MY 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.
Kingsway Tramway Subway
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.
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.’
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…
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.
Aldwych Tram Station
Sadly no such evidence of the Aldwych Tramway Station is visible from the surface, largely on account of this:
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.
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.
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…