Sunday 1 January 2023

Beneath the streets of London are several stations of the London Underground that are no longer in use. Some were never completed, some were found redundant due to changing patterns of demand, and one, Mornington Crescent, was reopened after many years of closure. But there is one that will never, ever be brought back into service: British Museum. Far below even the lowest and most secret of the basement levels of the institution for which it is named, rumours have surrounded it since its construction in 1900. Its sudden closure in 1933 has never been satisfactorily explained.

In 1976, the Swiss artist H. R. Giger visited London, with a view to seeing some of these “ghost stations”, as they are called. Colleagues in the London art world arranged an introduction to London Transport, who provided a guide, one Henry Cottonwood, a long-serving member of staff who had worked at some of these stations when they were still in use.

Cottonwood found Giger a disturbing individual, but with good grace showed him around Down Street, Trafalgar, and others. But on their final foray, to British Museum, something happened of which he would never speak. Following an episode of “nervous exhaustion” he took early retirement, and refused ever again to travel on the Underground.

Three years later, the first “Alien” film came out, whose eponymous monster and its hideous life cycle were famously designed by Giger. When Cottonwood caught sight of an advertising poster, witnesses said that he screamed, “They’ve escaped!” and fled headlong into the traffic. He was fatally run over.

A shorter version of this story appears at Lawrence Simon’s 100 Word Challenge for 1 January, 2023.

Image: DALL·E, prompted with
“The British Museum underground station, painted by Giger.”