Hidden London: The Kingsway Tram Tunnel

Posted on 03/10/2021 By

Kingsway Tram Tunnel

 

Hidden London Roundel

Northern entrance to Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel today.

“I have done something nobody else here today has!”

So said Bobby to fifteen visitors on the Hidden London tour together with four staff from the London Transport Museum.

He had caught there attention, but only because the guide had asked if there were any questions and got more than he expected!

“I am the only person here today who has actually been on a tram down the Kingsway Tram Tunnel. With my dad, in 1951. Just seven years old, I remember that we got off at an underground tram stop just to say we had done it.”

Clearly older than everybody else there, it wasn’t exactly a monumental achievement. The tunnel closed, with the remains of the tram network, in 1952.

Ever since those far off days he has been fascinated by the ‘ghost tunnel’ at Kingsway. Looking through the railings to see the cobble stones and tram tracks leading down into who knows what? Seventy years later, when the Hidden London team of the London Transport Museum got permission to open the tunnel to visitors, their tour was sold out before it even came on sale.

More dates were added and here we were on 18 August 2021 about to enter the secret world of ancient and ghost trams. Not here, but on Clapham Common. Neddie Seagoon, Eccles, Bluebottle, Henry Crun et al found ‘the last tram’.

Back to 2021.The museum guides gave an excellent description of the tram network of London and how it became focussed on this tunnel. Or should we say subway. The concept, and the tramcars themselves, were all born the other side of the Atlantic in New York’s extensive system.

We learned that, in class conscious London, certain forms of transport were regarded as working class. Not the sort of thing you would want in Hampstead or Belsize Park. Look at the map and note the big gaps round the posh areas.

But this story is just about Kingsway Tram ‘Subway’. Probably the most important stretch of tram track in London. It was built to link the extensive tram networks of north and south London. Trams would have to cross the river Thames on a bridge somewhere. Look at the map. Only one crossing, on Westminster Bridge. The original plan to go straight over Waterloo Bridge was abandoned and the trams went along the embankment to Westminster Bridge.

Waterloo Bridge came into the equation by being at the southern end of a massive redevelopment of Holborn and Aldwych. Originally a vast slum, the plans to completely clear it included the subway. On top of which would be built a widened road bounded by impressive large buildings in the style of the day.

The crescent at Aldwych all part of the grand design. Six hundred homes were demolished. Standing at the top of the ramp leading down to the subway, the scene is easily recognisable by pictures taken when the subway opened in 1906.

Trams were original single decker, but eventually it was decided that to continue to be an economic proposition they would need to be double decker. To achieve this, they dropped the floor of the subway by five feet and added a top deck to the existing tramcars. Simple wasn’t it over 100 years ago!

The original southern entrance to the subway was to the side of Waterloo Bridge. When the new Waterloo Bridge was built in 1937, the entrance was relocated under the bridge itself. Nowadays that entrance is a night club. Part of the southern section of the subway was converted into the Strand underpass for vehicles. The remaining section is now a listed structure and this was the first time the public had been down since it closed in 1952.

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel (Subway)

Old Black and White picture of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Subway… No we will call it a tunnel. This is the earliest picture we could find of the tunnel before the continued development of the entire area. Horse buses. Note the original arched tunnel entrance, compared to the later style in the photograph above.

Kinsgway Tram Tunnel shortly after opening in 1906.

Open 1906. Note the change in the area and, in particular, three lamp standards above the tunnel.

Original southern entrance to Kingsway Tram Tunnel in 1906, with two single-deck trams.

The original southern entrance to the side of Waterloo Bridge as it was in 1906.

A single deck tram in Kingsway Tram Tunnel, showing the workers' refuges.

See the refuges built into the walls to create safe havens for tunnel workers if a tram came along.

A tram at one of the underground stops in the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Two underground tram stops at Aldwych and Holborn accessed by stairway to the middle island of Kingsway. (See later).

An electric single deck tram emerging from the Kingway Tram Tunnel amidst the horse-drawn carriages of the day.

Very much a horse drawn world in 1906, when electric trams must have seemed very futuristic.

Map of the original route of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Here is the original route.

An artist's impression of the original entrance, to the side of Waterloo Bridge, and the section of tunnel that is now the Strand underpass. The entrance to that today is on the bridge itself.

An artist’s impression of the original entrance, to the side of Waterloo Bridge, and the section of tunnel that is now the Strand underpass. The entrance to that today is on the bridge itself. Never been down it, but it does have bus route 521 passing through as seen on the following video.

Then came the double deckers in 1929. They lowered the floor of the tunnel and put an extra deck on the existing tramcars. In the tunnel, you could tell how much they had lowered the floor as the refuges were now twelve feet high!

A white double-deck tram at a crowded Holborn tram stop in the Kingsway Tunnel for the special occassion of the opening of the new southern tunnel entrance.

A crowded special occasion and a white tram for when they built the new southern entrance underneath the new Waterloo Bridge. Holborn tram stop.

Two double-deck trams at Aldwych tram stop.

Aldwych tram stop.

A crwoded Aldwych tram stops with at least 3 trams in view. An extensive list of destinations across London.

Aldwych. You could go a long way on a tram then.

Two No33 trams - one ascending from, the other descending into, the Kingways Tram Tunnel.

A No35 tram emerging from the Kingsway Tunnel on a wet day.

A rainy day in London town.

Entrance to Holborn Tram Station in Kingsway.

Entrance to Holborn Tram Station in Kingsway.

Site of the entrance to Holborn Tram Station in Kingsway.

The above scene today taken from Google Streetview.

The Hidden London Tour

Bertie beside the "Hidden London" sign at the northern entrance to the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

All ready. Excitement gathering.
I was excited too!

The original lamp standard from 1906 on the entrance wall to the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Look up. The original lamp standard from 1906.

Walking down inside the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Down we go. All given a torch (returned later) for health and safety as parts were a bit gloomy.

Tram networks, showing the gaps around posh areas.

Tram networks, showing the gaps around posh areas.

Poster from 1931 celebrating the new double deck trams.

The new southern entrance opening in 1937.

Poster advertising North to South travel through the Kingsway Tram Subway.

Aldwych tram stop in its heyday

Aldwych tram stop then…

Aldwych tram stop in 2021.

…and now.

War time poster showing bomb damage to the Kingsway Tram Tunnel explaining that it should not be used as an air raid shelter.

A cut and cover tunnel was no protection as an air raid shelter.

Track work in the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

The rails are still there and the points that had to be changed by a points man with a large lever.

The fabricated cut and cover roof with manufactures stamp "Braithwaite & Kirk West Bromwich 1905".

The cut and cover roof just as it was in 1906.

Single track section in Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

The conduit rail in the centre supplied electricity. Trams had a choice of this, or overhead as most modern trams today. Why conduit? Because Londoners didn’t like the wires and posts of overhead equipment! Purely on aesthetic grounds. Conduit was more problematic. Particularly if you were riding a bike above ground and got stuck in the grooves. They were also prone to fill with rubbish.

Holborn tram stop 2021.

Holborn tram stop.

Bertie sat on the stairway to Aldwych tram stop.

Stairway to Aldwych tram stop.

The entrance to Aldwych tram stop precariously positioned in the middle of a busy road.

The entrance to Aldwych tram stop precariously positioned in the middle of a busy road.

Tour group heading out of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel in 2021.

End of the tour.

Bobby and Bertie in the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Breathe in, Bobby!

Poster showing "progress". Trams being destroyed by fire and part of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel being converted into the Strand Underpass.

1000s of trams were unceremoniously scrapped/destroyed.

The southern entrance under Waterloo Bridge is now a nightclub.

The southern entrance under Waterloo Bridge is now a nightclub.

Bertie posing with a Crossrail worker at the entrance to the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Back in 2017, we were on a bus and noticed the tunnel gates were open and jumped off quick. We know now that this was when Crossrail were using the tunnel to bore down even lower to that project. This chap may well look bemused. He didn’t speak English. Never dreamt that day we would ever be allowed down there.

A tram after leaving the southern entrance to the Kingsway Tunnel with a Bisto advert on its side.

1951. The year Bobby rode on a London tram down the Kingsway Tunnel. This picture on the Embankment shows a tram after leaving the tunnel heading for Westminster Bridge.

Bertie: “Corr Bobby . Just imagine the view from upstairs. You must have been about the same age as the boys in the picture. Isn’t it a shame they have all gone!”

Bobby: “Not all, Bertie. One is in the London Transport Museum at Acton and you have actually seen it.”

Bertie with tram 1025 in the London Transport Museum, Acton.

London Transport Museum. Acton Depot. Limited opening.

Bobby: “But most importantly, there is still one working. Restored at enormous expense by the National Tramway Museum at Crich. I have actually been on it.”

Bertie: “You never took me!”

London tram 1622 at Crich museum.

Bobby: “It was before we started writing stories. It closes soon for the winter. I promise to take you there next spring.”

The National Tramway Museum Crich, Derbyshire.

www.tramway.co.uk

London tram 1622 at Crich museum.

Wonderful tramway museum and village at Crich. Highly recommended.

London tramway poster for "Happy Days at the Zoo".

But once there were trams…

No40 Tram on Westminster Bridge, with Big Ben in the background.

…that went over Westminster Bridge until 1952.

Film Show

We have had a fantastic time putting this story together. Our research has led to a number of films/clips. What ever you do, make sure you watch the first one. ‘Remembering London’s Trams’, that includes the iconic film ‘The Elephant will never Forget’. The last day of London Trams.

Most of the films include the Kingsway tunnel.

Remembering London’s Trams

‘Hidden London’ goes to the Kingsway Tunnel

‘Unfinished London’ (quirky but worth watching)

Short clip showing the tunnel and a very gloomy fifties London

Crossrail in The Kingsway Tunnel

Bobby’s Toys

Eamonn looking at Bobby's model of a Liverpool tram.

“Feckin hell, Bobby. ‘Tis a tram from Liverpool where I grew up, like most Irish people. I remember trams. They carried on there until 1956.”

Bertie admiring Bobby's London tram.

 

Bobby's London tram model.

You won’t believe it. He said he needed a London Tram for the story. So he bought one. Wonderful! Must go to Crich again.

Lighting a Candle for Diddley

A candle lit for Diddley alongside Bobby's No68 tram 552.

—————

Memories    


  1. Chris Norman says:

    Fascinating. I used to love the trams when we visit Granny in Sunderland. The terminus was at the bottom of her street.
    Amazing bits of film and pictures. Enjoyed this weeks blog.

  2. John Burns says:

    Very interesting blog, Bobby. Answers all those questions in the back of my mind for years about that entrance way. Thank you for a delightful piece.

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