Site Records


SiteName: Kingsway Tramway Subway

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

Sub Brit site visit August 1994

[Source: Nick Catford]

Owing to a need to replace worn out buses, tramway replacement did not commence until 1950. Finally, on Saturday, 5th April 1952, trams ran through the Subway for the last time; tram service 35 (Forest Hill-Highgate) was replaced next day by bus service 172, and tram service 33 (West Norwood-Manor House) was replaced by bus service 171. In the early hours of the following morning the remaining cars from Holloway depot were driven south through the subway to new homes or the scrapyard.


The last tram leaving Aldwych Station

The tracks remained unaltered, though disused, until the final abandonment of London's tramways on 5th July 1952, after which the street tracks were lifted in stages and those in the subway, cut at the approaches, were left as the longest section remaining in London. A technical committee was set up by the Minister of Transport to report on the possible use of the subway for motor vehicles, and tests with road vehicles were carried out both before and after closure.

In 1953, London Transport used the subway to store 120 withdrawn buses and coaches in case they were needed for the Coronation and in 1955 it was used to represent a railway tunnel in the film Bhowani Junction.

A film company offered to take over the whole subway as a film studio, but this was rejected on account of the fire risk. Repeated questions in Parliament kept the issue alive, but in 1955 London Transport invited applications for the use of the tunnel as a store for non-inflammable goods, and finally leased it in October 1957 to S. G. Young & Co. of Blackfriars as a store for machine parts.

Meanwhile, in June 1958, the London County Council expressed interest in taking over the subway and creating an underpass for light traffic beneath the Strand and Aldwych to deal with the traffic jams which often extend right across Waterloo Bridge. In July the contract for the conversion was awarded John Mowlem & Co. who started work on the 15 month contract. The construction was completed on schedule and the new Strand underpass opened to road traffic on 21st January 1964.

It has been suggested that the remaining part of the subway might have been earmarked for some cold war use and as part of their emergency planning in the 1970's the GLC


Holborn Station

established a flood control centre in a portacabin at Holborn Station in 1974 when they relocated from County Hall. The control centre had its own radio room. They also had an annexe at Russell Square House nearby. Each London Borough had their own flood control centres which would have reported to the GLC's main London Control at Holborn. This remained operational until 1984 when the Thames Barrier was opened.

During the fire brigade strike in 1977 Major General Sir James Eyre was in charge of the deployment of army fire personnel and green goddesses from a temporary underground HQ at Holborn. One night when the Thames rose to within a few inches of top of the embankment he had to make rapid contingency plans to deal with wide spread flooding. It's not known why this civil matter suddenly became a military responsibility.

In Eyre's obituary (Daily Telegraph 9.1.2003) it states that this temporary headquarters was located in tunnels under Kingsway suggesting that it might have been co-located with the GLC's flood control centre. Duncan Campbell states in 'War Plan UK' however that "British Museum Station (disused) is occupied by the administrative headquarters of the Scots Guards and other regiments in the Household Division: in the event of peacetime flooding of London, the London district military command will operate from here rather the war time AFHQ 5 at Beaconsfield."

Eyre was Lt. Col. Commanding the Household Cavalry and Silver Stick In Waiting, a court appointment that goes with his command.

Since 1984 no use has been found for the subway apart from the first few yards which is used for the storage of road materials by the London Borough of Camden. When visited by members of Subterranea Britannica in 1996, the remaining section of the subway including Holborn Station was found to be in good condition with the twin tram tracks intact throughout. Strand Station was demolished during the construction of the Strand Underpass although traces of it are still visible beneath the up ramp. The portacabin for the flood control centre was still in place although stripped of all fixtures and fittings.

 

Subway between Holborn and Strand Stations

Holborn Station

Position of LT 'bullseye' sign at Holborn Station

Holborn Station

Steps up to the surface at Holborn Station

   

Source: Modern Tramways

[Source: Nick Catford]

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