover its secrets.

Vintage posters in Euston’s secret tunnels

Adverts for train travel

The details

The Euston’s Secret Tunnels tour is one of the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours. Tickets cost £35 for the 75-minute regular tour, or £100 for the 2.5-hour photography tour. Tickets go on sale a few times a year and sell out really quickly, so it’s worth signing up to the Hidden London mailing list to get notified when the next batch are available – and make sure you’re online to join the queue. As well as Euston, the museum also run underground tours of Charing Cross, Aldwych, Down Street and Highgate.

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Discovering Euston's secret tunnels, the network of deserted hidden tunnels dating back to the 1960s which lie beneath this London Underground station.

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Janis
    August 10, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    This is fascinating, I love the fact that it is just like they closed the door one day and left everything as it was.
    I would love to go on one of these trips, so thanks, I have now subscribed to their mailing list.
     
    Thanks for sharing

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 10, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      It was so interesting, definitely recommended – I’m hoping to take my Dad on the Down Street one next as those tunnels were used by Winston Churchill in WWII so has some great stories. Hope you manage to get on a tour soon.

  • Reply
    Amy Tinson
    August 11, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Wow, that looks so interesting!! It’s like stepping in to history! Never heard of doing that before but think we’ll have to the next time we’re in London, thanks for sharing. ☺️

    Amy | Amy Tinson Photography

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 14, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Thanks Amy, I think I read about the tours years ago but it took me ages to get around to it – I definitely have the bug now and want to do another one!

  • Reply
    Greg
    August 11, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    So interesting- I don’t know why, but I always find dark, abandoned places mysterious and fascinating. Just trying to imagine the people, crowds and trains that once bustled through those tunnels in the 19th Century. If I’m back in London again I’ll definitely have to take this tour!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 14, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      There’s definitely something interesting in these little hidden spots that people pass by every day and never know are there!

  • Reply
    Angus Matheson
    August 12, 2017 at 7:08 am

    It’s not often that you get to read about something you had never heard of before. A great article and some superb photographs as well. I travel from the north west via Euston a few times every year; I’ll think of Euston in a different light now. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 14, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks – it was fascinating to see another side of a station I used to pass through almost every day for about four years!

  • Reply
    Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)
    August 15, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I’ve always wanted to do one of these tours Lucy, but never got round to it! I’ve always been worried I’d struggle getting about on the stairs, but it sounds like you didn’t have to climb any old escalators, am I right? If so, how tough would you say it is on the legs? I may well try and sign up for a future one if it sounds doable! 😀 K x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 16, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      I think the amount of steps varies – for ours there weren’t that many at all but I’ve seen warnings on others about there being a lot. We accessed directly from the Euston platforms so you can use the escalators then there were just a few short sections of steps inside, no more than in a usual Tube station though x

  • Reply
    Mary
    August 16, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Wow, how interesting! London is so full of rich, unique history like this, and its always a delight to learn about new facts about one the greatest cities in the world. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 16, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      You’re very welcome, it was such an interesting experience!

  • Reply
    aeparker81
    August 17, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    This is wonderful! I walk past the old Strand station twice a day and often wonder what it must be like in the abandoned bits!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 23, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Seems like there’s a whole secret world underground!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    August 18, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    It’s amazing that it’s just been left as it was on the day it closed. Love that the old posters are still there too. You look very at home in that ticket office!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 23, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Haha yes I can always change career if I have enough of blogging one day!

  • Reply
    Sara @ Travel Continuum
    August 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    I saw a book about the secret underground a few years back – it wasn’t just about disused sections, but also featured some of the unknown interconnecting corridors not in public use. Utterly fascinating, and right up my street, loved this, Lucy.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 23, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      That sounds like my type of book too (in fact I just went on a trawl around Amazon and have found a few underground-related books to add to the reading list!).

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    August 20, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    This does sound fascinating and really quite creepy. I’m sure if I went I’d keep thinking I was in a horror film.It would be a great setting for one.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 23, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      It would be such a good setting for a creepy film or book – some areas we could only see with torches and I could imagine how spooky it’d feel on your own.

  • Reply
    Hello Beautiful Bear
    August 27, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    This is amazing! I’d love to do something like this, like you said it’s like going in to a time capsule, it looks like it’s seeped in history — so interesting! x

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 28, 2017 at 9:11 am

      Thanks, yes it was fascinating to see a different side of the Tube – have spent so much time down there over the years!

  • Reply
    Your Travel Shop
    September 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Wow these amazing pictures reminds me one of the Will Smith Movies “I am Legend” where the entire city was empty due to some virus and he was the only person there. Sites like these excites me when I think that there must be a time when people was using these tunnels and now they are abandoned for 100 of years. Would love to visit these. These are a part of beautiful history.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 8, 2017 at 10:00 am

      Yes it’s a strange feeling to see these places totally deserted like that – fascinating though and definitely worth a visit.

  • Reply
    Paul
    October 13, 2017 at 10:52 am

    Just wow! Another destination that I want to try and list on my bucket list. This is so amazing! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 15, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks, it was so interesting, I’m really keen to do some of the other tours now!

  • Reply
    Knackered Dad
    October 24, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    A great read! It’s officially on my to-do list.

    I’m surprised with London getting busier & busier by the year that they don’t recommission these old lines & tunnels? Money, I guess.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 25, 2017 at 10:16 pm

      I think it’d be such a huge job to get them up to modern standards and there’s already so much maintenance to do on the existing tube lines – good for us as it leaves some cool places to explore!

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