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Strange Tales of the London Underground

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by Claire Chambers (subscribe)
Applied Linguistics graduate and freelance writer. Visit my twitter: @heyclairemarie
Published August 5th 2013

The London Underground has been running since 1863 and the Tube is now as much a part of London as its landmarks. Of course, the railway system has many strange tales hidden in its depths.

There are many tales of the London Underground being haunted. One of the most famous is the story of Anne Naylor who was murdered in 1758 and is rumoured to haunt Farringdon Station. There are often reports of bloodcurdling screams as the last train leaves. There is also the tale of the man dressed in evening wear at Covent Garden Station on the Piccadilly line. He disappears very suddenly and has caused some members of staff to refuse to work there. Late at night a lady is sometimes seen getting on an empty train at Elephant and Castle station. When the staff go to remove her, she is no longer there.

Other grisly stories abound about the Tube. Over 1000 bodies lie underneath Aldgate Station, as it is built over a plague pit from 1665. However, only two corpses have travelled on the Underground. In 1898, William Gladstone's coffin was transported to Westminster for his funeral and Dr. Thomas Barnardo made his final Underground journey on the Central Line in 1905 from Liverpool Street to Barkingside.

The London Underground also has several disused stations. There is a ghost station between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn called British Museum which hasn't been used since 1932. You can still see what is left of the station as you pass through on the Central line. Down Street is another one of these ghost stations and was used as a bunker during World War Two until the Cabinet War Rooms were built.

Want to visit North End train station? There is such a station, located between Hampstead and Golders Green, however it was never used. Other tube stations that are now closed include King William Street and South Kentish Town. A passenger actually alighted at South Kentish Town shortly after its closure, however he realised his mistake and got back on the train.

There is a fake District Line station called West Ashfield which is used for staff training and is based in a building in West Kensington. An example of a well-known fictitious station is Walford East from the British soap Eastenders. The station is not found on any tube map past or present. However, it is apparently located on the District Line. A close inspection of the map on the wall of the station shows Walford East as being situated between Bow Road and West Ham, therefore taking the place of Bromley- by- Bow.

As well as these stories, there are plenty of urban myths about the London Underground. One particular yarn claims that there is a special platform for Buckingham Palace and BBC Broadcasting House. Another theory states that there is a secret Government platform on the London Underground system. However, there have never been any concrete proof of these theories and it seems that they are just rumours.

There are also locations in London which look like houses however they are just facades to cover the railway from view. The most famous of these is 23/ 24 Leinster Gardens near Paddington, in which the doors and windows have been cleverly painted to ensure that they match the surrounding houses. The other side is merely a brick wall, which can be seen when observed from above.

When the Circle Line opened in 1884, it was described by The Times as "a form of mild torture which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it". However, as recently as 2004, a House of Commons Report stated that passengers had to deal with "intolerable conditions" on the tube. One twenty minute journey is the equivalent of smoking a cigarette.

Even though we take it for granted and criticise it heavily, the London Underground is a fantastic invention. Long may it's odd little stories continue.
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