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.