Last Train to British Museum

British Museum Station, London, 1982

British Museum Station, London, 1982

The photograph above, of what seems to be a fairly unremarkable structure, shows the surface building of the London Underground tube station called British Museum. When I took the photo in 1982, I’d already missed the last train to that station… by about 50 years.

At that time, there were threats to close various London tube stations, either because they were little used, or because they were thought to require substantial maintenance work that could not be justified economically. I’d missed British Museum’s closure, though, by virtue of not having being born at the time.

As it turned out, some of the stations that were still open in the 1980s were indeed closed later, but others remain open to this day.

In my photo above, you can see the glazed terracotta faience covering the ground floor exterior walls of the building, which was a characteristic of Central London Railway stations. Originally, the station building consisted only of that one storey, but later an office building was added above it.

British Museum Station was on the Central London Railway (later the Central Line), and was opened along with the line in 1902. The line crossed the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (later the Piccadilly Line) near Holborn, but there was no underground connection between the two stations, which was very inconvenient for passengers.

It soon became obvious that a common station was desirable, and authorization to build a new station, on the Central Line, was granted before the First World War, but work was delayed by the war. Eventually the new station was completed, and connected to the existing Piccadilly Line station. British Museum station was then permanently closed in 1933.

While riding the Piccadilly Line during the 1980s, I remember being able to see the remains of British Museum station through the gloom, as my train approached Holborn. The station’s platforms had been removed, but the white glazed tiles of the station walls were still barely visible, underneath decades of grime.

I’m glad that I took that photo of the surface building in 1982, because, in 1989, everything that remained on the surface was demolished, and there’s now no evidence whatsoever that there was a station there, as is apparent in the current Google Streetview of this location.

Department S

Department S Logo

Department S Logo

Strangely, I had a hint of the existence of the long-closed station long before I had even visited London, because it was mentioned (albeit not shown) in a 1968 episode of the ITC thriller series Department S.

In the episode titled “Last Train to Redbridge”, agent Stewart Sullivan is quizzing Jason King about a mysterious location, to which King was abducted and taken in a drugged state. Piecing together his incomplete memories, King makes sense of the details.

Jason King: An Underground Railway Station…

Stewart Sullivan: Old, disused. That would tie in with the murders. Are there any stations like that?

Jason King: Let’s see. On the Central London Line: two. British Museum, which was closed when they opened Holborn, and when they opened St. Pauls, they closed … Post Office

The dialog is partially factual. The description of British Museum and Holborn is accurate, but there is no closed station called Post Office, because the original Post Office station still exists, having been renamed St. Pauls in 1937.

There is also a station called Redbridge on the Central Line, although it’s not a terminus, so trains don’t generally show it as their final destination. Presumably the title image of the Department S episode shows the actual Redbridge Station nameboard.

Department S: Episode Title

Department S: Episode Title

The Department S scenes showing the fictitious Post Office station seem to have been filmed in a real Underground station, as in the scene below. The surroundings just seem too detailed to be a studio set.

Department S: "Post Office" Station

Department S: “Post Office” Station

The station used seems to have been Aldwych, which was still open at that time (albeit only during “peak” hours), but closed later on. I also visited Aldwych in 1982.

Aldwych Station

I mentioned above the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, which eventually became the Piccadilly Line. This line was formed from the merger of two earlier schemes, one of which was the Great Northern and Strand Railway.

The southern terminus of the GN&SR was a station called “Strand”, which, due to the merger of the two schemes, was eventually built on a branch from the “main line”.

Aldwych Station, 1982

Aldwych Station, 1982

This tatty-looking area is the end of the track at Aldwych Station, as it looked in 1982. The tiling of the walls here was never completed, during the entire life of the station. Given that all trains terminated here, then reversed direction, only the westerly platform was in use, and the track to the other platform had been lifted as long ago as 1917.

During my 1982 visit, I noticed that, on one of the glazed tile walls of the station, the original name was still partially visible, as shown in the rather blurry photo below.

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych Station: Original Name

Aldwych was closed to the public in 1994, when the sole lift (elevator) at the station required renewal. The site is now used only for private filming purposes. London Transport even keeps a complete tube train on the branch, for use in filming.

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