It’s been announced that the until now secretive tube station built underneath Buckingham Palace is to be opened this summer for people to visit as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
The tube station was built at the height of the Cold War as part of a longer emergency escape railway built for the government and runs between the former government bunker at Marsham Street in Whitehall to a junction with the Piccadilly line at Green Park.
Commissioned by the Chief of Staff, General Birdcage in 1958, it’s understood to be a single-track tunnel, with a terminus at the Rotundas bunker in Whitehall, stations at Wellington Barracks and at Buckingham Palace. Construction was led by the Earl Marsham of Street, whose background in mining and family moto of Stulti vadunt eo quo angeli verentur ingredi seemed apt to lead the construction of this tunnel. It took four years to hand-dig the tunnel, and the spoil was used to landscape parts of Hyde Park near Marble Arch, giving the area the distinctive mounds that it has today.
The stations themselves are just small halts, and it’s expected that just a short 2-car shuttle train would have been used on the line. The shuttle train was run monthly down the line to keep drivers refreshed and the tracks in good working order until the line was decommissioned due to the declining threat of the Cold War and practical realities that it wasn’t much use anyway. The last driver to run a test train along the tracks was G Orwell on 1st April 1984.
Although details were secret, they were declassified earlier this year, along with an unexpected photo of The Queen at the station, and this gave researchers their first chance to map the long-rumoured rail line.
One of the more unexpected revelations was that the top of the Victoria Memorial outside the front of Buckingham Palace is a ventilation shaft for the railway tunnel underneath, having reportedly been designed for a planned public car park that was to go under the front of the Palace courtyard but was never built.
Only the station at Buckingham Palace is being opened to the public, as the Rotunda site was filled in when the Home Office building was constructed, and the Wellington Barracks station is still inside an active military site.
As a practical solution to removing the Head of State and other government ministers from London, the plan was fatally flawed though, as was swiftly realised after it was built. If there were to be an attack on London, it would be impossible to seal off the rest of the Piccadilly line for an evacuation train, and the last thing you want is a private train carrying the Queen being held up on platforms in the midst of an attack.
In practice, helicopters turned out to be a far more viable alternative, especially as they could land in Buckingham Palace’s garden and take people to RAF Northolt, which is a far more sensible place to evacuate the government should the need arise.
The tube tunnel was never used and the tracks were removed in the 1990s, and it passed into legend about the many secret tunnels reputed to have been dug under London during the Cold War.
This summer though, people will be invited to visit the small station under Buckingham Palace for the first time, with details to be announced shortly.
Yes, it’s April Fool.
If G Orwell in 1984 wasn’t enough of a clue, then there’s General Birdcage — Birdcage Walk is the road that Wellington Barracks is on, and Earl Marshall of Street is Marshall Steet, where the other WW2 bunker is based. The photo is from February 2010 when The Queen visited Aldgate tube station.