I Spy… the Kingsway Tramway Subway

Hasteful MammalMY PLAN to get up early and go for another walk today was derailed by my failing both to get up early and to go for another walk.  So I idled away the day doing stuff and things and then, mid-afternoon, decided to go and look for something I’d recently read about but hadn’t actually seen — the Kingsway Tramway Subway.

Just because.

Kingsway Tramway Subway

The What?

The Kingsway Tramway Subway was a tunnel in London that ran under Kingsway, having been built in 1906 to allow London County Council to join its South London tram network up with its North London tram network.

And When?

The tunnel served exactly this purpose from 1906 to 1957 when LCC replaced the last of London’s trams with buses.  Along the way, it had been deepened in 1929 to allow double-decker trams and had had its southern entrance moved because Waterloo Bridge was rebuilt.  It also had two tramway stations built into it – one at Holborn and one at Aldwych. All fine and good. But the thing is, the tunnel is mostly still there, under Kingsway.

You’d think you’d notice a bloody great tunnel sitting in the middle of the road, wouldn’t you?  Well, not if you’re me, apparently.

The North Portal

Where it Was

The north entrance to the KTS, as I shall henceforth call it, was located in Southampton Row at the crossroads with Theobalds Road and Vernon Place, not far north from where Holborn Underground Station is. 

Now, I’ve walked past that junction, crossing over either Theobalds Road or Vernon Place, not quite every Monday since October on my way from Charing Cross to Russell Square, for reasons not relevant here.  What is relevant is that I didn’t recall ever seeing a tunnel. 

Looking for It

‘It must be hidden away somewhere,’ I thought, ‘it can’t have actually come out in Southampton Row itself – it must be in a back street or something.’

Gates to KTS entrance
Nope. It’s funny how it never occurred to me to stop on this traffic island and peer through those gates. In fact I don’t think I ever actually noticed that there were any gates there to peer through, just sitting there in the middle of the A4200.
Looking at It

Having pierced the mystic shroud of concealment that previously forbade me from so much as perceiving these gates, I wandered over to them and peered through.  The gates are sadly sealed with a really mighty padlock — apparently, Camden Council uses the tunnel to store things like spare road signs, but this is what I saw…

KTS north portal
Yes, that is indeed a tunnel.  How the hell did I not ever see that before?
Note that you can still clearly see the tramlines on the ramp, which is surfaced with setts rather than tarmac. The tunnel here dives beneath the River Fleet — hidden away beneath London’s streets as a culverted sewer — before rising again to Holborn Tramway Station.

The Tramway Stations

Holborn Tramway Station

At this point I was, as they say, gobsmacked.  I know I’m not always the most observant of mammals but do I perhaps spend my life wandering about in somnambulant obliviousness?  Quite possibly I do. 

To put the theory to the test I wandered back towards Holborn Underground Station to see if I could discern where the nearby tramway station once stood.

grille covering old station steps
As it turned out I could.  What we’re looking at here is a small traffic island in the middle of Kingsway.  There are two like this, with long, narrow grilles across them – this one, near Great Queen Street (the station was called Great Queen Street initially but soon renamed to Holborn) and another right outside the tube stationThe grilles seal off the steps that lead down to the tram station. If you stand on the grille you can just make out the steps falling away beneath you.
Aldwych Tram Station

Sadly no such evidence of the Aldwych Tramway Station is visible from the surface, largely on account of this:

Strand Underpass exit
This is the exit of the Strand Underpass, carrying northbound traffic under Aldwych from Waterloo Bridge.  I’m obviously standing above the underpass exit; Bush House is directly behind me.

Most of the Strand Underpass was built within the KTS, meaning that as we stand above the underpass exit and look at the ramp, we are actually looking directly into the KTS, except that the road is in the way.  This ramp actually cuts right through Aldwych Tramway Station and, as the underpass is about three metres narrower than the KTS, the station walls at least partly survive, hidden underground behind the sides of this ramp.

The South Portal

The Original Portal

The southern entrance to the KTS was originally a rather nice archway set in the western side wall of Waterloo Bridge. 

1937 Rebuild

The bridge was rebuilt in the thirties however and so, in 1937, the entrance became a functional, square hole directly beneath the bridge.  This was covered up with steel doors when the trams ceased running in 1957, which in turn disappeared when the Buddha Bar was built there in 2007.

Again, given the number of times I’ve walked under Waterloo Bridge over the years, I do have to wonder why I never paid much (if any) attention to the fact it had mysterious gates. I’m usually intrigued by mysterious gates.

Buddha Bar doors
Although the KTS does explain how there’s room to build a bar beneath Waterloo Bridge’s northern abutment in the first place.

Final Thoughts

I’ve rather enjoyed this random Hour of Investigation, even if it has shocked me as to how unobservant I am. And, I have to admit, I find the idea of hidden, underground London fascinating in itself.

It lurks beneath our feet…

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