A large network of tunnels under central London could be opened to the public in a few years time if an application to convert them into a public facility is approved.

(c) DBOX for The London Tunnels

The tunnels near Holborn were built as shelters during WWII, but were never opened to the public. Kept secret, they were taken over by the London Civil Defence for operational staff and some government offices. One of the more famous occupants was the seemingly innocently named Inter Services Research Bureau — which was actually the research department for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and worked to create covert spying equipment.

It’s often been said to have been the inspiration for James Bond’s gadgets.

Later used for document storage, it spent most of its operational life as the deep-level telecoms exchange for the Post Office, later British Telecom. This saw the WWII tunnels massively expanded in the early 1950s, and some of the tunnels are said to be wide enough for three buses to sit side-by-side in them. At the time, it was thought they were the largest tunnels constructed under a city. Well, that we know of.

Land Registry map of Kingsway Telephone Exchange: 1 January 1959

Converting the tunnels into the Kingsway Telephone Exchange was a response to the threat of nuclear war, and it was feared that surface buildings such as the Farady citadel near St. Paul’s Cathedral wouldn’t survive. At one point, the Kingsway also housed the famous ‘hot line’ that directly connected the Leaders of the United States and USSR.

The telephone exchange was a key communications facility, but the rise of subscriber trunk dialling (STD) in the 1960s started to render it redundant, and it finally closed in 1979. Barring the occasional use by BT, they have been pretty much empty ever since.

British Telecom tried selling them in 2008, but no serious bidders were found – until now.

The fund manager, Angus Murray, has bought the tunnels to conserve the history while also opening them up to the public, as a tourist attraction he expects will be “as iconic as the London Eye”.

Retained Telecommunications Spitfire (c) DBOX for The London Tunnels

Subject to planning approval, the vision is to bring to life the history of the tunnels by installing high-resolution large-scale curved immersive screens, together with interactive structures, scent emitting technology and hundreds of individual acoustic pinpoint speakers. With an operational capacity of two million visitors per year, the tunnels could also host different experiences in partnership with major entertainment businesses, artists, performers and curators

The new owner plans to invest an estimated £140 million into restoring, preserving and fitting out the site, with a further £80 million allocated to installing the immersive technology and screens.

If everything goes as planned, then The London Tunnels could open to the public in 2027.

Ahead of submitting planning applications for the conversion work, there will be a public exhibition of the plans. These consultation events will be hosted at The St Albans Centre, Leigh Place, Baldwin’s Gardens, London, EC1N 7AB on:

  • Saturday, 7 October at 11am-2pm
  • Tuesday, 10 October at 3:30pm-7pm
  • Thursday, 12 October at 3:30pm-7pm
  • Saturday, 14 October at 11am-2pm

More details are here.

Kingsway Tunnel Deepest Bar (c) DBOX for The London Tunnels


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  1. John B says:

    You should change are to could in the title.

  2. Dave T says:

    As much as I like this, part of me would like it left as it is, and also I do gasp at the financials of it – thats £220 million pounds right?

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