John Vane’s London Stories: Strand station, a heritage asset looking for love

John Vane’s London Stories: Strand station, a heritage asset looking for love

If you had been in charge of a tube railway company at the tail end of the 19th century, you might quite reasonably have thought there would be heavy demand for a station serving the Strand, what with its theatres, hotels and musical halls attracting visitors from far and wide. There was even a song about its powerful allure: Let’s All Go Down The Strand, written by performer Harry Castling and composer Charles William Murphy in the 1890s, was already becoming a London anthem.

The Great Northern and Strand Railway company secured permission from Parliament in 1899 to build a station at the junction of Kingsway and Aldwych, before merging with the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus company to form the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. (GNPBR) Although the name “Strand” did not appear in its title, in October 1905 this new company began building a Strand station on the vacant site of the Royal Strand Theatre, which had closed the previous spring.

It was designed by Leslie Green, Maida Vale-born architect of the Underground Electric Railways of London, the holding company of the GNPBR, in the style for which he is famous: oxblood red tiles and big semi-circular windows in the spirit that had given Art Nouveau to the world. There were two ways in to Strand station and one way out: an entrance and exit on Surrey Street and and the compact entrance on Strand itself (pictured). It opened for passengers in November 1907, yet somehow never quite caught on.

Why? From the start it seems to have been treated as a bit of a tenuous add-on to what would eventually be a section of the Piccadilly Line, linked by shuttle to Holborn. A late-night special service for theatre audiences was discontinued within a year. Generally low passenger numbers saw the withdrawal of a peak hour service, and in 1914 a whole tunnel was taken out of use. The following year, the station was renamed Aldwych – the Strand name was appended to the Northern Line stop at Charing Cross instead – but that didn’t seem to help.

In 1917, all services on Sundays ceased. In 1922, the ticket office was closed, and closure of the entire station was considered in 1929 and 1933 before it finally happened in 1940, when the station served as a Blitz air raid shelter instead. It re-opened in 1946, but patronage did not increase. Service levels inched downwards, and by 1962, despite being near King’s College, Somerset House and the Bush House home of the BBC World Service, trains arrived at and departed from Aldwych station only at peak times, Monday to Friday.

This went on for three decades until, in January 1993, it was announced that the station would shut for good. And in September 1994, it did.

Today, the Strand entrance, though shorn of its Aldwych rebrand canopy, looks out rather sadly at the newly-pedestrianised section of the famous street from which it takes its name. The station isn’t derelict. It’s still in operational order. Its part-time and redundant interiors have been recruited since the 1950s as sets for movies and TV shows, and increasingly so this century. There’s been a plan to incorporate it into a cycling rail trail. But no progress has been made with that. And, for now, no-one seems willing or able to even spruce up the exterior of this Grade II-listed heritage asset so patently in need of love.

Let’s All Go Down The Strand? Where its Tube station is concerned, there’s just never been enough of us, it seems.

John Vane writes word sketches of London and bits about its past. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow John on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

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