Going Underground in London

Gah! It’s already Sunday evening, which means I’ve only got two full days left on this trip! Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun. And I haven’t yet written about my enjoyable Saturday, but that’s what I’m here to do now, so let’s focus on that, shall we? 🙂

So, Saturday. It was another glorious day outside (no rain, lots of sunshine, and plenty of warmth) and I had another fun, new-to-me activity planned. Well, the TYPE of activity, a Hidden London tour of an Underground station, wasn’t new to me as I did one at Piccadilly on my last trip, but the specific experience was new as it was a tour of a completely different station, Clapham South (which is a station I hadn’t even been to before this trip). The whole point of these tours is to explore the history of the Underground network, which may sound a bit dull to some, but I had a lot of fun on my previous tour, so I knew this one would be great as well.

The day started much like the others have on this trip, with a bit of blogging and catching up on my notifications (I always wake up to more when I’m here, since I’m going to bed when everyone back home is still up and about), but with the tour booked for 12:55, Matt and I decided to do a bit of walking towards Clapham South in the bright sunshine (I didn’t have time to do a morning walk before we left, but Matt was happy to walk more than we probably otherwise would have, allowing us to leisurely head towards our destination). There were lots of people out and about (courtesy of the sunshine and the fact that it was Saturday, I’m sure), so we had to dodge through some crowds, but things thinned out a bit by the time we got to Victoria Embankment. Lots of people talking photos though, which I can appreciate, since the weather was so great to snap photos of all the London landmarks! Speaking of which…

Selfie with the abbey!
Another Big Ben photo, this time taken because of the added presence of the Goodyear blimp. Anyone know why it was floating around London??
‘Ello, Eye!
Protesting against vaccinate mandates, eh? Ugh.

We didn’t have any breakfast before setting out on our journey (thanks to intermittent fasting, I don’t really do breakfast anymore anyway), but we did have enough time to stop at a coffee shop once we reached Clapham South, so we sat down for a coffee (Matt) and a brownie (me) before gathering at the station for the tour. Thankfully, the tickets were clear about where to meet (in the station’s ticket hall) and we were only standing there for about a minute before someone from the tour found us (and others who were waiting) and took us over to the entrance point (unlike the Piccadilly tour, this tour does not involve going through the in-use station to reach our destination underneath it). The focus for the Clapham South tour isn’t on the station per se, but rather on the purpose-built shelter found about 70 feet underground. The purpose-built nature of the shelter makes this station a unique one because, while many Underground stations were used during WW2 as shelter during air raids, the majority of them just offered train platforms for shelter. In the case of this station and handful of others, the UK government dug out and built underground shelters that could hold 8,000 people each to ensure as many people as possible could be protected from the many bombs that were dropped on London. Unfortunately, as we learned, these purpose-built shelters weren’t completed until 1942, by which time the German blitzes over London had mostly stopped. Of course, no one could have known that going in, and that doesn’t mean that the shelters didn’t still get used, both during the rest of WW2 and afterwards. Three of the other shelters were put to immediate use upon completion – one as a base for the US military, another as a barracks for the UK military, and another for use by the UK Ministry of Information. And the others (Clapham South, plus four others) were used as air raid shelters, but they (thankfully) never had to be used beyond ~20% capacity. Still, that means a lot of people were able to get protection from bombs, which I’m sure they were very grateful for!

In comparison to the Piccadilly tour, I have to say I enjoyed that one a bit more, maybe because the actual Underground/trains elements played a bigger part in it. It’s not that I’m a train aficionado or anything, but something about the fact that we had to start in the station itself and then spent some time in it with our guides before going to the normally-off-limits stuff made it a little more interesting. At Clapham South, there’s an exterior entrance that takes you directly to the underground shelter, so you completely bypass the station to do the tour (be warned that you must go down 180 steps to start this tour, with no elevator option). That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this one though because I definitely did! It just didn’t feel quite as “hidden” perhaps. 🙂 Our tour guides were excellent though! They seemed really passionate about the content and had great information to share, which they did in a very engaging way (they tended to switch off from one guide to another as we moved through the different spaces, which kept things more interesting and less monotonous). All told, we spent ~70 minutes with them, which felt right as we were never rushed through anything nor did it ever feel dull at any point.

Check out the photos below, where you can not only see some of neat stuff from the tour, but you can also read more of the details about what we learned.

Love the tile around the sign!
This was our meeting point.
Be sure to wear your visitor tag while on the tour!
Around the back of this “drum” is the entrance to the shelter.
Getting an overview of the tour from one of our guides before heading down.
I saw this little sign right at the top of the stairs.
One of the directional signs that helped orient people as they used the shelter.
Getting an overview of stations with purpose-built shelters, including a couple of shelters that were started, but then abandoned. One was near St. Paul’s Cathedral and it was abandoned because no one wanted to damage this hugely important London landmark by digging deep underneath it.
This room was the medical aid post, where a staff of six provided medical treatment to those who needed it. Note the water tap and tile where the sink used to be.
Showing off the size of one of the shelter tunnels. These were all dug BY HAND. Can you believe it?! From start to finish, this project took just one year to complete. Pretty impressive!
Learning more about the shelter while our guide highlights a newspaper headline about a new kind of bomb that could propel itself, rather than needing to be dropped from a plane.
Another directional sign, plus a glimpse at the original bunks that have been left in this section of the shelter to give visitors a sense of what it was like to sleep there.
Because families would be bunking near each other, they often hung up sheets or blankets like this to give themselves a sense of privacy.
Although it may be hard to picture (since they’re no longer there), there were also bunks along the now-empty side of the wall. They were slightly wider and were generally used for nursing mothers (which gave them a bit more space than a normal bunk).
This was the office of the superintendent who ran the shelter. In the large photo, you can see someone standing at a microphone, sharing pertinent announcements to the sheltered population. The record player in the corner was used to play music, both at lights out (so people knew when the lights would be shut off) and as entertainment (to keep morale up, dances and social events would sometimes be hosted for the shelterers).
I found these posters about food amusing. You don’t have to convince me to eat potatoes! 🙂 Interestingly, while in the shelter, non-rationed food was available, which would have been a real treat for a population that had been sacrificing for years due to the war.
This was a bathroom (notice the marks on the right-hand wall where the urinals once were). While the urinals did have a sort of plumbing, all people got in the stalls were chemical toilets. With no true plumbing (certainly no sewage system) in the shelter, those toilets had to be emptied into a large container at the end of the room, which in turn had to be emptied every five days. It used highly-compressed air to shoot all the waste to the surface so it could be handled in the sewage system.
Our guide showing us were the canteen once was. Also, note the green pole to the left of the person with the blonde ponytail. Those green poles were exceedingly rare in the shelter because it indicated a non-smoking area, which were very few and far between. Yes, that means that people can (and did) smoke just about everywhere down here. Yuck! Based on oral histories taken from people who used the shelters though, the ventilation system was very good, so people never felt suffocated by the smoke.
The 80-year-old fuse box that was used for the canteen area.
More signs to ensure people knew how to get around. I can only imagine what it was like to be so far underground with no ambient light or landmarks to guide you!
I really like the picture of this tunnel, which leads right up to one of the train platforms. It’s now bricked up at the top, but when people sheltered here, this was sometimes used as a quick exit by people who had to catch a train to get to work in the morning (all shelterers had to be out by 7 AM each morning).
More bunks, plus a quote from someone who used them. After WW2, the shelter found new life as a shelter for people from the Caribbean who came to help rebuild. Later, it was used as a hotel during the Festival of Britain. It continued to be used as a primitive hotel for other groups as London was rebuilt and was also used as a barracks for a time.

Some of the wall graffiti from people who used the shelter at various times.

One last look at a bunker on our way out. Although the foreground is empty, you can see more (empty) bunks along the left-hand side in the background.

And that was the end of another great Hidden London tour! I really can’t recommend them enough as I find them so interesting and the guides I’ve had for both tours have been great. A really cool way to see parts of London you’d otherwise never get to!

With our desire to see some stuff under the ground satiated, Matt and I circled back to the idea we had the previous day to see something above the ground. That something? Why, Hampton Court Palace, of course! We’d balked at doing it on Friday because we didn’t think we’d have enough time to do it and get back in time for our evening plans (the palace is about an hour by train from the hotel), so we decided to try again on Saturday. I was a bit leery to be honest as I looked into tickets on Friday and there were no available times showing for the window in which we would arrive, but Matt is really familiar with that area as his parents are from there, so he assured me that we would have other options should we not be able to get palace tickets, so we went for it. Since it is so (relatively) far from central London, I didn’t want us to waste the journey, but my worry proved unnecessary as we reached the palace in plenty of time before they closed and we were able to easily get tickets. And as an added bonus, the very nice person at the ticket counter sold us two child tickets (£14 instead of £28, so it was like 2-for-1 – result!) because we wouldn’t have a huge amount of time to see everything. As it turned out, we had plenty of time see (almost) everything we wanted to, so it really did all work out perfectly!

Anyway, onto the palace! It’s not a royal residence these days, but in the 1500s, it was a favorite of Henry VIII and, in the 1600s, it was massively rebuilt by William III (aka William the Orange) and later became home to George II (who ended up being the last monarch to live there). For hundreds of years after that, it housed “grace and favour” residents, who are basically people the reigning monarch likes and wants to give free housing to. Apparently, the very last of these residents wasn’t gone until 2017! Unsurprisingly, being a palace and all, it’s become a big tourist destination, but one I’ve managed to never visit until now. I actually thought I had at some point, but a search of my blog revealed nothing and when I googled a photo of it before we went, it rang zero bells, so I safely concluded I’d never visited before. So, a brand-new experience then! Matt was quite excited for it as he hadn’t visited for many years, but had happy memories of it from his childhood.

As palaces go, this one was quite good. While it didn’t quite strike me as much as some others have, the age and history were certainly interesting, not to mention the fact that it was used by some well-known British monarchs. And being able to walk around it in lovely, sunny weather was a bonus! I hate when weather ruins the experience and/or memories of a site like this, but I know I’ll always think of Hampton Court with sun on my mind.

As with the Hidden London tour, I’ll use the photos below to tell the rest of the story and to highlight some of what I saw.

We had to go through a few stations to reach Hampton Court. It is in Fare Zone 6 though, so you can use an Oyster card to get there.
Ahh, made it! Bizarrely, there are no benches on the platform, which was fine when we arrived, but we could have used a place to sit while we waited for our return train.
Trying to fix the distinct lack of directional sign photos on this trip. 🙂
Heading in after grabbing our tickets! I realized after we left that I never got a photo of the full breadth of the palace, but hopefully this gives a sense of it.
This seemed to be a fountain, though no water was anywhere to be found.
Hampton Court offers lots of reminders to look UP on your travels. Quite the ceiling!
Entrance to the Chapel Royal, which was closed because a service was happening.
This courtyard looked fabulous in the sun!
This was the chocolate kitchen for William III.
The first stop on our self-guided tour through William III’s apartments was this room, where he would receive visitors.
The tapestry game was on point!
So much opulence.
The bedchamber of William III.
I think this was the “withdrawing room.” It’s from this phrase that we eventually get the phrase “drawing room.”
I think the purpose of this is obvious. While I’m sure covering it in velvet was a comfort thing, it doesn’t seem like the most practical choice.
I really liked this painting of the palace.
William III when he was still Prince William of Orange.
This one was actually called the drawing room (rather than “withdrawing”).
Not that I want a snake to bite me anywhere, but that particular spot isn’t one I’d want if I had a say in the matter.
Seems like so many of these rooms were for just, you know, sitting.
Ah, now this room was for both sitting AND eating. 😁

Some of the monarchs who lived in Hampton Court Palace.

More ceiling-gazing.
All sorts of ornate stuff here.
After seeing William III’s apartments, we circled back to see some of Henry VIII’s, which we’d passed on our way in.
This hall was massive! And just look at that original wooden ceiling.
This space was a chamber for palace pages and is furnished with real 16th century stuff.
And there’s the wife-collecting Henry VIII.
The setup for Henry VIII’s and Kathryn Parr’s wedding.
Remember the Chapel Royal entrance from earlier? We never did go in that way, but I did get to see the chapel from above.
Loved seeing the gardens in the glorious sunshine!
Jousters in the garden.
Did you catch that ice cream van in the first photo above? Dear reader, I stopped there on the way out. 🙂

And that brings us to the end of Hampton Court! While we both would like to have seen more of the gardens, as well as the palace’s famous maze, we just didn’t have time on this visit. On the plus side though, that gives me a reason to go back again someday! On this day though, we were certainly ready for the hour-long ride back into central London. We did have to wait a bit for the train at Hampton Court (and, as mentioned above, there was nowhere to sit while we waited -boo!), but once it arrived, it was smooth sailing back into the city.

You’d think we were done for the day at this point, but we weren’t quite yet. We did stop back at the hotel so we could refresh ourselves a bit, but then went right back out into the city, though this time it was just to head to meet up with some friends in their flat to watch the Eurovision finale. Although I’d heard of Eurovision, I’d never watched any of it, but I was up for the experience! In addition to watching (and commenting on) all the performances, we each got to draw random countries, with prizes given out for the top three and bottom one country (poor Germany). And as luck would have it, I drew Spain, so I got some biscuits as a prize to celebrate them getting third place. 🙂

Our little Eurovision group!
Our friends’ flat is very near the Shard, so I snapped a photo as we walked by it.

It was around 1 AM when we got back to the hotel, so I was more than ready for bed! Hence why this post about Saturday didn’t get finished until Monday morning. 🙂 And, fun fact – I actually finished the whole second half of this post on my train journey to Glastonbury (which I’ll write about soon). Sunday was an easier day, focused on seeing another show and catching up with my friend Steve. Shorter post about that coming soon!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!