Site Name: Chancery Lane deep shelter & Kingsway telephone exchange
31 - 33 High Holborn
The description of Kingsway exchange as an underground town was not far off the mark, with its unique subterranean population and passageways such as ‘Third Avenue’, ‘By-Pass Alley’ and ‘The Dog's Leg’. Two parallel tunnels, each a quarter of a mile long and 16’ 6” wide, formed the heart of the exchange, housing much of the equipment. Altogether three miles of racking were installed, carrying 337 miles of switchboard cable, along with the 1.5 megawatt generators for standby power generation.
Kingsway exchange had other peculiarities too. Earlier it was stated that no subscribers were connected, but like most large exchanges it did have its own `service PBX' for official telephones around the racks. This had the possibly unique accolade of having not one but two dialling codes, LTK in the London system and also the national code OLTK (0585). The result was that you could reach its numbers by dialling either 01-LTK or OLTK.
Photo:The trunk test suite in South Street East in 1968
Copyright photo from BT archives
The strategic importance of the Kingsway trunk exchange declined after the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling (STD); before this, trunk calls had to be made through the operator, who dialled trunk calls using lengthy and somewhat idiosyncratic dialling codes that took them as necessary through the various trunk switching centres around the country. The significant growth in the number of long distance calls necessitated many new trunk switching centres to handle the additional traffic. A new switching and transmission plan for a new `Transit' network was announced in 1960 and implemented in the late 1960s. This work coincided with the `Sector Plan' for London, which aimed to decentralise the switching of trunk calls in London and supplement the existing trunk switching centres. There were to be new technology `sector switching centres' in the key central sector and in seven locations in outer London serving the suburban areas. A number of writers have noted some significance in the names chosen for some of Kingsway's replacements, Bastion, Citadel, Fortress, Rampart and Tower but this is probably more bravado than indication of supreme strategic significance, since other replacements were named at the same time after eminent scientists (naturally these new exchanges were also connected to the deep level network).
Subterranea Britannica made two visits to Kingsway during the 1990s and on the first foray (4th August 1995) the door to this restricted area had its own bell push and spy hole; the accommodation was declared rather pointedly as being out of bounds. It was also marked as such on the orientation plan that was handed out. On the next visit (13th July 1996), however, members had total freedom to look around what was left of the facility. The heart of the new accommodation appeared to be a briefing room, with seating facing a screen at one end and a projection booth at the back; sleeping accommodation was also provided. According to an article in New Statesman (25th July 1985) this was the back-up site for the war control bunker known as ‘Pindar’, the primary site lying below the Ministry of Defence headquarters building in Whitehall. It is likely that Kingsway acted as temporary home for Pindar during construction of the Whitehall site and it is stated that the Tooks Court entrance (and modern passenger lift) to the Kingsway complex was purely to provide discreet and direct access to this special accommodation.
Photo:The main distribution frame in August 1995
Photo by Nick Catford
KINGSWAY'S SHAKY LEGAL FOUNDATIONS
The Bill had its second reading by the Lords on 20th January 1959 and was committed to a Select Committee. Petitions were deposited by five organisations, complaining that no indication of the depth of the works was given (withheld for security reasons), that no compensation was offered for any damage that might be incurred, or for reduced property values and arguing that surface owners should have unrestricted rights to develop their land.One further complication surrounds the property at 31/33 High Holborn, which is now one of the two points of entry to Kingsway exchange (the other is the goods lift in Furnival Street. London Transport has ownership of the ground floor and basement of this building which was then leased to the Post Office and later, British Telecom.
Photo:Tooks Court personnel entrance and ventialtion shafts. The was demolished in 2002 and the site redeveloped. A ventilation shaft was incorporated into the new building on the site.
Photo by Nick Catford
The Tooks court entrance which was contained within a large brick building with two prominent ventilation towers was sold for redevelopment to Tooks Court Ltd. for 2.1.million pounds on 16th October 2001. Once the building had been demolished the shaft was capped and following an archaeological excavation a new office block was built on the site. This is now home to the Government Actuary Department.
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