The Kingsway Tramway Subway is a cut-and-cover tunnel in central London that was built by the London County Council. The decision in 1898 to clear slum districts in the Holborn area provided an opportunity to use the new streets for a tramway connecting the systems in the north and south and, following the pattern of tramway systems in New York (the Murray Hill Tunnel) and Boston, it was decided to build this as an underground connection.
The London County Council had for many years wanted to connect its so-called "North Side" and "South Side" tramway systems in order to be able to send the "North Side" vehicles for overhaul to the Central Repair Depot at Charlton in South East London. In 1902 it decided to build a "subway" from Theobalds Road in the north to the Embankment underneath Waterloo Bridge to the south, from where a surface line would continue over the bridge. Legal problems however delayed permission to build the subway and tram route and it was not until 1906 that permission to build was granted, and then not to cross the bridge. Because of a sewer at the northern end and the District Railway to the south it was decided to build the tunnel for single-deck vehicles only. After leaving the Kingsway tramway subway, trams turned right to continue along the Embankment to Westminster Bridge or left on a service from Bloomsbury to the Hop Exchange, although this latter service was short-lived and the tracks were removed entirely in 1930.
The approach from the north, near Southampton Row and providing access to services from the north-east, was a 170 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) open cutting with a 1 in 10 (10%) gradient. The tracks then passed through cast iron tubes underneath the Fleet sewer before rising slightly to enter Holborn tramway station. South from here the subway was built with a steel roof to Aldwych tramway station and, because it was not initially planned to run a public service south of this, the tracks leading towards the Strand were used as a depot with appropriate equipment and inspection pits being provided.
Initial services opened to the public on 24 February 1906 from The Angel, Islington to the Aldwych terminus, with a ceremonial opening by the chairman of the Highways Committee. The first journey took 12 minutes northbound and 10 minutes to return, even allowing for the horse-drawn vehicles also using the roads on the overground part of the route. On 16 November that year the routes were extended north from The Angel to Highbury station. Special trams were constructed from non-flammable materials for the route, and wooden trams, common on other routes, were not permitted through the subway.
In the parliamentary session of 1905 plans were submitted for an additional station at the south end of the tunnel, under Wellington Street. In the event, the opening of the new tramway built along the Embankment meant it was decided to link up with this route instead and the station was never built. A new sharp curve was built under Lancaster Place to enable an exit through the western side wall of Waterloo Bridge and a triangular junction with the through line was constructed. The eastern side of this junction, leading to Blackfriars, was later removed as part of the 1930s upgrade.
Through servicesEditThrough services commenced on 10 April 1908 from Highbury station to Tower Bridge and to Kennington Gate, with a procession of six cars going south from the Holborn stop through to Kennington then diverting to Elephant and Castle in order to return through the subway to Angel. The Kennington service was not commercially viable however and services were diverted to operate to Queens Road in Battersea which, due to a low bridge, could be operated with single-deck vehicles only. Drivers of the trams recorded difficulty in climbing the ramp north from Holborn tramway station and would sometimes roll all the way back to the station! Drivers on routes through the tunnel had to have at least two years' experience on other services to be considered for these routes.
Service patterns continued to change, especially with the opening of tram lines over Blackfriars Bridge on 14 September 1909, and during the 1920s it was realised that to remain profitable the subway needed to be able to take double-deck trams. In 1929 it was decided to increase the headroom to Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSoff2 by raising the roof or deepening the tunnel as appropriate. Work started on 11 September of that year, resulting in the replacement of the cast iron tubes by a new steel girder-supported roof and the diversion of the sewer. In places the trackbed was lowered by 5 feet (Template:Convert/pround m), requiring the underpinning of the walls with concrete. After the last services went through on the night of 2 February 1930 the tunnel was closed to trams until the formal re-opening on 14 January 1931 using suitably numbered E/3 type tram no. 1931 on new route 31, with public services starting the following day. In the process the two tramway stations were also completely rebuilt. Service routes were now Hackney to Wandsworth or Tooting, Leyton to Westminster, Highbury to Waterloo or Norbury and Archway to Kennington.
A weekend service, which ran until 1932, was introduced between Highgate(Archway) and Downham via Brockley. With a total route distance of 16 miles (Template:Convert/pround km), this was the longest tram route operated entirely within the County of London.
Waterloo Bridge rebuildingEditIn 1937 the rebuilding of Waterloo Bridge required the diversion of the side entrance to the tramway to a new position centrally underneath the bridge, which opened on 21 November of that year. The metal doors now covering that entrance are still visible.
Tram abandonment programme Edit
The London Passenger Transport Board was formed in 1933, taking over the London County Council trams. It was decided soon after to replace all trams in London by "more modern vehicles." The abandonment programme began in 1935 with trams in South-West, West, North-West, North and East London mostly being replaced by trolleybuses. The replacement programme proceeded swiftly until 1940 when the last pre-war conversion occurred, leaving only the South London trams and the Subway Routes 31, 33 and 35, the only tram routes left operating into North London to survive the war. Prototype Kingsway Trolleybus no. 1379, with exits on both sides, was constructed for feasibility tests through the Subway, but these were unsuccessful as trolleybuses would have had to run on battery power through the subway, headroom restrictions making it impossible to use overhead current collection.
In 1946 it was decided to replace all London's remaining trams "as soon as possible", this time by diesel buses. The first Kingsway subway route to be withdrawn was route 31 on 1 October 1950 with the remaining two routes, 33 and 35, being withdrawn after service on Saturday 5 April 1952, the last public services being 'specials' shortly after midnight on the Sunday. During the early hours of the next morning the remaining vehicles still north of the subway were run through to the depots south of the Thames.
Closure and a new useEditTrams in London were abandoned in London on 5 July 1952, after which street tracks were lifted, but those in the subway mostly remain in place. In 1953 London Transport used the tramway to store 120 unused buses and coaches in case they were needed for the Coronation but proposals to convert the tramway subway to a car park or a film studio failed and it was leased out as a storage facility from October 1957.
In June 1958 the London County Council proposed making use of the tunnel for light traffic coming from Waterloo Bridge in order to reduce traffic congestion at its junction with Strand, and in April 1962 that the go-ahead was given for part of the southern end of the subway to be used in this way. Construction began that September and it opened to road traffic as the Strand Underpass on 21 January 1964.
In autumn 2006 work began to convert part of the abandoned tunnel between the Embankment and the Strand Underpass into a new commercial space. This involved the demolition of the existing pedestrian subways under Waterloo Bridge, and extensive construction in the bridge's undercroft.
The subway in humourEdit
After closure, a number of cartoons appeared in London newspapers based on the closed tramway, with ghostly trams or 'lost' tube trains.
The Daily Mail cartoon character Flook once stole a tram, having found a 'secret spur' leading onto the Central Line, and was chased by a tube train.
The remaining northern part of the tunnel is sometimes used in films, for example as itself in the Stephen Poliakoff film Hidden City, the secret entrance to the base in the film version of The Avengers and a railway tunnel in the film Bhowani Junction.
A portable building near the north of the tunnel was used as a flood control headquarters for the Greater London Council until the opening of the Thames Barrier in 1984.
- London Transport Museum Photographic Archive
- Subterranea Britannica page on Kingsway Tram Subway
- History, old photos, and illustrated account of a visit to the site in November 2003
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