Which is better? Hidden London or Secret Vault?

Hidden London Hangouts or Secret Vault? That is the question! In terms of London’s underground system, which is better? It depends on the interests one has and whether they want more than just an official view of things. Hidden London Hangouts is a London Transport Museum virtual tour of the non public areas of the London tube system – much in the sense of its popular Hidden London tours which have been suspended for sometime. Secret Vault isn’t any sort of officially approved tour of the tube’s nether regions but nevertheless its of interest too. I like Hidden London Hangouts because its specific, its concise and its knowledgeable. With the Secret Vault its raw urbex exploration and there’s little in the way of history but some very interesting titbits do come up though!

In a sense the former is a carefully manicured presentation that shows us what they think is acceptable enough to the public without delving too much into the deeper side of things whilst the latter just throws viewers right in the deep end, warts and all. There’s nothing wrong with the content of either, they’re both great stuff and if you’ve only seen one channel but not the other there’s no doubt you’re missing out!

Hidden London Hangouts takes a lot of preparation and research and there is a lot to learn in terms of London’s underground history. The detail of certain aspects of the tube system and its early designers, the way the stations had certain patterns of tiling or particular colour arrays, the information and detail in the notices, posters, photographs, or even about the trains themselves. In short its for the serious tube connoisseur.

The unknown bits of Piccadilly Circus can be seen in Hidden London’s extra special episode on that station. The quality of the images are not that good however….

In terms of the really unknown (at least to the general public) one might think Hidden London Hangouts takes people only to the public approved areas and doesn’t show the really deeper regions of the tube system – well that isn’t the case. They do go further afield, such as in the case of Piccadilly Circus tube station and also Oxford Circus station as they did a while back. At Piccadilly they did a follow up to their earlier virtual tour by going much further into areas of the station which are generally off-limits and even the public and most tube staff don’t get to see. One of those areas is shown in the picture above.

The presenters in Hidden London Hangouts are knowledgeable and concise and they are good, and I imagine they are very likeable to the viewers. However with Secret Vault one gets to know more even if its in a rather rough and haphazard way. Hidden London’s naturally based on quality with a good amount of in depth research and many historic pictures. In comparison Secret Vault is based more upon quantity since its mainly a case of haphazardly traipsing through the deep level tube shelters in the hope of finding things that have a wow factor. There is a certain amount of suspense in fact when one waits to see what will be found behind this door, down those stairs or round that corner – and if one can enjoy the pace offered in Secret Vault – one will no doubt spot a lot of other things even Secret Vault itself hasn’t even pointed out! With Hidden London Hangouts its quite hard to do that so there’s already a big difference between the two.

A trip down the one useable lift shaft at Camden’s Deep Level Tube Shelter as seen on the Secret Vault’s latest offering.

Some will disagree with me but it seems to me Secret Vault is actually tops in overall terms of the content provided. There’s a thrill and there’s a pace to it which is so different from just sitting and talking about a subject in detail. Often it seems to me the rather amateurish approach on many You Tube videos in fact brings people closer to the subject itself and overall it informs people better too. Its not just the Secret Vault. Look at other urbex videos, even those from Martin Zero and so on and one will find there is deeper connection between the viewer and the subject itself. The slickly presented professional stuff such as Hidden London does in fact lose a certain amount of connectedness to the subject – even though there’s a lot of detail being examined. I think that in a way is why Hidden London decided to conduct far greater in depth tours for its third You Tube series because it certainly counts. As has been briefly mentioned, very recently (January 2021) the team did a brand new episode about Piccadilly Circus entitled ‘A Deeper Dig.’ That was a far more nitty gritty exploration of the station and I found it considerably better than the usual presentation format and in some ways I wonder if that is because they have realised they do need a little more wow factor.

The Hidden London presenters do occasionally get dressed for the occasion! This is Chris Nix on the Clapham Hidden London You Tube tour dressed as an air raid warden.

In deference, the Secret Vault’s Matt Williams is always dressed for the occasion!

In terms of presentation Hidden London is a collaboration – different people contributing and the knowledge base is very wide and that is great because one gets a good in depth idea of what the topics are about. The Secret Vault is basically a one man band which means its much harder to achieve the level of presentation that one would like. That’s not always the case however as some of its exploits involve more than one person – one of my favourite Secret Vaults videos is this exploration on Bristol’s hidden underground waterways and that is clearly a group collaboration. Its also one which prompted another group to do a similar one a few weeks later! Another of my favourites is their recent do on the Tower Subway – I wrote about that too! Talk about catching!

As for the Secret Vault I have said it is raw, warts and all. Nevertheless one gains a great insight into how things actually are. Instead of entering the deep level tube shelters via an approved access point the way the explorers gain access is from surface buildings (such as those at Belsize Park and Camden) where one can see these access points as they really are – virtually unused these days and practically derelict. Some of the lifts at these places do in fact work but they’re dodgy. Its of course part of the excitement in exploring these considerably out of bound places!

This intro to the Secret Vault’s Clapham urbex video tells us of the types of people that might frequent its explorations! LOL!

With Clapham deep level tube shelter the exclamation at the start of Secret Vault’s video Matt says ‘Gosh, these are the best quality stairs in the world’ which tells us of the rather dodgy, even if exciting, world they are so used to venturing. The stairs are nothing of any sort of brilliant but compared to a lot of other places they do seem like a luxury! In comparison Hidden London says ‘Clapham is one of the most amazing locations that London Underground has.’ With those two different sentences we can see how each views their world and that basically sets the direction for each of those channels’ outputs.

Secret Vault shows us the really unseen bits such as machine control rooms, huge fans, water sumps, even a ride on top of the lifts themselves! That is of course dangerous no doubt but the way one sees how these people especially in their other You Tube videos dealing with urbex exploration of various types of lifts have a dab hand at these sort of things.

Goodness knows where these stairs at Clapham South go! Its possible they do in fact go up to the tube station itself (much like at Camden Town, but as would be the case the access point at the top of these will have been bricked off anyway.)

In terms of Secret Vault there’s no concise tour of the tunnels. Its all random, going down this one, the next one, backtracking and trying a different route. Despite the apparent chaos it does in fact give one a real sense of how those tunnels do actually feel – and the very sense people must have had when using these as a shelter in wartime. People accessed these shelters via those lifts or staircases from the surface buildings and that was how things really were. What’s more is once people were down there the whole thing must have seemed terrifying at first.

The content between the two Clapham examples is clearly seen because on one there’s so little we actually see of the deep level tube shelter itself and those scenes we do see of the public access areas are more presentable, whilst on the other we get to see every single aspect of that tube shelter, even its information boards, OHP presentations, derelict equipment such as machine controls and transformers and mercury arc rectifiers. One can easily guess which of those segments belong to which You Tube channel and which of those ultimately has the greater output! One added bonus (for those with modern computers – mine are ancient examples ha ha) is the fact 360 degree views can be obtained via 4k even 5k on Secret Vault (complete with riding a scooter through the Clapham shelters too!!) That’s another thing Hidden London Hangouts simply cannot offer!

The map of the deep level tunnels at Belsize Park tube station as seen on the Secret Vault.

Obviously one’s preference for either Hidden London or Secret Vault would very much depend on the circumstances. Some might frown at the latter’s activity for example whilst seasoned Urbex explorers might find Hidden London’s work a little bit bland. Personally I think they are both fantastic and both give me very different perspectives on the history of London Underground. It must be said that without Urbex some things would never ever be known. The legality of urban exploration is something a few would consider a no-no in terms of watching these videos – but if its on You Tube its clearly not against the law for anybody to be watching these videos. If it was then clearly a lot of esteemed urban explorers would need to be taken down, and that would mean a lot of transport presentations too would need to be taken down – including the fantastic work undertaken by Martin Zero, Patrick Dickinson, Exploring with Fighters – and would you believe it, Foxes Afloat! Both Hidden London and Secret Vault have their niches and both serve different audiences and I must say that no matter what, both have very positive contributions to make.

Now the bit everyone has been waiting for and this is the winner of the two! Did I say there was going to be a winner? Oops! Okay, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and everyone else will have their preferences but let’s look at it this way… in an overall sense its really difficult to say which of the two is the outright winner in terms of deep level tube exploration. In many ways Secret Vault does it for me because its more visual. One could pick out Hidden London Hangouts as the winner on certain elements such as historical detail and the rest of it – however in terms of dedication and effort (remember its also largely the work of one guy and producing this sort of output takes a huge amount of one’s time and effort) – and despite a sometimes dubious nature in terms of its explorations, I would have to say Secret Vault comes out tops! Its as simple as that!

Piccadilly Circus – A Deeper Dig (Hidden London.)

Clapham Deep Level Tube Shelter (Hidden London.)

A proper Hidden London Tour of Clapham Deep Level Tube Shelter.

Clapham North Deep Level Tube Shelter (Secret Vault.)

Belsize Park Deep Level Tube Shelter (Secret Vault.)

Belsize Park Deep Level Tube Shelter (when it was used for storage around 2002.)

Camden Deep Level Tube Shelter (Secret Vault.)

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