I was interested to read this morning of a campaign to reopen a long disused tunnel at Crystal Palace that I have long wanted to poke rather more than just a nose inside for a look at.

It’s actually a very short tunnel, being more of a subway under the double-carriageway road above, but it is historically significant, and very heavily decorated. The tunnel linked, for a very short period of time, a railway station and the Crystal Palace – but when that burnt down, traffic to the area dropped, and eventually the station was closed, torn down and is now a rather nondescript housing estate next to a medical centre.

The entrance to the tunnel from the housing estate side has been bricked up in the same style as the brick vaulting that supports the road above and is essentially invisible to the naked eye now.

Supporting walls holding up the main road above

As one side is a housing estate, it is unlikely that it could be reopened as a tunnel/tourist attraction, so the plans are to turn the rest space into an arts venue (why are they always arts venues?) and open it up to the public.

Park side of the tunnel entrance

At the very least, they will open the tunnel to the public to have a look at – if they can get approval from the owners/councils/whomever to do so.

I think I’ll be up there like a shot for a look around if they manage that.

However, as a tunnel enthusiast, what excites me rather more about the area is a considerably longer tunnel that was also sealed off when the station closed down.

The Paxton tunnel portal

Here is the entrance portal to the Paxton Tunnel that runs around the North West edge of Crystal Palace park to the former Upper Sydenham Station. Although blocked off with metal gates, the tunnel still runs to the far end where it is solidly bricked up.

Standing next to the portal and letting out a wistful sigh, the extent of the tunnel could be felt thanks to a cool miasma drifting out of the tunnels. In fact, I am rather surprised that the houses sitting right next to the tunnel hadn’t used the cold air as a cheap air conditioner (it was a very hot day when I visited).

While everyone else wants to look in the small subway – I want to go into the much bigger Paxton Tunnel.


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  1. TGP says:

    Ian – where is this in relation to the poorly sphinxes that were languishing in undergrowth last time I looked? Would it be possible to include them too?

    • IanVisits says:

      It’s not far from the statues, but — in my opinion — they are not really the right sort of scale to work with this subway tunnel.

  2. TGP says:

    Fair enough.

  3. How exciting. You’re certainly not the only one who will be quick off the mark to go and visit should the tunnel be reopened!
    Sophie Hobson, deputy editor, LondonlovesJobs

  4. Tim Wright says:

    So is this tunnel that comes out the other end in Sydenham Woods. That end’s used by London Wildlife to store kit, so maybe there’s a ‘way in’ from there?

    • AB says:

      That’s the next tunnel along Tim, Cresent Wood. The other end of this tunnel is in the estate off Hgh Level Drive. Then there was the station, Upper Sydenham, before the line went back into Cresent Wood tunnel which comes out in the woods.

  5. brian armitage says:

    the climbing/caving experience in Clapham looked like it would be a goodie too!

  6. gordon.porter@openreach.co.uk says:

    Wasn’t there supposed to be a famous old steam engine bricked up in one of these tunnels near Crystal Palace?

  7. matt mitchell says:

    I walked through both tunnels when I was only 10 years old, me and a friend. It was really creepy. Paxton tunnel curves so you cant see the end!

    The bricked up engine rumour was part of one of the two atmospheric railways. Which still has never been found, whether theres a train down there nobody knows. Atmospheric railways dont have engines on the train.

  8. Patrick says:

    I’m glad to see another person shares my enthusiam when it comes to tunnels. I’ve been trying to enter south portal of the former upper sydenham station, Just of Wells Park Road. But sadly to no avail. There is a slit between the steel doors which you can peer through, and on a good day when the sun is just at the right angle you can see into the tunnel. As for the subway, it truly is an exquisite piece of architecture. Edward Middleton Barry was a genius to bring over italian cathedral craftsmen to create the subway. Its history could rival that of palaces. I have heard of another proposals to convert the subway into a wine bar, thoguh I fail to see how that works. For the time being I shall make reqular visits and take photographs while continuing to gaze in awe at the byzantine crypt as it totherwise less know as. Maybe one day I will get my wish to enter this beautiful structure

  9. robin says:

    have you been in the cave under the water fall in crystal palace gardens or has it been sealed up.there was part of a tunnel at the lower part of the park covered by an oblong stone urne type thing about 6ft by 3ft 6ft high.I have also walked the paxton tunnel and played in the old station. the tunnel under the road is interesting. I visited it in 1948/49.access to the cave was via a chimney under a dear about 2 ft square at the top probably sealed now

  10. when I was about 14/15 we used to walk the tunnels quite a few times,i remember the Paxton tunnel was creepy because of the bend.
    I am now 64 and tried to find the portal this week starting from the bridge, I going back next week,is there a chance to enter the tunnel again.
    steve benardis.

    • JW says:

      Hi Steve. Sadly access is not permitted per se but having visited it this week I can confirm it’s still just as creepy, and surprisingly clean. It’s almost perfectly preserved. Using a torch it gives that haze look due to the air quality. Sadly near the Spinney Gardens end it’s leaking quite a lot presumably due to the underground reservoir above it on the parade. It’s not flooding but it is raining inside, very weird. Probably slowly damaging the structure too.

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