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The Kingsway Tram Tunnel: Holborn’s Tunnel to Nowhere, or is It?

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel: Holborn’s Tunnel to Nowhere, or is It?

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A brief history of that strange tunnel you might have seen on Kingsway and the tramlines it used to link up. 

Have you ever noticed that wide, but somehow inconspicuous tunnel to nowhere on Kingsway? That’s the Kingsway Tramway Tunnel, sometimes known as the Kingsway Tramway Tunnel, or even misleadingly the Kingsway Tramway Subway (no sandwiches down here). 

It was built in the early years of the 20th century to solve a transport conundrum and has been put to pretty interesting use in the modern day. Here’s the story. 

The History of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel 

Kingsway Tramway Tunnel

Back before the widespread use of motor vehicles as everyone’s main mode of transport, the tram was the preferred way to get around London. Roads would have been populated with pedestrians, horses and carts would have still been in use, and between them all, this new rail-driven machine would have parted the crowds. 

The trams day went in the 50s, and with it went the use of the Kingsway Tram Tunnel. 

What was the Tunnel For?

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel was the solution to a problem that had been plaguing the engineering heads at London County Council. That question? How do you link the tram networks south and north of the river? They wanted to do this so they could get the trams in the north to the central depot in the south for maintenance and repairs.

One of the closer points of contact was along Kingsway but the road was busy and traffic got particularly hectic around The Strand in Aldwych. Their solution was to dig a tunnel. 

This tunnel would link up some track that crossed over the Westminster Bridge joining the north and south networks. It would also be able to link Embankment and Aldwych with the current lines. 

Construction was completed in 1906 after four years of legal battles to get construction underway. When the tunnel was first put into use some tram drivers had difficulty getting the trams up the slope on Kingsway. 

Some even reported sliding back down the rails into the tunnel. After that it was decided that you’d need at least two years experience to drive trams on the Kingsway route.

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel Today 

Kingsway Tramway Tunnel

In 1952 The tram was put out of use in favour of the bus and the tram tunnel closed. For a while, it was used as a place to store the busses that put it out of action which is kind of rubbing salt in the wound. 

Eventually, it was decided that part of the tunnel could be used to ease congestion around that same tricky bit of intersection on The Strand by running a road through the tunnel. 

You might have been on this bit of road before. If you head north over Waterloo Bridge there’s a chance that you’ll dip into the underpass and pop out on Kingsway. You won’t be using the original entrances (more on those in a sec), but you will be passing through a section of the disused tunnel. 

If you don’t have a car but you want to see this slice of history in full working action you can ride the 521 bus northbound from Waterloo Station and you’ll pass through it. 

As for those tunnels, well the north entrance is that one that you’ve probably walked past on Theobald’s road a few times and wondered about. The other is now a nightclub. Yep, no kidding. Proud Cabaret underneath Waterloo Bridge is making what we think might be the best use of this unused space. 

Fancy a Kingsway Tram Tunnel Tour?

Part of that unused tunnel can, from time to time, be toured with the good people at The London Transport Museum. It’s not an altogether regular thing but you can sign up to alerts here, and when they put one on they’ll let you know. 

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel: Practical Information

Address: 16-36 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4AP

Opening Times: It’s closed to the public, but check this link for more information on tours

The Kingsway Tramway: Map 

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