Top-secret bunkers, abandoned Tube stations and London’s first skyscraper
Keeping a secret in London is difficult. So much can easily be discovered, from where the Queen buys her handbags to the curry house loved by the former Prime Minister David Cameron. When something tries to remain hush-hush, it often gains more attention, such as speakeasy-style bars behind unassuming doors and the immersive Secret Cinema, which often gives you clues to work out what films are being screened.
The London Transport Museum – filled with old and new vehicles, including the world’s first Underground steam train – has created tours across locations that are not normally open to the public. There are four tours: London’s first skyscraper at 55 Broadway, once London Underground’s headquarters; Euston Station’s tunnels that are no longer used; Clapham South’s subterranean shelter; and Churchill’s secret Tube station at Down Street in Mayfair. These tours require a lot of walking, so wear your most sturdy shoes – if you have heels or open- toe shoes on, you may be refused entry.
During World War II, Clapham South’s subterranean shelter and Down Street were both used as a place of refuge. Clapham South’s shelter, which is 180 steps below the ground, protected Londoners during the Blitz and housed Caribbean migrants before they found jobs and accommodation. Down Street, meanwhile – a short-lived station that was open between 1907 and 1932 – was a bomb-proof bunker for Sir Winston Churchill.
For the Down Street tour, the Transport Museum has teamed up with the recently refurbished Athenaeum Hotel and Residences to create an enhanced experience for visitors. Jeremy Hopkins, general manager of the hotel, says: ‘Our apartments were built in 1890 so Down Street would have been the closest Tube station. We look forward to welcoming guests so they can experience London’s history as well as our own.’
The bunkers may be gloomy, but you can add some glamour to the proceedings with an afternoon tea. In Galvin at the Athenaeum, the new restaurant created by Michelin-starred brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, the tea is themed around London’s hidden locations and is served in a room overlooking Green Park.
In 2012, the Tea Guild gave it the ‘Best Afternoon Tea in London’ award, so you know that this will certainly be a high tea. And, if you are wondering where those handbags come from and what curry house it is – it’s Launer and Khas Tandoori in Kensal Rise respectively. Just don’t tell anyone…