Kingsway Tram Subway – at one time, probably the most important stretch of tram track in London – is to be openedto open to the public for the first time since its closure almost 70 years ago.
Reached by a ramp in the middle of Southampton Row at the intersection of Theobalds Road, it was closed 69 years ago, a unique element of London’s transport system, after serving Londoners for 46 years. Since then, the ramp has been used as a location in the 1988 film, The Avengers, starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, based on the well-known TV series, and also featured in the short comic story “Paint it Black” by “Charlotte Corday” writer Stephen Walsh and artist Keith Page.
Few Londoners know that the station was once the fulcrum of the capital’s electrified tram network, which was overtaken after the war by the speed and efficiency of the London underground.
Built by London County Council, it was opened in 1906 as part of slum clearance in the Holborn and Aldwych areas and the the Grade II listed structure in Holborn linked the extensive tram networks of north and south London together, carrying passengers between Holborn to Waterloo Bridge. It was enlarged to accommodate double-decker trams in 1929, but was closed in 1952.
It had relatively short active life, closing in 1952, but despite this, the Subway underwent several major upgrades during its time.
In 1953, London Transport used the tramway to store 120 buses and coaches in case they were needed for the Coronation. Part of the southern end of the subway opened to road traffic as the Strand Underpass in 1964.
Surprisingly, more than half of the subway still exists to this day – complete with original features.
Crossrail took over the old tram tunnel in 2012 and used it as a construction site, drilling down to provide additional support as the tunnel boring machines passed beneath that part of London.
Now, the London Transport Museum’s newest tour will take you inside, to explore the remaining tunnel and the former tram station, while you discover its life and times and how it served London
People will be able to tour the platforms and halls of the Kingsway station, which allowed passengers on doubledecker trams to interchange between the once-comprehensive networks north and south of the Thames. which closed after World War Two.
Set mainly in the yellow be-fogged sprawl of 1950s Soho, where, as ever, Something is Afoot, Paint it Black, published in full colour by Time Bomb Comics back in 2015, starred Paraffin Jack McNab, and the girls and boys of V-Cars, getting up to their necks in an epidemic of neck-biting and general vampiric carry-on that threatens to sink Old London Tahn good and proper. Along the way, the doors of time themselves are will be kicked open and left hanging carelessly on their hinges, as Jack finds himself adrift and askew in a veritable cavalcade of Londons past, present and future. But there’s always time for a drink, of course, especially with such old and new chums as Thomas deQuincey, Francis Bacon and Tony Hancock. Old Samuel Beckett shows up, too, in a flashback to Jack’s war service and a glimpse into just what started the Only Man What Can Save London along his fateful course.
Unfortunately, Paint it Black is currently out of print, but you might finsd copies in secondhand stores, comic shops or on internet auction sites.
• For more information about the tour and how to book, visit this page on the London Transport Museum web site
• News items about the Subway on the “Ian Visits” site
• Subterranea Britannica has a feature on the Kingsway Tram Subway here