Every day, thousands walk by without any recognition. There are many vehicles, including buses and taxis, that pass the entrance without paying attention to what is beneath.

But, here, more than 70ft below London’s Piccadilly is where Sir Winston Churchill took refuge from the relentless German bombing of 1940, sleeping on a makeshift camp bed, deprived of natural light and fresh air — but, all the same and in typical Churchillian fashion, feasting on caviar, Perrier-Jouet champagne and 1865 brandy.

Down Street, an old station on London Underground, was once a stop along the Piccadilly line between Hyde Park Corner & Green Park. It opened in 1907, and closed in 1931.

But it went on to play a crucial role during World War II in protecting Churchill at the height of the Blitz — because although Churchill’s War Rooms near Downing Street were underground and handy for the PM by virtue of their location, they were not bomb-proof. An immediate hit would be catastrophic.

Now, more than 80 years later, Churchill’s secret Down Street bunker will open to visitors next month, offering a rare chance to see the warren of corridors, bedrooms, offices, dormitories, toilets, bathrooms, a 50-line telephone exchange and even a three-person lift: all of which, at the time, few knew existed.

It’s amazing that so few people know of its existence. Which is why the London Transport Museum, which is responsible for Down Street, clearly thinks it’s on to a good thing. Tickets, limited to 12 people at a time, cost a hefty £85 each plus a booking fee, or £80 for a concession. That’s more than double the cost of entry to the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace and twice the admission fee for the Tower of London.

More than 70ft below London¿s Piccadilly is where Sir Winston Churchill (pictured) took refuge from the relentless German bombing of 1940, sleeping on a makeshift camp bed, deprived of natural light and fresh air

More than 70ft below London’s Piccadilly is where Sir Winston Churchill (pictured) took refuge from the relentless German bombing of 1940, sleeping on a makeshift camp bed, deprived of natural light and fresh air

After being shown a sneak peek by Chris Nix (assistant director at the Transport Museum, author of Hidden London), it was well worth it.

‘Everything that made Down Street difficult as a Tube station — particularly deep, lengthy passageways to the platforms — made it great as a bunker,’ says Nix.

In 1939, the station became the headquarters of the Railway Executive Committee (REC), the body set up as an intermediary between the War Office and Britain’s privately-owned rail companies as a means of coordinating the vital movement of troops, supplies and equipment.

But, first, it needed to be made bomb-proof — an attack on the REC could bring the country grinding to a halt.

Under great secrecy, new walls were built and doors fitted with gas locks; offices, kitchens and mess rooms were built in the corridors and on the platforms, with enough room to accommodate as many as 40 people who worked day and night, sometimes not coming back up to street level for up to two weeks — as if they were working and living in a submarine.

‘It was the safest place in London. Nothing here would have touched you,’ says Nix.

1914: Down Street was never well used

1914: Down Street was not well-used

‘No bomb or gas attack could have penetrated into the bunker — but at the same time the REC knew “how to do themselves well”, as Churchill’s private secretary Jock Colville put it in his diaries.’

This is not evident outside. A portion of the entrance has been covered by a grocery shop, which was originally built in 1940 to protect it. You can see Leslie Green’s unique arched oxblood tiles, found in many other London Underground stations.

Nix unlocked a steel door, and we stepped inside. This is where Churchill, who called Down Street ‘The Burrow,’ would have been smuggled in and where a special lift was built in what was the ventilation shaft, around which a spiral staircase takes you down into the dark and dusty station. There are some remnants of old signs and arrows. ‘To Offices,’ says one. ‘Committee Room,’ says another.

The question of who suggested Down Street to Churchill as a safe-house is up for debate. It was clear, however, that Churchill couldn’t remain in Downing Street after the explosion at the Treasury on Oct 15, 1940 which killed three Treasury employees.

Nix says he was persuaded to stay in Down Street — ‘I used to go there to transact my evening business and sleep undisturbed,’ wrote Churchill — by his Cabinet colleague Josiah Wedgwood, whose brother, Sir Ralph Wedgwood, was chairman of the REC.

But Andrew Roberts, author of Walking With Destiny, a biography of the war leader, says it was on the advice of the King that Churchill crossed St James’s Park and bedded down in the former tube station.

‘It did its job, but Churchill felt restless down there and out of touch with events,’ says Roberts. ‘He didn’t care for it much.’

However, bunkers and air-raid shelters weren’t subject to rationing rules, so there wasn’t any stopping Churchill from enjoying the many pleasures he had come to expect. The railway companies owned luxurious railway stations hotels and brought in silver and plenty of wine and spirits.

Pictured: The exterior of the disused Down Street underground station on April 13, 2016

Photographed: An exterior view of the Down Street Underground Station, April 13, 2016,

The senior REC members ate with style and were attended by liveried staff, as if they were dining in a first class railway carriage. The wallpaper that decorated their executive dining room survived a lot and a part of an old service bell can still be seen on one wall.

Such was the security surrounding Churchill’s visits that even today no one quite knows how many nights he stayed in Down Street, but it was certainly several.

The first time he slept, he did so in Gerald Cole Deacon’s office, which was one-level higher than the platforms from which the telephonists toiled.

‘Even those living and working in Down Street were not meant to know he was here,’ says Nix. ‘It was a secret within a secret.’

Churchill’s bathroom still has its bath, albeit covered in soot and dust, but his Royal Doulton sink has gone. Initially, access to where he performed his ablutions meant walking past other bathrooms and two chemical toilets — something he might not have relished.

Cole Deacon wrote H.J. Greene, saying: ‘A certain gentleman has requested us to arrange for the passage between the first and second landings to be converted for his use as speedily as possible.’

Pictured: Mark in the bunker¿s telephone exchange room

Pictured: Mark in the bunker’s telephone exchange room

It was. Within five weeks and at a cost of £7,000 (compared with £21,000 for the whole Down Street bunker), the ‘certain gentleman’s’ two-bedroom suite was ready, complete with its own bathroom, dining room, conference room and kitchen. Some staff referred to it as ‘Number Ten.’

Here Churchill performed some of his cocktails diplomacy. He especially entertained Ernest Bevin (Minister of Labour), who was crucial in convincing the U.S.A to join the war effort.

Colville writes in his diary of one such dinner with Bevin, after which Churchill, well-plied with brandy ‘had great difficulty operating the lift’ as he showed his guest out and then, once outside, ‘the prime minister was nearly arrested in the street for arguing with a police officer about having car sidelights that were too bright.’

Churchill’s safety was paramount, and keeping telephone lines open was even more crucial as they connected to every mainline railroad company headquarters.

This required ensuring that the electricity was available at all times. Down Street had three independent power stations connected, and two diesel generators. There was also a large room of battery storage that looked similar to car batteries.

Piccadilly Line trains pass down Down Street as they did in the war. However, the walls were so thick that dormitories higher up seemed quite quiet. Churchill might have felt ‘cut off from events’, but the nights he spent at Down Street must have made him more empathetic to those who night after night slept in shelters and on the platforms of Tube stations during the Blitz.

Churchill clearly appreciated Down Street’s contribution. As a gift on December 21, 1940, he sent £10 to the REC as a contribution to its Christmas fund — that’s more than £500 in today’s money.

And he would have rejoiced that a failed Underground station had its own ‘cometh the hour’ moment.

  • Tours of Down Street: Churchill’s Secret Station will be held on selected dates between January 15 and February 13, 2022. Adults £85; concession £80 via: ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london