Although born in a prosperous realm, we did not believe that its boundaries should limit our knowledge.
-Montesquieu

Crushing boundaries

The tales of urban exploration behind the London Consolidation Crew take three forms. The first are the ubiquitous locations that we all know and love, sites like Battersea Power Station, which we blow out in public every time we sneak in, sometimes just hours later, laughing in front of our laptop screens at 4am as we plaster the photos on Flickr, daring the security to up their measures, chiding them to pick up their game. After a few weeks, we go back to these sites of serial trespass to see how security has done trying to stop us after we embarrassed them in public yet again. Inevitably, the security measures will have been changed (if not necessarily tightened) and we find (make?) new ways in. The cat and mouse game we play with the private security companies is part of the fun and we almost always win that game. I am pretty sure they enjoy it to, based on those smirks they have while calling the police on the rare occasions that they actually catch us.

We win

The second kind of location we explore can never be written about. An intimate nocturnal spatial blowout will end with a pow-wow where blood oaths are taken that “these pictures will never go public”. Although these are sometimes the most interesting sites, the consequences of revealing our presence there would likely have repercussions far more negative than positive. Marc Explo and I, walking though Clapham Common one rainy day a few months ago, had a talk about this type of adventure and he looked at me, completely stone-faced, and said “Brad, this is the only type of exploration I am interested in any more.” I couldn’t agree with Marc more, but I was concerned, given that these sites remain always “inside” the community, that our drive to undertake these explorations had become entirely selfish, narcissistic or even solipsistic. Was not the purpose of urban exploration to post, share and encourage the “dumb fuckin retards up top” (Siologen) to try something new? Wasn’t it always my contention that the purpose of urban exploration was to reconfigure geographical imaginations by visibly reconfiguring and crushing boundaries? If this remained the case, where do these sites fit into that story, given even the group’s ethnographer (that’s me folks!) will never write about them? I will return to this point – first, let me take a moment to outline our third type of infiltrated space story form.

Thirdspace

Rediscovered

The last type of site is what you are staring at here – the Down Street Disused Tube Station. These are sites we have done but not spoken of and let me assure you, the list is pretty long. We wait patiently for anyone with the gumption to complete them before posting them. The list of those with the courage to follow us into these spaces is contrastadly short. Sometimes (as in this case) we don’t discuss the fact that we found a way to wiggle in through the cracks for months, the challenge waving in the air for all to see. Sadly, few took up the challenge here and they should have – Down Street is truly something to rave about.

The 21st of May, 1932 was the last time a train stopped at here and in 1938 the station was converted into the subterranean headquarters Railway Executive Committee (REC), set up by the Ministry of Transport. Wikipedia says this was Churchill‘s war bunker – then again, Wikipedia says that about every subterranean space in London so… meh. Since that time though, we can say definitively that this station has been seen in person by very few people in London. We are now among them. For the full stories, you will of course want to see Silent UK and The Winch, your one-stop shops for all things epic on the London scene.

Old Timey

Wiggle room

It wasn’t long ago that Team B cut our teeth on Mark Lane. It was the first disused tube station that many of us had done, despite the fact that Siologen and others on Team A had already explored a number of areas in the network. I think it’s fair to say that some of us feared Mark Lane while others revelled in it. Those of us who lapped up the adrenaline rush and became tube infiltration junkies were, and are, quite openly obsessed and as Statler once said “when you become obsessed with pushing these boundaries, you move from urban exploration to infiltration… Then it’s hard to go back.” It was the London Underground, not the sewers, that made us an infiltration crew. When we did Lords and ran the tracks up to the connecting stations soon after Mark Lane, it became clear to those of us who began taking greater risks that not only were there greater rewards to be had but that there was a possibility of a holy grail at the end – the completion of the entirety of the disused parts of the system. We had moved from exploring “sites” to exploring complete infrastructural networks.

Veering toward completion

The creation of the Consolidation Crew, the sensational collapse of the London teams between 2010 and 2011, made the completion of the goal that much more realistic. I won’t say whether we completed all of the disused stations before I left London but I will say that they are all of the third kind of tales of urban exploration – tales that will one day be told. One day the world will know that the Consolidation Crew were the first to do what no urban explorer thought possible; we reconfigured all the boundaries of London Underground exploration. As Otter writes about our cracking of Down Street, once we decide something will be done these days, the unconquerable is conquered. And as Brickman so gracefully added last night, TFL would fill their pants if they came across what we get up to on any given night. I also like to think they would respect it immensely. Only they could understand the depths of our Tube and train fetish.

A slight addiction

The truth of the matter, whether we have or haven’t completed the entire system at this point, is that we know more about the London Tube network though illegal infiltration than most of the workers in the system. We probably know their working hours better than they do. As Patch recently told me “if I’d filled my head with knowledge that’s actually useful rather than endless information about the Tube then maybe I’d have come up with an amazing idea or business model and become a millionaire by now.” I have been asked why, given how much epic shit we have been banging out, we haven’t published a photo book. The answer is simple – we are still too busy doing it!

Mark Lane happened and

It got raw

Now before this post gets too descriptive and forgets it’s on Place Hacking, let me build on our relationship with the Tube through infiltration of it’s porous boundaries by making an important connection to the work of my mentor Tim Cresswell who writes that although being ‘out of place’ is logically secondary to ‘in place’, it may come first existentially. That is to say, we may have to experience geographical transgression before we realize that a boundary even existed. And, as Statler pointed out above, once we cross those boundaries, they are very difficult not to cross at every opportunity because those boundary crossings create a personal investment in places, even we are only passing through.

Although we might be tempted to make connections to transgressive mobilites like those undertaken by the American Beats, urban exploration, as well as being transgressively empowering, also creates a city full of people invested in the places they reside (that’s us!). Urban explorers know and love cities inside and out because in many cases they learn cities inside then out. One of the divergences then from the idea of boundary transgression is the notion that rather than directly resisting, urban explorers are investing through subversion, even if those moments of investment are indebted to the modern legacy of transgression, by their (at times) complete disregard to what is socially expected or acceptable. The libertarian impetus behind much of this edgework is not to be mistaken for nihilism. Again, Marc Explo makes the point when he says “I believe we are an apolitical movement. I would not like to associate for instance with a group who protests against the waste of empty space in prime locations. I don’t think we are against the system, we’re just pointing out its limits. And as soon as the authorities realise we do the boundaries evolve and that keeps it fresh.”

Boundaries!

In these situations we go beyond asserting “I did this” by intentionally implying “you could also choose to do this” and the political implications of this intentionality lie not just in the transgressive action itself, but in the resistance of the status of passive citizens. And passivity, in this context, goes beyond abiding to cultural, societal and spatial boundaries, it also applies to the complete abolition of them. Anarchism is just as lazy as conformity. The real work, work that reveals prizes worth obtaining, exists at the boundaries of infiltration which are ever-morphing, like a Brazilian Favela.

The transition into infiltration from ruin exploration is an organic progression. Those early explorations revealed a façade of urban spectacle that we came to see as an impotent utopia of pretentions and complicities. Urban exploration is nothing less than a rejection of our enforced pact with capital in the process of questing for sites of urban tenderness, flippantly exploiting those capital investments. In these spatial reintepretations, bonds, desires and the need to find deeper communal meaning in life take precedence over the ability to create profit or to produce something. What we produce, in each of these three types of mythmaking processes, are the tales of urban exploration – some to be blown out, some to be carefully doled out at appropriate moments defined by the community, others never to be written, only spoken.

So getting back to my earlier point, as the ethnographer for the group, I am, perhaps somewhat ironically, being taught the importance of the creation of oral histories that can only be transmitted as such – histories and myths made to be shared in person. Some stories are still too rich for social media. If you ever want to hear those stories, you know where to find me – I am the one in the corner of the pub, covered in Tube dust, writing the tales of urban exploration in a caffeinated haze. Pull me from the bubble, buy me a pint, and ask to hear the stories behind the scene. These will always be the ones most worth hearing.

Until then, go forth and adventure. Be fearless. Ignore limitations. Explore everything.

Permission Taken. Cheers Kids.

 

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36 Responses to “Hacking The London Underground”

  1. Patch Says:

    Bangtidy summary there mate, I knew that holding this back for a bit would be worth it in the long run. Only question is who will write about the ones you’ve missed out on? Come home soon!

  2. Winch Says:

    Yet another feast of thoughts, these posts are becoming my crack.

  3. Jim Gillette Says:

    Possibly your best post yet!

  4. bucketsandspadesblog Says:

    amazing

  5. Goblinmerchant Says:

    You guys need a backup ethnographer ;) I will be home as soon as I can!

  6. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Thank you for the motivation my friend – I have a got a few more gorgeous London gems up my sleeve before I start putting up pics of graffed up dirty Vegas drains and macro shots of HIV-infected heroin needles in the sand. It's all downhill after that tall building goes up ;)

  7. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Wow I wasn't expecting that – wicked, thanks! I guess I should write them at 3am more often!

  8. ginasphoto Says:

    awesome brad, it's perfect. Free climb ftw :)

  9. Hacking or Trespassing Underground? Says:

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  10. Third Xamuel.com Linkfest Says:

    [...] Bradley L. Garrett: Hacking The London Underground [...]

  11. realitytrip Says:

    Top notch speal mate. The bit about photo books made me chuckle somewhat!

  12. Darknightscitylights Says:

    loving this great photos well done

  13. UPMOST: » tunnels Says:

    [...] already posted on HYB but this is well worth a read , click here [...]

  14. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Thank you very much – the tunnels of Las Vegas are up next, stay tuned ;)

  15. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Thanks mate – yeah, we are all in the same boat – having too much fun to take the time to do that. I guess we can all save it for retirement eh?

  16. CITIZEN BZZZ Says:

    funny thing is that graff writers have been to most of these places long before these guys….its just that graff writers dont get all 'over the top' about these things….all poetic and introspective and shit….just so you know. These lot aint the first to visit these places…just cause you dont see tags down there it dosnt mean writers aint been there before!

  17. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Thanks for the comment Bzzz. First of all – don't you think some of us might be writers as well? Secondly, whatever we choose to do under the city, we have always given respect to those who came before us including writers. That said, we have done a lot that writers haven't yet but that is possible because the stakes are lower for us if we're caught. In any case, I don't really think setting up this us vs. them opposing binary is ever very beneficial – it's not a competition. We are clearly all enjoying fingering TFL so let's just celebrate the victories together!

    I terms of your comment about having no desire for introspection, obviously that is your choice but I heartily disagree. A life of action without reflection is utterly boring, you might as well give up graff for mall shopping or football if that's the case. If you never take time to think about what you're doing, it's really just hedonism isn't it?

    Maybe as a starting point – a lot of ink has been spilled about the politics and theory of graff and street art. If you're interested in reading some good writing about graff, check this out this piece, I can send you the whole things if you want, just email me: http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=d100329

    Thanks again for the comment mate!

  18. Urban Ghosts Says:

    Cool photos guys! Must some pretty incredible stuff lurking down there in the Underground. Have you been to the Kingsway Tramway Subway yet?

  19. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Hey Urban Ghosts – love your blog, I'm one of your RSS subscribers :P

    Yes, we did Kingsway Tramway back in September: http://www.placehacking.co.uk/2010/09/16/well-con

    By the looks of things, all of the disused LU stations should be done by the end of the year. Not to mention the stuff from the rest of the world we are doing in between. 2011 is looking pretty amazing so far!

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  21. Winch Says:

    Bzzz, there's a big crossover, but I'm sure you're aware the motivations are different. We go to see places that don't usually get seen, writers go to places to produce pieces that will get seen. Some of the stations are top to toe with graff, some are completely empty of it – as the author said, we don't feel there's a rivalry, just a healthy amount of motivation (and respect) coming from each side.

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  24. the steel beater. Says:

    massive respect for you boys you know your stuff … being in the system is one of the best buzzes there is .. been a writer for 20years an know the tunnels very well i have a long list of achievements under my belt, funny enough tho ive never found the mail rail so props to you guys for that tho i know people who know where it is but its not the same as seeing it with your own eyes, one of my favs is victoria sidings or under the barbican the moorgate tunnels that place can be abit spooky im sure theres places you guys have been an we aint but im also sure i know places you dont…
    good luck searching theres plenty down there for us all.. ;)

    peace….

  25. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Thanks for the comment Steel Beater – I hope we see you down in subterranea someday. When we do, I'll have a Red Stripe in my bag with your name on it ;)

  26. Documentaire Says:

    Un très très grand bravo au photographe de ces photos magnifique !

  27. Principle Method AOAC Says:

    Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Great blog by the way!

  28. London Photographer Says:

    That's so cool, seems dangerous though.

  29. Edward Says:

    If you know so much about the layout of the underground and its disused tunnels, sidings and stations, perhaps that knowledge would be best put to use publishing a map with photographs or descriptions of all these places for those not lucky or silly enough to go trespassing down there. I'm not saying I don't appreciate the fact you're exploring, just that the end result of this effort could be more than a slightly philosophical and rambly blog. You have done one hell of a lot of research, more than many people who write books on it. Let's see something good come of it!

  30. Londonsplore « Dereliction « The Winchester Says:

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  32. factoring Says:

    cool! I really like these picture

  33. Elena Says:

    hey;my name is Elena,i'm 22 years old and i would like to be part of your crew;that would be my dream coming true! i just moved recently in England and i feel very lonely , i don't have any friends here.please reply back.
    Bye

  34. London Photographer Says:

    Great shots. They need to open all the abandoned underground spaces and hire them for photo shoots. I would definitely hire it!

  35. Exploring Place - Liminal Entwinings - A blog mainly about my research Says:

    [...] London Underground  [...]

  36. verbodentoegang Says:

    Love the underground world.

    Greets verbodentoegang.eu
    http://www.facebook.com/Verbodentoegang.eu

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