Site Records

SiteName: Kingsway Tram Subway

Southampton Row - Victoria Embankment
London, WC2
OS Grid Ref: TQ30478163

Sub Brit site visit August 1994

[Source: Nick Catford]

When the decision was made by the London County Council to redevelop an unsavoury part of Holborn and to construct Aldwych and Kingsway they considered using the new streets for a tramway to connect the existing northern and southern networks. It was then suggested that instead of running the trams on the streets, a sub-surface line should be constructed as an integral part of the improvement. Similar schemes had been adopted in New York and Boston and a deputation was sent to those cities to see these tramways.

The subway under construction

On the strength of their findings an application was made in 1902 for powers to construct a subway for single-deck tramcars running from Theobalds Road to the Embankment at Waterloo Bridge, from which point a surface line would continue over Westminster Bridge. The estimated cost of this proposal was 282,000.

The subway was approved, but the tramway was not authorised beyond the north side of the Strand and it took a further four years for the Council to secure powers.

Photo:Holborn Station - looking north
Photo by Nick Catford

In hindsight it proved mistake to opt for single deck cars but at the time this was done for three main reasons: (1) To avoid a large sewer under Holborn which would, it was thought, necessitate too steep a descent to be safe for double-deck cars. (2) The position of the District Railway in relation to Waterloo Bridge and the gradient from the Strand presented difficulties constructing a satisfactory southern exit; (3) There was a feeling that it might be found that London traffic could be handled more expeditiously with coupled single-deck cars than with double-deckers.

Work on the subway started at the same time as the new streets were laid out. The approach from Theobalds Road was by an open cutting 170 ft. long in the middle of the road. The tracks then passed into two cast iron tubes, 14 ft. 5 in. in diameter and 255 ft. long, which took the them under the Holborn branch of the Fleet Sewer. The rails were 31 ft. below the road surface when passing under Holborn, rising again at 1 in 10 to Holborn Station. Raised sidewalks were provided in the single tunnels.

From Holborn to Aldwych the tunnel was 20 ft. wide with a roof of steel troughing just below the street. The running rails were laid on longitudinal wooden sleepers embedded in concrete.

At the time the subway was opened it was not connected with any other electrified route, so it was decided to terminate the public service at Aldwych Station and use the tracks which extended southwards from there towards the Strand as a depot. Inspection pits were constructed under this length and some repair equipment installed. An intermediate station was built at Great Queen Street (later renamed Holborn). Pending the opening of Greenwich power station, current was obtained from the County of London Electric Supply Company.

Sixteen single deck tramcars were ordered from the United Electric Car Company, Limited, of Preston at a cost of 750 each.

Public service from the Angel to Aldwych began on 24th February 1906, with the north bound journey taking 12 minutes and 10 south minutes for the southbound. The new tramway proved an instant success.

In July 1905, the Council's attention had been drawn to the fact that its compulsory powers for the acquisition of land and easements for the construction of the subway from Aldwych to the Embankment would expire in the following month.


Plan of the subway

Photo:Looking towards Holborn Station from the Southampton Row entrance
Photo by Nick Catford

The original southern portal in 1908 with two single deck cars

When the Embankment tramway was eventually When the Embankment tramway was eventually opened and powers had been obtained for the subway link, work was pushed ahead on the remaining section. This fell on a gradient of 1 in 20 from Kingsway to the Strand, 1 in 108.3 under the Strand, and was then level; it was far more costly to construct than the original length, mainly owing to difficulties in crossing the District Railway. The proposed station at Wellington Street was not built as the Council decided that as the site was only 200 yards from the Embankment it was not needed.


Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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