Search

The real truth behind Sherlock’s abandoned ‘Sumatra Road’ tube station? It’s under Hampstead Heath

18:16 05 January 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr Watson

Archant

While an astonishing 9.2million viewers eagerly tuned in to BBC One on New Year’s Day to see how Sherlock Holmes faked his own death, it was the side story involving the disused “Sumatra Road” tube station that really took Hampstead residents by surprise.

Depicted as an underground launching site for a terrorist network, the show described it as a station commissioned but never opened, constructed but subsequently abandoned.

Seemingly named after a real road running along the railway line in West Hampstead, intrigued residents were left to wonder whether there really could be an abandoned station under their feet.

Although not quite the perfect retreat for an international terrorist group, the show’s writers have revealed the inspiration for their underground lair does exist – but is instead underneath Hampstead Heath.

North End station, which would have appeared on the Northern Line between Hampstead and Golders Green, was built in the early 1900s as part of a line commissioned under the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway Act.

Although planned as a passenger station for a new housing development to the north of the Heath, a campaign led by social reformer Henrietta Barnett and a very low projected number of passenger users meant it became the only London Underground station to be built but never opened.

Despite having already constructed staircases, subways and functioning platforms, work was stopped in 1906.

While never used as a launching site for an underground terrorist attack - as is claimed in the show - the Hampstead station’s remarkable true history saw it become a secret Cold War control centre designed to protect London should it be hit with a nuclear bomb.

“In 1939/40, floodgates had been installed at a number of points in tube tunnels near the Thames to prevent water ingress if a bomb penetrated the underwater portion of the tunnel,” explains Peter Kay, railway historian and editor of London Railway Record.

“[During the Cold War] the chosen site for both the emergency control centre and the new floodgate control centre was to be at the uncompleted North End station.

“Work started in spring 1956 at the original station building site in Hampstead Way.”

The quiet, unassuming road running alongside the Heath became the site of one of four underground government “war rooms” in outer London during the height of the Cold War.

Its role as a key defence during the nuclear arms race only ended during the 1980s when risk of nuclear attack subsided and the construction of the Thames Barrier added to London’s flood defences.

Its current life is, as Transport for London (TfL) claims, much less exciting.

Now known as the “Bull and Bush” station – after the nearby pub in North End Way - what looks like a transformer building currently acts as an emergency escape route for tube passengers should a train become stranded.

Access is severely restricted, but one man who did manage to pay a visit - much to the chagrin of officials in charge of the site’s security - was former BBC researcher Hywel Williams.

“I spoke to the right people at the right time and managed to get a pass for the day,” he said.

“You walk down an unusual square staircase - something I imagine must have been a Cold War relic - and come to a long tunnel.

“You can still see tube trains rushing past what used to be platforms, so it can be very dangerous.

“But apart from a solitary toilet and wash basin – which looked still in use - I didn’t get to see much else.

“They wouldn’t allow me to go and see where all the action during the Cold War happened.

“In fact, after my visit I believe there was a blanket ban on people visiting the underground’s disused stations.”

The Sherlock BBC series - starring Hampstead’s own Benedict Cumberbatch - continues tonight at 8.30pm on BBC One.

0 comments

Latest Hampstead & Highgate News Stories

Yesterday, 18:35
Geography teacher Kato Harris wept as a jury cleared him of all charges

A Geography teacher has told of the “massive stress” of being accused of repeatedly raping a 14-year-old pupil in the classroom of his Camden school.

Yesterday, 17:45
Nearly 4,000 pupils were excluded for reasons including racist abuse and sexual misconduct across Camden, Haringey and Barnet. Picture: PA

Racist abuse, sexual misconduct and drug and alcohol offences – these are some of the reasons why nearly 4,000 Camden, Haringey and Barnet pupils were excluded from schools last year.

Yesterday, 17:37
Kato Harris, has been cleared of  three counts of rape

A geography teacher wept today after a jury took just 26 minutes to clear him of repeatedly raping a pupil in a classroom at a Camden school.

Yesterday, 15:45
Islington Square Show Apartment

Interior designers Amos and Amos have created a hyper local show home featuring only furniture and accessories they sourced from shops on Upper Street

Yesterday, 15:12
Restoration work begins in the theatre at Alexandra Palace. Photo: Polly Hancock

The Park and Palace Trust launch a one million pound fundraising campaign to support the theatre’s restoration.

Yesterday, 13:19
Omar Bartocci, 13,  has been found safe and well after going missing last Wednesday

A 13-year-old junior rugby player has been found “safe and well.” after going missing for five days.

Yesterday, 09:52
Golders Green station was evacuated after security alert  Pic credit: @im725555

Golders Green station was evacuated by police at around 7am this morning after a vehicle abandoned in the car park caused a security alert.

Saturday, July 23, 2016
Tracey Palmer, Macmillan information and support manager at The Whittington Hospital, and Angel Bellot, the hospital's PALS and complaints manager (Picture: Eve Harris)

Two brave Whittington workers will swap the wards for the sky (and then, hopefully, the ground) when they jump out of a plane for charity this weekend.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Most read Hampstead & Highgate news

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Property Newsletter Sign-up

Get the latest North London property news and features straight to your inbox with our regular newsletter

I am also happy to receive other emails...
Fields marked with a * are mandatory
Email Marketing by e-shot

Competitions

Which book character do you share cleaning habits with?

Whether you have more in common with put-upon Cinderella, emotionally turbulent Jane Eyre, or easily distracted Mole, you’re sure to appreciate that one lucky winner will receive four sessions of free cleaning. Enter our quiz for your chance to win. All runners up will get £10 off their first clean when making a repeat booking.

£15k prize bundle

Imagine having the opportunity to win an incredible £15,000 bundle of some of the most amazing prizes available. Well, for one lucky contest entrant that dream could soon become a reality because we at MyOffers are offering an incredible free prize bundle that will make even the most hardened person wild with excitement.

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now