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Abandoned Kingsway double decker tramway subway in London

Petar Djajkovski

The Kingsway Tram Tunnel is an abandoned part of the London tramway subway connecting the northern and southern parts of the tramway subway systems in the Holborn area. At the time it was built, it was the first and only of its kind.

The station was opened 111 years ago, on February 24th, 1906 and has stood empty for more than 60 years now. Most recently, it has been used as a set in films and television shows.

Kingsway Subway entrance in Southampton Row – Author: Tony Hisgett – CC BY 2.0

Kingsway Subway entrance in Southampton Row – Author: Tony Hisgett – CC BY 2.0

When the services opened to the public, there was a ceremony held by the chairman of the Highways Committee. The first part of the railway took 12 minutes northbound uphill to the Angel and 10 minutes to return back to Aldwych. The first carts were driven by horses and also used roads on the surface at some points before descending back into a tunnel. Later that year, on November 16th, the route was extended further north from Angel to Highbury Station. For use on the innovative tram track, a new type of cart was designed. The carriages were made from non-flammable materials and the usual wooden trams that were common on all other routes were not permitted to enter the subway.

The disused Holborn Tram Station in London, UK, in the Kingsway Tram Tunnel. Author: Cnbrb – CC BY-SA 3.0

The disused Holborn Tram Station in London, UK, in the Kingsway Tram Tunnel. Author: Cnbrb – CC BY-SA 3.0

An interesting addition to the already peculiar underground tram was the double-decker trams. With the opening of the new lines and junctions in 1920, the Kingsway tramway subway’s profitability fell. In order for the subway to remain profitable, they needed to raise the number of passengers per day. So in 1929, they decided to increase the height of the tunnels. They started the same year in September and increased the headroom to 5 meters. In some places, work was done on the ceiling while in other parts of the route, height was achieved by digging at the bottom, below the tracks.

Kingsway Tram Tunnel in September 1933, just a few months after the London Passenger Transport Board took over the Central London tram system from the LCC. The No 35 tram is emerging from the northbound tunnel on its way to Highgate having started its journey in Forest Hill, South London. The Police Constable controlling traffic is probably from ‘E’ Division, either Holborn or Bow Street.

Kingsway Tram Tunnel in September 1933, just a few months after the London Passenger Transport Board took over the Central London tram system from the LCC. The No 35 tram is emerging from the northbound tunnel on its way to Highgate having started its journey in Forest Hill, South London. The Police Constable controlling traffic is probably from ‘E’ Division, either Holborn or Bow Street.

Around the year 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board decided to replace all the trams in London with more modern vehicles. The modern vehicles were the new trolleybuses, and soon after all trams in North, North-West, South, South-West, West, and East London were replaced. The action lasted until 1940 and successfully replaced all of the lines with new trolley carts except the ones in South London subway routes 31, 33, and 35.

London Transport timetable and changes leaflet.

London Transport timetable and changes leaflet.

After the Second World War, it was decided that the replacement of the remaining trams must be done with utmost urgency. This time the new modern vehicles would be diesel buses. On 1st of October 1950, they started with route 31, and shortly after, route 33 and 35 were replaced. The last service of the London trams was on Saturday 5th of April 1952 shortly after midnight. The next morning, all the remaining trams were run through to the depots of the London trams south of the River Thames.

A crossrail sign at the Southhampton Row entry to the Kingsway tram subway. Author: Nick-D – CC BY-SA 4.0

A crossrail sign at the Southhampton Row entry to the Kingsway tram subway. Author: Nick-D – CC BY-SA 4.0

As for television and the big screen, the Kingsway tramway subway has appeared as an entrance in Stephen Poliakoff’s Hidden City, as a railway tunnel in the film Bhowani Junction, in The Escapist and probably most popular of all, The Avengers, where it served as the secret entrance to the base of the Avengers. It’s been scenery for an episode (“The Last Tram”) of The Goon Show where it is the place where Neddie Seagoon discovers a long-lost tram that has been hijacked by Henry Crun and is hidden inside the Kingsway tunnel.