It had a quite unremarkable history for its first three decades, having been under-used as an London Underground station despite its central location and closing in 1932 just 25 years after opening.
But seven years later, Down Street station began an extraordinary period as a vital Second World War operations hub for 40 people at a time managing the crucial role of running Britain’s mainline railways from 1939 to 1947.
It was also favoured by then prime minister Winston Churchill who stayed there for safety while his normal residences of 10 Downing Street and the underground Cabinet War Rooms were being repaired and reinforced.
Churchill, who took cover there during The Blitz, nicknamed it ‘The Burrow’ and was said to have enjoyed the fine wine, cigars, caviar, vintage champagne and brandy supplied by nearby railway hotels despite rationing.
Post-war, Down Street has been used only for engineering access and as an emergency exit for the Piccadilly line, with trains running past every few minutes in both directions between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner stations.
But now, members of the public are now being given the opportunity to go through a grey door and begin an £85 guided tour of the station by the London Transport Museum, with MailOnline given an exclusive preview this week.
While the station has not been used in TV or film productions because the narrow entrance makes it too hard to get camera equipment in, it was referenced in two Agatha Christie novels – those being The Man in the Brown Suit in 1924 and The Mystery of the Blue Train in 1928. It was also mentioned by Neil Garman in Neverwhere in 1996.
Walking down a spiral staircase ending some 72ft (22m) below ground level, there is some lighting to help guide Transport for London workers around – but anyone entering the station would require a torch to navigate their way through a maze of tunnels, staircases, disused platforms and lift shafts leading around abandoned rooms.
The remains of bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, telephone exchange equipment and meeting rooms once used by the wartime Railway Executive Committee (REC) are seen – with old signs indicating the former usage as a station.
A disused tunnel at Down Street station in London’s Mayfair which is being reopened for public tours from next January
A tunnel leading to the lift shaft at Down Street which was opened as a station in March 1907 before closing in 1932
The original exterior of Down Street station in Mayfair is pictured in 1914 (left), seven years after it opened to the public. The station (present day, right) used to be accessed by street level on Down Street, with Down Street Mews visible to the right
Down Street station now exists as an emergency escape route and people will be able to visit during the Hidden London tours
Abandoned bathroom and toilet facilities from Down Street station during its usage as a secret government bunker
An old sign directing passengers to the platforms located between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner on the Underground
An abandoned staircase at Down Street station in London which was only in use as an Underground stop for 25 years
The tunnels at Down Street station were converted into office space for the wartime Railway Executive Committee in 1939
A sign directing people to street level up a spiral staircase which also featured a two-person lift for members of the REC
The empty lift shaft is among the fascinating features within Down Street station which is reopening for public tours
Siddy Holloway is engagement manager for the Hidden London programme which is run by the London Transport Museum
A bathtub in the station on which transport workers are thought to have scrawled ‘Winston Woz Ere’ as a joke in recent years
Signs at platform level of Down Street which are intended to direct transport workers and engineers to each platform. These signs were created after the station was closed and feature stations which did not exist at the time of its closure in 1932
One of the wartime operations rooms at Down Street station, with a picture showing two men working at the end of the room
An abandoned staircase at Down Street which is now being made available for public tours again from next January
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum makes her way through one of the corridors at Down Street station
The lift shaft in which passengers used to make their way down to the platform level at Down Street station in London
MailOnline has been given an exclusive preview tour of Down Street station before it reopens for public tours next year
Some of the spaces at Down Street station are used for storage and are accessed by Transport for London workers
One of the tunnels at Down Street station which is going to be opened up again as part of the Hidden London tours
Winston Churchill was a regular visitor to Down Street station during the Blitz and nicknamed it ‘The Burrow’. He is pictured at his seat in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street in 1940. He used Down Street while Downing Street was being reinforced
The station opened on March 15, 1907 to serve the exclusive Mayfair district on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway – which later became the Piccadilly line – between Hammersmith and Finsbury Park.
But it was under-used, partially because it was very close to Dover Street (now Green Park) and Hyde Park Corner stations, and relatively inconvenient to use because of its depth and not being visible on the main Piccadilly road.
Another reason was that most local residents were very rich and therefore preferred to use private transport. This combination led to it being closed on Sundays from 1918 and then permanently shut on May 21, 1932.
The lifts down to the platforms were then taken out and the station was converted into a ventilation shaft, which is how it probably would have remained if rumours of war had not intensified in the following years.
But it had a fascinating and secret purpose on the horizon to make its construction worthwhile, after the REC was formed in 1938 to run the UK’s railways in the event of war, which was an increasing possibility at the time.
Officials from the Government body needed a safe and bomb-proof location to manage trains and saw Down Street as ideal, with conversion starting in April 1939 and finishing six months later soon after war was declared.
The ticket hall was taken out, parts were repainted in yellow and the ceiling was steel-fortified, while a huge blast-proof door also helped to ensure those working underground would be protected against aerial bombardment.
The exterior of Down Street station is seen in Mayfair in 1930, only two years before it closed to passengers in 1932
The London Transport Executive meet at Down Street in 1940. Chief executive Frank Pick sits nearest to camera on right
The booking hall at Down Street station is photographed in 1927, only five years before it closed for good in 1932
Down Street Mews is located above the station and is where Winston Churchill’s driver used to park his car during the war
A Royal Doulton washbasin in one of the rooms at Down Street station which was used as a wartime operations hub
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum looks up in the lift shaft which can be seen on the Down Street tours
Down Street road in Mayfair which is where the station is located, between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner stations
A sign directing people towards the street level up a spiral staircase connecting the platform and tunnels with above ground
Two of the toilets which were installed in the station as part of its transformation into a wartime operations centre in 1939
One of the tunnels at Down Street station which was only in operation for Underground passengers for 25 years
Down Street road is pictured looking south towards Piccadilly, under which the Piccadilly Underground line runs
The blast-proof door just inside the entrance to the station, with a sentry position to see who was coming in during the war
Words written on a bathtub at the station which some claim was used by Winston Churchill – but this has never been proven
Siddy Holloway descends the spiral staircase at Down Street station which leads down to what was the REC operations hub
Siddy Holloway points to a map of Down Street station which was unpopular with passengers because of its long corridosr
A view of the spiral staircase at Down Street station looking up from below, with a small lift for two people in the middle
The station in London’s Mayfair district features a spiral staircase ending some 72ft (22m) below ground level
A Piccadilly line train can be seen passing at platform level of Down Street station, between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner
One of the offices signs installed when the station was converted into the wartime operations centre in 1939
The blast-proof door at the top of the spiral staircase which leads to a flight of steps and then the street level exit
The narrow tunnels were turned into different rooms for the REC including meeting space, offices and a telephone exchange which connected the station to other government departments and important railway locations.
Accommodation was built for 40 staff who worked in shifts, and they were able to use dormitories, washrooms, toilets and dining facilities which look decrepit now but were seen as reasonably comfortable at the time.
The REC worked on a 24/7 basis with most of its workers living, eating and sleeping in shift patterns of ten to 12 days, with the aim of avoiding attention by people constantly going in and out of the doorway at street level.
Senior executives could also make the most of an executive mess room and private bedrooms, both of which were put to use by Churchill, who was known to have enjoyed brandy, cigars and other luxuries there.
Churchill’s assistant private secretary John Colville described Down Street as ‘the safest place’ during the Blitz, and the PM is known to have dined with members of the REC and War Cabinet in the mess in November 1940.
And Down Street continued to be the REC’s headquarters for two years after the war had ended, managing the movement of troops and equipment until it was disbanded in December 1947 when the railways were nationalised.
Siddy Holloway, who is engagement manager for the Hidden London programme which is run by the museum, took MailOnline on the tour on Monday and said: ‘If these walls could speak, they would tell us all sorts of stories.’
Signage displaying which offices were located where within the station at Down Street is now nearly barely visible
A dusty passageway and steps at Down Street station is among the features that those going on the tour will be able to see
Siddy Holloway from the Museum of London walks through one of the tunnels that used to be used by passengers
Old signage and doorways to rooms at Down Street station which was converted into a wartime operations hub in 1939
Signage at platform level of Down Street station which was installed for the benefit of workers after the station was closed
Yellow paint on the walls of one of the rooms at Down Street station – which was a common colour inside wartime buildings
One of the washbasins in a bathroom at Down Street station which was installed when it was converted for the war in 1939
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum stands on what was once the platform level at Down Street station
The remains of the telephone exchange infrastructure which was installed at Down Street station for its wartime usage
A lamp and ventilation unit can be seen on the ceiling on one of the rooms within the converted Down Street station
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum examines one of the lights in a passageway at Down Street station
The yellow-painted walls below a ceiling of one room at Down Street station which was used during the Second World War
One of the narrow passageways at Down Street station in London’s Mayfair which are located at platform level
Down Street station is used in part for storage by Transport for London, with a large number of buckets in one of the rooms
A service button in the executive mess room in which Winston Churchill is known to have eaten with officials
Ms Holloway, who presented the recent series ‘Secrets of the London Underground’ on UKTV’s Yesterday channel, added: ‘It really did have a huge impact on the war effort and the logistics of running the war effort for Britain.’
She added: ‘Long corridors were the problem of the station when it was opened in passenger use because people just wouldn’t bother using it – you’d just go to the more reliable one, Hyde Park Corner or Green Park.
‘But in effect what turned out to be the problem with it as a station turned out to be it’s blessing as a secret governmental bunker during the Second World War, because you’ve got all of this real estate underground in large format that you can just take over and convert into offices, and that’s what they did.’
Ms Holloway also said: ‘Even though Down Street never received a direct hit, if it had that might have paralysed movement of all sorts for days or weeks. And that would have been a deadly blow particularly during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, so this place really did contribute heavily to those crucial months in 1940 and 1941.’
She continued: ‘I’ve been going to these tunnels for seven years, but there is something completely bonkers about this place because it’s so centrally located – we all pass by it all the time without noticing it.
‘And it’s all still here in such good condition, it’s just incredible. And it played such a vital part in the war effort without most of us really knowing anything about it – it’s really interesting.’
Old signs at Down Street station which were installed to direct people around the building when it was converted in 1939
One of the tunnels at the disused Underground station Down Street which is located on the Piccadilly line in Mayfair
Some parts of the walls are in better repair than others at the station which has not seen passengers since 1932
The entrance to a spiral staircase at Down Street station which opened in 1907 but was closed to passengers in 1932
A long tunnel at Down Street which the London Transport Museum is going to open for public tours next January
The station was used during the Second World War as a bunker by the prime minister and played a crucial role in the conflict
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum walks up a flight of steps as she examines the walls of the station
Remnants of the telephone exchange at Down Street station in Mayfair which was used during the Second World War
An emergency control panel for fire crews at Down Street which is used in the present-day as a storage facility by TfL
This equipment was used for the telephone exchange at the station which operated as a wartime operations centre
One of the bathrooms at Down Street station in London which will be reopened for public tours from next January
Two Royal Doulton washbashins in a bathroom at Down Street station which has not been used by passengers since 1932
Disused telephone exchange equipment at Down Street station which used to be on the Piccadilly line in Mayfair
Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum shines a torch through one of the abandoned tunnels at Down Street
A tiled ‘way out’ sign still exists from Down Street’s days as a station for Underground passengers from 1907 to 1932
The upcoming tours of Down Street will restart in January next year as part of the exclusive ‘Hidden London’ visits of four disused sites on the Underground network, following a hiatus of almost two years due to the pandemic.
There will also be tours of the disused Aldwych station along with visits to normally-secret sections of Euston and Moorgate, with a new season of ‘Secrets of Central London’ walking tours also set to begin next year.
The Down Street and Euston tours will run on dates between January 15 and February 13, while Aldwych and Moorgate tours will be from March 2 to 27. Tickets will go on public sale from this Friday via the museum.
The Euston tour, called ‘The Lost Tunnels’, is £41.50 for adults and will take people through passageways beneath the present-day station that were once used by the travelling public and feature vintage poster fragments.
The Aldwych tour, costing £41.50, takes people around the station to explore the original ticket hall, lift shafts, abandoned platforms and tunnels. The station opened in 1907 but was never heavily used and closed in 1994.
Aldwych, which provided shelter to Londoners during the Blitz, has been used for film and TV productions including Darkest Hour in 2017, Sherlock in 2014 and Atonement in 2007.
The interior of the booking hall at Down Street station in 1927, which shows the old lift entrance and the men’s toilets
An entrance boarded up in 1939 with a Robert McAlpine Ltd contractor’s sign, showing that the conversion was in progress
The final tour is of Moorgate, also costing £41.50, which will take people behind the scenes at what was one of London’s first Tube stations, featuring a maze of disused tunnels and track left behind from station upgrades.
Visitors will also get to see an original Greathead Shield left abandoned from a planned tunnel extension in 1904, along with corridors lined with original glass tiles of the City and South London Railway.
The £20 above-ground walking tours taking in Covent Garden, Kingsway, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Victoria Embankment will also begin in January and look at how the areas have transformed over 200 years.
Down Street: Churchill’s Secret Station is is one of the locations on London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tour programme. The tour will run on selected dates between January 15 and February 13 inclusive.
Tickets cost £85 for adults and £80 for concessions and will go on sale on Thursday to those who pre-register with the museum’s newsletter, before going on general sale on Friday. Click here for more information