Neil Hudson was given a rare tour of the strange, abandoned subways under Leeds City railway station.
Underneath the busy platforms of Leeds Railway Station lies a surprising secret – a network of old workrooms and corridors perhaps as big as the station itself.
The rooms are what is left of the old station, which included subway connections from the Dark Arches, passages linking platforms and a network of rooms which were used to house workers and store mail, and for countless other jobs that kept the railway running.
Today the rooms lie abandoned, all empty save for an odd assortment of objects covered in a thick layer of dust and grime.
The rooms date from the 1860s but the upper section was in use up to 20 years ago. They are made of concrete for the most part, although older structures intrude upon this functional architecture – mainly in the form of great sweeping arches of brick which hint at an even older, deeper construction.
They were abandoned when the station was remodelled and stairways put in to take commuters over the top of platforms rather than underneath them.
We are two storeys down, the rooms are silent and the air musty. There’s a sense of forlornness, though in places it feels almost as if people were here just yesterday – the rows of sinks in the toilets are all in good condition and, surprisingly, the taps still work.
These are the old workrooms which used to house computers and various departments necessary for the running of the station. There was an accounts department down here, a postroom, toilets, showers and a clocking-in room.
In the old days the computers took up several of the rooms – now they are housed in a cupboard at the end of one of the corridors.
Part of the network of corridors was also used by members of the public, who would access the station’s platforms via a stairwell rising up from the Dark Arches.
In one room is an old cantilever lamp bolted to the wall which looks like it was placed there in the 1960s and in another, more bizarrely, an old-fashioned hairdryer on a stand, the type once found in a 1950s’ hairdressering salon.
Steel cages which formed part of the old postroom still stand and at one end of a long corridor, daylight bleeds into the darkness.
We continue on our journey and at one point reach a thin metal stair, at the top of which lies a long, unlit white glazed brick-lined passageway, stretching off into the gloom.
We follow it and at the end, stuck on the wall, we find an old-fashioned telephone made of Bakelite.
With our torches turned off the place is completely lightless and, frequently, there’s a rumbling, clanging noise which seems to emanate from the walls – the sound of a train passing overhead.
Deeper still into the bowels of the station and, following our Network Rail guide through a meandering series of corridors, we end up in a vast open space – another cavernous underground room and clearly not part of the old concrete workrooms we first encountered – this was part of the original station and the deepest we had been so far.
Beyond there are the elaborate Victorian-built aquaducts which carry the waters of the River Aire and form the foundations of the city.
Much of this part of the underground is now off-limits for safety reasons, but one person who has seen the subterranean world is professional photographer Jonathan Turner, who travelled the tunnels in 2007.
He said: “There’s something quite beautiful about how they have been just left, we felt privileged to see a part of the city which many people don’t get to see.
“It was interesting to see how well made it all is, there’s a sense that it was built-to-last.
“It’s amazing to see these vast arches which run under the train station and through which the river itself runs, you find yourself wondering just how much effort it took to build them.
“One of my pictures shows mason’s marks – it’s fascinating to think someone wanted others to know who built it.
“They say the tunnels go further under Leeds and connect to other parts of the city but we were unable to view them.”
Mr Turner makes his living taking pictures for companies but is passionate about the urban landscape.
He added: “I go into a lot of places I shouldn’t, I think there’s something fascinating about old, abandoned buildings.”
James Hill is administrator of the Secret Leeds website on which Mr Turner’s pictures are displayed, along with others taken at various locations around the city.
He said: “Leeds has several underground networks. There was one which extended between the library and the Town Hall and there are two mysterious blue pillars, one on Queen Street, the other on Northern Street, which are obviously air vents for some tunnel.
“The work of Secret Leeds members is second to none in terms of the level of research they manage to achieve.”