You’re a ghost on the highway

And I’ll love you forever

Ghost Highway by Mazzy Star

The derelict station at the corner of Melton St. and Drummond St. is partially hidden behind construction fencing. The craftmanship on display is worth a closer look : purple red sang-de-boeuf terracotta tiles cover the boarded up ticket hall. There’s a sequence of arched windows below an elaborate cornice. A round oculus and a corner scroll relief complete the stylistic signature that has become an unmistakeable hallmark for the work of Leslie Green : a leading figure in the Tube’s early 20th century expansion, Green was appointed the network’s architect in 1903, and proceeded to build 50 new stations and ticket halls in the space of 4 years. His inimitable Arts & Crafts style became part of the identity of Underground Electric Railways (a precursor to today’s Transport for London). As I admire the station hall’s beautiful reliefs and colourful tiles, I lament for this old urban masterpiece at the verge of being consumed by the impending High Speed 2 Euston station expansion.

Leslie Green’s old Euston tube station (© www.hydeparknow.uk)

In the formative years of London’s public transport, the capital was serviced by a multitude of rail companies. And so the Euston terminal, operated by the London and North West Railway (LNWR) was serviced by two rivals : the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (CCEHR), and City and South London Railway (CSLR), each having their own stations and ticket offices close to Euston. To facilitate a speedier connection between the 3 intersecting railways and their ticket halls, new tunnels were built to connect the stations at track level. The facility must have been very popular, since Euston has been London’s first inter-city terminal, and was at the time one of the busiest train stations in Britain.

The beautiful Arts & Crafts skirting relief inside the hall

The Underground Electric Railways of London took over the rival lines and their connecting tunnels in 1914 and set about consolidating these as what would be eventually known as the Bank and Charing Cross branches of Northern Line. Suitably, a temptress-tiled Arts & Crafts style ticket hall by Leslie Green was borne of this union. I was now inside the fabulous abandoned ticket hall, descending into the century old tunnels.

Inside the dark warren

Each step is bringing me closer to the darkness below. The tunnels began shutting down on the 29th of April 1962, as both London Underground and Euston Station expanded and new, more modern passageways were added to facilitate London’s constant stream of passengers. However, some parts of it remained in use until much later, in 1967. Today, these tunnels are used for storage, ventilation, as well as trunking for a multitude of power cables that serve the power needs of the nearby tunnel and station network. Behind the hastily installed ceiling lights and cable ducts covering the walls, one can still see the blue and white decorative tiles of the passageway, and layers upon layers of posters, plastered across the walls.

Intrigued by the frayed layers of history, and armed with my camera and a torchlight, I bravely faced the challenge of shooting at low light without a tripod or time to linger. Here’s a list of the hidden treasures of Euston’s Lost Tunnels I shone a light on.

British Rail adverts

At the corner of one of the tunnels, there are 3 British Rail posters. The one on the left is advertising the Midland Pullman, a first class express service between St. Pancras & Manchester that ran before the electrification of West Coast Main Line in 1966. The service was famed for its luxury and smoothness, and I hear it’s being revived in 2021. The one on the right features Gerry Barney’s new British Rail logo launched on the first day of 1965. The famous two way track logo formed a new identity for Great Britain’s new rail organisation, and was widely adopted in livery, advertising, and uniforms. Consequently, the logo became synonymous to rail transport, to the extent that it survived BR’s privatisation in 1997 to be mockingly referred to as the “Crow’s Feet”, “Barbed Wire”, or (my favourite) “Arrows of Indecision”. In case you’re wondering why that happened, the secret’s hiding in those posters claiming ‘Bargain Travel’ and ‘Travel Times Cut !’, which read utterly utopian today – something you may be able to verify too next time you’ll invest your time and money to travel by rail in Britain.

Film, Television & Theatre Posters

The Lost Tunnels, as you might expect, are plastered with adverts. I saw many movie, theatre and television related posters, favourite pastimes then, as they are today.

Among the most striking titles I recognised, were Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), one of the best horror films ever made, its blood-red lettering surviving almost intact trough subsequent layers of adverts.

Still the best film about Mommy issues

And let’s not forget Spartacus (1960), Stanley Cubrick’s star-studded epic. One can still make out Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, and even Kirk Douglas’ signature jawline :

I’m Spartacus !

There’s a poster advertising West Side Story‘s theatrical roadshow that premiered at London’s Astoria Theatre in February 1962. Roadshows were exclusive movie screenings that combined the intimacy of the theatrical experience with the magic of cinema. Films on roadshow release would be very limited to a small number of theatres, with reserved seats, intermissions, printed programmes, and even matinee/evening scheduling to mirror the style of theatre performances.

A 1962 poster for the (quite Shakespearean) West Side Story

More often than not, the stars would be present to greet the lucky audience, as in the case of Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Roadshows brought the qualities of film actors on stage, for audiences to experience beyond the silver screen – although in the case of West Side Story, it started off as as a successful Broadway play in 1957, and popularised via its famous screen adaptation before the subsequent sold out roadshow advertised in Euston’s tunnels.

Can’t mistake Julie Andrews in 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie

There’s a wealth of other, less blockbusting movie and theatre features from that time. Touch and Go, an Ealing Studios romantic comedy from 1955 appears under from several peeling layers of newer posters. A poster about the “True Story of Coronation Street” – the world’s longest running soap opera was only in its first season in December 1960.. next to it, a theatrical production of Puss In Boots which premiered in Theatre Royal Stratford East on Boxing Day 1961, no doubt under the artistic direction of its extraordinary artistic director, Joan Littlewood. Then there’s The Errand Boy, a 1961 comedy starring Jerry Lewis. Lonely are the Brave (1962) a straight up Western starring Kirk Douglas and Gena Rowlands next to The Valiant, a war film from the same year, which was a British-Italian co-production premiering with a Royal Gala in January 1962. Then there’s Christopher Lee starring in Terror of the Tongs, a 1961 action thriller set in 1910 Hong Kong . It is said that Lee had just returned from vacation in Northern Italy with a deep tan, a fact that was problematic for the film’s makeup department – as his role as a Chinese villain required him to have pale skin. Lee would later say that the heavy makeup he had to endure as a result was the most uncomfortable he had experienced up to that time !

I recognised some of the arthouse films of the era, such as John Schlesinger’s 1962 A Kind of Loving starring Alan Bates and introducing June Ritchie, a kitchen sink drama portraying disillusionment and desperation of modern life from a social realist art perspective. And here’s an appropriately minimalistic plain grey poster of Dutch actor/director Fons Rademakers Het Mes (The Knife), a coming-of-age drama which was entered in the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.

  • Euston Lost Tunnels
  • Euston Lost Tunnels

Among the memorable finds was this double 1967 “lawless” bill of One Born Every Minute starring George C. Scott and Sue Lyon, and Roger Corman’s The Valentine’s Day Massacre starring Jason Robards and George Segal. A double bill or double feature was a – now defunct – film studio practice where movie theatres were were made to purchase a lower cost B-movie alongside a more desirable main feature. Feature bundles had been a great attraction for moviegoers since the 30s given their 2 for 1 value, and as a result theatres showing double features became more popular compared to those only showing single feature. In the beginning, double bills helped many smaller studios get off the ground. However, major movie studios capitalised on the double bill trend by making their own b-movies alongside their main productions, then forcing movie theatres to buy their bundles exclusively. This cut-throat practice that became known as block booking, and put many smaller producers out of business before it was banned by a Supreme Court ruling in 1948. Although the ruling put an end to major film studio monopolies, double bills continued to be popular with audiences into the 60s and beyond. The 20th Century Fox double bill example seen at Euston’s Lost Tunnels is featuring two movies of a roughly similar budget.

Euston Lost Tunnels
20th Century Fox double bill poster ca. 1967

Services and Products

Some of the torn and frayed posters advertised fashionable services and products of the 60s. A great example is this poster showcasing the attributes of Springbak, a ground-breaking fabric developed by Moygashel, a Northern Irish apparel and furnishings manufacturer. They were referred to as “Masters of Mixture” owing to their experimental blended yarns like Springbak, which was two parts polyester and one part linen. It was shiny, creaseless, non-iron, an absolute dream for every modern woman of the time.

The next two posters advertise a novelty of the 60s, the Brushwave. Although it sounds like an obscure musical genre at first, Brushwave was in fact the world’s first permanent wave for colour treated hair. The beautiful hairstyles seen here were both elegant and resilient, and were achieved via the novelty of a chemical reaction rather than through the use of the cumbersome chandelier-like electric machines of the past.

Another great find was this advert from the Theosophical Society, a quasi-religious, esoteric movement founded by Russian occultist Helena Blavatsky in 1875. Notable British members included D.H. Lawrence, T.S Eliot, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and remarkably Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, the architect of the nation’s air victory during the Battle of Britain. People in the 60s aspired to enlightenment and personal development as much as we do today, and Theosophy, a school of thought I admit not being familiar with, would have been one of the options available to them.

What is Theosophy?

Deeper into the tunnels

Leaving the glamour and glitter of London’s swinging 60s behind, the tunnels now turn into dimly-lit maintenance shafts leading further into the darkness. A gust of warm air sweeps through the narrow passage, then a baritone electric motor hum, and suddenly the shrill sound of air brakes. It’s the unmistakeable sign of a tube train approaching the abandoned station… but how? Is this a figment of my imagination? Is this the sound of a ghost train still riding in those tunnels that time forgot? I’m having a hair raising moment : perhaps I have I been down in these dark tunnels for too long..

a dark shaft

Looking further up the dark tunnel, I see bright light coming through a grate on the floor. I look through the grate, and I am relieved to see we’re hovering above one of the Northern line tunnels that’s still in use. As the trains below us come to a stop, we witness the familiar choreography of passengers getting off, others getting on, and hear the muffled sound of a tannoy before the train’s prompt departure towards the next stop. In the lull between trains, I find myself spying on the unsuspecting passengers on the platform below, waiting for the next train to arrive. For a few minutes, I enjoy the leisure of secretly watching London moving below my feet from inside a tunnel that time forgot.

Through the grate

Back to the lost tunnels, then back to the ticket hall, and finally I surface outside. It’s pouring down with rain, and in the dimly lit street, I find myself looking for the nearest signage and technology to verify I am back to our day, and not stuck in the 60s by virtue of one of London’s hidden anomalies. And then smiling to myself about how that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

Sources :

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3 thoughts on “Ghost Subway : a time capsule at Euston’s Lost Tunnels

  1. This was extremely fun to read. Thanks for sharing it here! I’d like to contribute my voice to your blog (I’m a full-time VO guy) if you’re keen to give it a try. Feel free to reply here, or contact me directly on my site.

    1. Hi Darius. I’m glad you liked this post. Thank you for your VO offer too. I’ve been using my own voice to convert my posts to podcasts since last year

      1. Certainly nothing wrong with using your own voice, especially with great material. However if you’d like to mix things up a bit (maybe a slick promo video, or bumpers for your podcast) just hit me up and we’ll get to it! Keep up the good work, and stay safe out there.

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