Road traffic trying to go north/south in Mayfair has to cross the busy east/west Piccadilly road – so why not bury it in a road tunnel?

That at least was the thinking at the turn of the 20th century when the government looked at how to deal with the growing problem of road congestion in central London.

Tunnel alignment over Open Street Map

An enquiry had been set up by the Royal Commission on London Traffic in 1904, consisting of Sir John Wolfe-Barry, Sir Benjamin Baker and Mr HB Parsons, and that had recommended some form of a north-south tunnel running between Berkely Square and The Mall.

This was later, much later, endorsed by another committee set up in 1919 to review London’s traffic problems, under the Chairmanship of Mr Kennedy-Jones MP.

Nothing happened.

Then in 1925, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee took another look at the scheme, when Devonshire House was being demolished and recommended urgent action to preserve the line of the proposed tunnel.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t get agreements to spend the £35,000 needed for the developer to amend their basement plans, so proposed a modified scheme putting the tunnel on the other side of Berkely Square, and this would run under Stratton Street, under Piccadilly and then under the eastern edge of Green Park, before emerging at The Mall.

The tunnel would be modest, two lanes and fairly low height so only for use by cars and taxis. As that matched the traffic restriction on The Mall it wasn’t necessary for the tunnel to take lorries or buses.

On to 1929, and still no tunnel — but around £20,000 had been spent on securing easements along Stratton Street and preserving the line of the tunnel. The thinking at the time was to slowly buy up the buildings, demolish them for the tunnel, then build replacement buildings on top.

It was estimated that the cost of the tunnel would be by now £225,000, although, with land purchases and legal rights, the total cost would come to around £500,000

However, then in the age of the motorcar, they were aware that eating into Green Park might provoke anger in the public and even worse – the rich owners of the grand houses that faced Green Park and would overlook the new road as it emerged from the tunnel.

There was a suggestion to lengthen the tunnel so that it remained underground for more of Green Park, but not only would this cost more, it would mean a steeper gradient for the vehicles, which at the time was a problem.

The difficulty facing the planners is that the road tunnel was as desirable a project as was avoiding the public protests about putting a road in Green Park.

In the end, the decision was sent to the government for a Cabinet discussion.

On 26th July 1929, they said… NO.

Sources:

National Archives – CAB 24/205/12

National Archives – CAB 24/205/43

National Archives – CAB 23/61/10

Daily MirrorWednesday 19 March 1924

Daily MirrorFriday 17 May 1929

Gentlewoman – Saturday 26 June 1926

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7 comments on “Unbuilt London: The Berkely Square road tunnel
  1. Wasn’t all this the reason for my favourite-named law in the UK, the London Squares Preservation Act (1931) ?

  2. Pete says:

    What was the point of this tunnel? It seems pointless.

  3. Andy Thomas says:

    It is something that I always find strange, whenever a new road it built, its full, like the A12 that was built in the 90’s, its almost as if cars just appeared that must have just been parked up waiting. A similar thing seems to happen when capacity is added to the underground and no doubt will happen to crossrail.

    Always gets me wondering where all these cars/people had been hiding 🤔

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