Site Records

Site Name: Tower Subway

Tooley Street, London S.E.1
Tower Hill, London E.C.3
OS Grid Ref: TQ333805


[Source: Andy Emmerson]

In 1897, after closure to the public, the subway was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company (founded 1871), which used it to link its high-pressure mains on either side of the Thames. These mains delivered power to shops, factories, theatres and even car showrooms for powering lifts and other machinery. The hydraulic main through the Tower Subway was laid in 1903, from the Rotherhithe Pumping Station and was used as a feeder main for supply to the City. The Metropolitan Water Board leased space in the subway for two water mains as well (laid in 1898 and 1925).

The subway with water mains laid (pre-war publicity photograph of the LHPCo.)

Use of the LHP Company's services declined after World War II as customers found electric power to be more flexible and the company eventually ceased operation in 1977. In 1981 a group of investors headed by Rothschild's merchant bank bought the 150 miles of pipes, ducts and conduits and in 1985 this was sold the Mercury Communications Ltd, part of Cable & Wireless Ltd. In time some optical fibre cables were laid through the subway.

Electric lighting was installed and vertical iron ladders replaced the wooden spiral staircases in 1926. A near-miss by a German bomb in 1940 caused significant damage to the tube. Emergency repairs were made, enlarging the diameter of the repaired section to 10 ft.

One of the two entrance kiosks, the one on Tower Hill, is still to be seen. It is not the original structure but a 'handsome' brick building erected by the LHP Co. in 1926 and inscribed with the date of the company's founding, 1868 (see Underground History web site).

Photo:North side entrance kiosk in 1968
Photo by Nick Catford

The southern entrance is said to have been demolished in the 1990s. Roger Morgan recalls: "The original cast iron kiosk in Vine Street survived long enough for me to photograph it for a lecture series I gave in 1978. Subsequently the empty warehouse that it abutted mysteriously burnt down and the wall collapsed onto the kiosk, destroying it. Difficult to remember the date, but it must have been about mid 1980s I should think. There is of course a modern replacement still standing in the middle of the building site to the south of Ken's City Hall, and it appears from the published plans of the new 'More London' development that it will be incorporated inside one of the new office blocks."

Photos of the old southern entrance kiosk are extremely hard to find but Roger Morgan had the foresight to take these.

Photo:View looking west of kiosk close up showing iron riveted construction (parasol roof lost).
About 1978
Photo by Roger Morgan


  • Victorian London web site: contemporary descriptions by people who visited the subway.
  • Fredric Delaitre's Railway Pages web site: The most detailed study, superbly researched and illustrated.
  • BBC Beyond the broadcast web site (now defunct): A handy 'generalist' introduction that puts the subway in its wider engineering context (the London Hydraulic Water Company mentioned was actually called the London Hydraulic Power Company).
  • Abandoned Tube Stations web site: Attractive photo of the north entrance as it is today.


  • The First Tube Railway, by Charles E. Lee. Railway Magazine, Nov/Dec 1943, pp 331-336. Detailed text and photos (some reproduced here).
  • The Tower Subway: The First Tube Tunnel in the World, by Charles E. Lee. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1970. Expanded and updated text.
  • Omnibus for the Tower Subway. Engineering, 12th November 1869, p 319. Illustrations and technical description of the rolling stock of this railway.
  • Technical descriptions of the work in Engineering, 21st January 1870 and 1st April 1870; The Engineer 18th February 1870, 15th April 1970, 29th April 1870 and 8th August 1870.
  • Non-technical descriptions in the 9th April 1870 issues of Illustrated Times (p 226) and The Graphic (pp 452/453).
[Source: Andy Emmerson]

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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