Have you ever been marooned underground? I know I have as one time I was riding on the Paris Metro at 11am with only two other passengers on the train. The driver made a an abrupt announcement which didn’t make much sense before a few minutes later, the train stopped underground and the lights went out and a little while later we saw the driver walking off past our train in the tunnel. Apparently he’d just had enough of working and was having a break! He asked me if I didn’t hear the announcement and I said I did but I’m British and I thought I misunderstood it. I then asked the two French passengers nearby and they did understand the message but they just didn’t believe it!
Fortunately we were let out and after a bit of disruption were back on our way. Over a century ago however, someone in London wasn’t quite so fortunate.
If you have ever travelled on the London Underground then you sometimes catch a glimpse through the windows the shadowy remains of the platforms and signboards from London’s abandoned Tube stations. There are plenty of them around if you know where to look . Sometimes just by chance, a tube train might even stop by one and as some are used as storage depots or access points, a few of them are even lit up.
These days the train doors will only open when the driver presses the button but what would happen if by some freakish accident, you got off the train in a ghostly dark station and were unable to exit not just because you couldn’t see where you are going but because the exits were sealed off? It’s not hard to imagine a rather horrible protracted ending.
Such a horrific thing actually did happen in 1907 at an abandoned station called South Kentish Town which is in Camden, it was on a line then known as the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway.
The street-level building was built on the West side of Kentish Town Road, close to the junction of Castle Road.The station was originally meant to be known as Castle Road, but the railway company decided against it and eventually painted over these signs that had been created in the tunnels.
The station was never very busy, however, and when it closed during a strike at a nearby power station in 1924, it never reopened.
Shortly after this, a train was stopped by a signal in the tunnels next to the old station and a confused passenger apparently got off and stepped into the darkness by mistake, onto the old station platforms.
The spooky event was remembered in an article in the London Underground staff magazine, T.O.T.
It was immortalised in a poem called The Tale of Mr Brackett about a man who stepped off a train at an abandoned station because he was so engrossed in his newspaper.
First of all, it was so dark he thought he had gone blind. But eventually, he lit a match and it illuminated a station name board and he realised what had happened.
He desperately tried to flag down passing trains, but none of them stopped and the terrified man had to stay on the platform all night long.
In fact, he remained on the station all week, and like some latter-day Robinson Crusoe, he was only discovered after he tore some posters off the wall and set fire to them with his very last match.
Eventually, luckily for the man, a driver stopped his train and picked him up.
The horrifying story was illustrated with six illustrations by FH Stingemore – a man who was responsible for designing London Underground maps at the time.
The story was later made into a kind of horror story in a radio broadcast read out by Sir John Betjamin on the BBC. In this version of the story, the desperate passenger went as far as climbing the lift shaft to try to get out before he was eventually rescued by track workers.
The two platforms at South Kentish Town were eventually converted into an air-raid shelter in World War Two but were later removed and the hallmark ceramic tiles on the walls painted over.
Up above though, the street level building still remains intact and its semi-circular windows and distinctive red tiling give it away as a Tube station.
It’s been a tobacconist and a Cash Converters though recently it has been converted into an reality Escape Room game where Londoners can pretend they are lost passengers and have a time limit to get out of the abandoned station solving a series of puzzles and clues as they go. You can watch a teaser about it below. It seems that an unlucky passenger over a century ago has been the inspiration for a great business idea. I always like to see old buildings given a new lease of life.
I must admit I don’t have any posts about Robinson Crusoe but you might like to see the resting place of Daniel Defoe who wrote it https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2019/01/09/bunhill-fields-the-resting-place-of-some-of-the-biggest-names-in-history/