Saturday 14th August 2021
After being relegated to online ‘virtual tours’ in March 2020 due to lockdown, the London Transport Museum’s programme of real life ‘Hidden London’ tours are finally back in business.
The programme kicked off on Thursday with a brand new tour exploring the Kingsway Tramway Subway and I was lucky enough to be on the very first session.
We were in the expert hands of professional tour guides Clive and Aaron who did a fantastic job describing the tunnel’s history, the reasons why it was built and opened in 1908 and how it was enlarged to accommodate double deck trams from 1931 up until its closure in 1952, not long before the entire tram network in London was abandoned.
We also got to hear about possible alternative uses after it had closed and how the southern part was repurposed as the Strand underpass which is still in use today including, appropriately enough, by electric traction buses on route 521.
As you walk through the tunnel from the long sloping entrance ramp in Southampton Row north of Kingsway you soon see evidence of its current use by the London Borough of Camden which now owns it and stores street furniture and ‘stuff’.
Clive and Aaron describe how the tunnel was used in recent times to create a shaft for the construction of Crossrail which passes beneath it and which had to be made good with the original historic tram tracks restored exactly in line with how they had been as the whole structure is now Grade II listed.
Walking southwards a bit further you come to what was the first of two subterranean tram stops in the tunnel.
This one had two flights of access steps down from the centre of Kingsway just south of Holborn Underground station and can still be spotted at surface level today….
…. especially the southern most access which acts as a fire escape while the tour is taking place.
At tunnel level you can still clearly see the slightly raised central island platform where trams stopped and passengers alighted and boarded.
Just south of the tram stop there’s clear evidence of a crossover so that terminating trams (if needed) could change direction.
However operating tram routes right through without turning was one of the justifications to build the tunnel – to connect the tram networks north and south of the River without cluttering up Kingsway itself where the well-to-do residents would have none of that public transport malarkey past their front doors, especially trams which were regarded as being for the working folk.
Walking still further south beyond Holborn tram stop would bring you to the next tram stop underneath Aldwych but a ‘wall’ now brings the tunnel to an end as on the other side is the Strand underpass and you’re in neighbouring London Borough of Westminster territory. The tour ends before reaching that point.
The original southern entrance/exit to the tunnel was at the lower level on the Embankment by Waterloo Bridge but the Strand Underpass now has a reconfigured access point further north on Waterloo Bridge itself.
It’s a fascinating tour and I’d certainly recommend it but sadly the current season is already fully booked. It’s well worth watching out for future dates as well as other tours as the Hidden London programme gets going again.
That’s absolutely fascinating Roger, thanks for sharing! I’ll be looking into that for a potential future visit.
They have a similar thing in Brussels whereby the trams run underground through the centre , from the Gare Midi to Nord if I recall, and it’s called a Pre Metro.The tunnels allow for higher tram speeds and there’s less stops.The Boston Green Line, really a tram or street car as trams are known in the USA,is similar with tunnel sections although, unlike Brussels,I don’t think that the Boston one has any on street running and is always segregated.
One could also argue that Line 1 of the Budapest Metro – the oldest “underground” in mainland Europe is closer to a tram than a true “tube”. It’s very shallow as it runs between the road surface and the sewers, and I believe that the Metro cars can run on the tram lines. However the line does not connect with other tram routes in service.
Based on looking at the map of the Budapest Metro it was Line 3 I went on when I was last in Budapest.The rolling stock on Line 1 looks a bit like Tyne and Wear Metro cars and looks more metro than tram whereas the Brussels pre Metro and Boston Green Line look like trams.Although how people decided the difference between tram,metro, light and heavy rail I’m not sure!For example the Dubai Metro looks like a tram but is completely,or was when I was there, segregated with no on street running.The London Underground isn’t classified as light rail but the Tyne and Wear Metro is yet both,along with the Sheffield Super Tram,share tracks with the mainline railways at some points.I assume in the case of LU it’s more of a legality to do with the fact that it didn’t begin with a light rail order.Another interesting thing about LU is despite using BR tracks at a few points it’s trains didn’t, although it’s changed now, have to have yellow fronts which everything else did apart from steam engines.
Given the delays for buses and the ‘squeezed’ bus stops at Holborn Station Southbound, the is surely a case to send Southbound buses down the ramp at Theobalds Road, come up South of Long Acre, with an access punched through from the adjacent Tube Station
A second use can also be a pedestrian link under Kingsway with the observation that pedestrians crossing Kingsway following High Holborn present a very worrying potential for ‘adverse’ interaction with motor traffic turning from High Holborn and coming along Kingsway