Ever wandered past an abandoned underground station, and wondered what it would be like inside? Or seen a station you didn’t recognise in a film, and wondered where they shot it? With Hidden London, you need not wonder anymore. Each year, this group organises select dates where urban explorers can wander and learn about the history of some of London’s abandoned underground stations and historical buildings.
This year marked the opening of a new tour, around the old abandoned Highgate station. Once a vital stop on the Great Northern Road and later tipped to be an important commuter interchange station, a series of unfortunate events led to it being abandoned and reclaimed by nature. But now, Hidden London are letting people view this urban wilderness for the first time in years.
The first question on everyone’s mind when we arrived at the station was how all the stations and surrounding area came into being. Our guides Paul and Jim explained that the land was once owned by the Bishop of London, and was situated in close proximity to the Great Northern Road, which led all the way to Edinburgh. People began to settle around this area and offer food and accommodation to travellers, and the area became fairly prosperous.
As technology improved, the Great Northern Railway agreed to extend its steam train line from London out towards the ‘suburbs’ (that’s zone 2 and 3 to you and me) of Highgate and Edgeware. Unfortunately little remains of the original steam train station, except for the little station house, which acts as Hidden London’s HQ today.
Instead, what we could see on the tour today was the remains of the new station designed and initially built by Charles Holden between 1937 and 1941. Featuring a mixture of modern and Art Deco architecture, Highgate was designed to be a major station hub for the north of London. However with the outbreak of WWII, the station was used alternatively as an air raid shelter given its deep tunnels.
After the war, funds for the remaining works on the station were redirected towards rebuilding London, but by the 1950s new ‘Green Belt’ legislation that protected London’s surrounding countryside included Highgate station and the surrounding area, and the station was closed.
Wandering around Highgate’s wilderness walk gives you a ‘post-apocalypse’ sensation. Looking at the litter and trees that have sprung up on the abandoned tracks feels like time has frozen in the 1950s. Down along the tracks, with forest surrounding you, it is impossible to hear the nearby traffic, and it is easy to see why this place has become an urban sanctuary for wildlife.
Highgate station now forms part of a ‘green corridor’ that allows animals to move freely across the city without interacting with humans or traffic. Nocturnal animals such as bats now live in the old train tunnels, and elm, oak and ash trees have been popping up around the station as well. According to TfL, there are no future plans for Highgate; instead they are leaving that to Mother Nature.
If you are interested in seeing Highgate’s station for yourself, check out the next available tickets and dates at Hidden London’s page here.