Rarely opened to the public since it closed in 1952, there will be tours of the Kingsway tram subway in Holborn this summer.

The subway is one of those hidden in plain sight parts of London’s disused transport network, as the slope that runs down to the tunnel is easily seen from Southampton Row to the north of Holborn.

From there, it dips down to the tunnel, which once included a dedicated underground stop for the trams next to Holborn tube station, then down to the Embankment where it popped out under the Waterloo Bridge.

Holborn tram station (c) LT Museum

Completed in 1908, the tramway was large enough to handle single height trams, but later demand for double-decker trams meant the tunnels had to be substantially altered in 1929.

Initially very popular, trams were being replaced with buses and cars, and the last trams in London ran on 5th July 1952 – 69 years ago.

After closure, the Kingsway subway was used to store trams for a while, then in 1958, the southern end was converted into a road tunnel, and part for flood defence controls. The rest of the tramway has sat there untouched save by film crews, artists or for storage by the council.

In recent years it’s been a very convenient site for Crossrail to use for access as the future Elizabeth line tunnels run very close by. It was returned back to its pre-Crossrail state in 2018 and has been left empty since then.

Crossrail works in 2012

Now, the London Transport Museum will be starting tours of the tunnels.

The tunnel is tall, long and straight, with the original stone setts and tracks intact. Although most of the “station heritage” is from modern film sets, as a place to visit, it’s pretty high up the bucket list for most people who have ever read about it – if only because it’s so rarely open. It’s also unlike any of the other Hidden London tours as unlike tube stations, the tram tunnels are huge to allow for the double-decker trams, so it’s a totally different experience.

ianVisits in 2012

Tours last around an hour and cost £46.50 per person. Tickets will go on sale on Friday 9th July from here, or if you sign up for their newsletter, you can get early-bird tickets from Thursday.

As well as the tour, the ticket price includes:

  • Half price one-day entry to London Transport Museum within a month of your tour date. No need to pre-book, just come to the Museum during the normal opening hours with proof of your tour ticket.
  • 10% discount on all Hidden London-inspired products at their shop (online and in store), within one month of your visit.

A range of other Hidden London tours will also go on sale on Friday – details here.

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12 comments
  1. Nigel Headley says:

    Why not run a tram on the tracks? It might even get up the ramp. A historic joyride. I hope they’re going to kit it out to operational standards. There’s quite a long run with platforms.
    The site was open 20 years ago for a long Heath Robinson weaving contraption as part of an art exhibition. That was free to see as I recall

  2. SteveP says:

    Passed by here many times as my dentist of 20+ years is nearby, plus my favourite camera shop (now closed) and some decent pubs (Princess Louise well worth a visit). So I will put a visit on the list for August – thanks!

  3. Melvyn says:

    While an operational tram may not be possible a heritage tram parked at one or other tram stations could allow a feeling of what it was like when my parents generation used these stations on a daily basis . If I ever traveled through there it would have been just before I was born !

    Just think had Ken Livingstone won the 2008 Mayoral election then cross river trams would now be running above this subway !

    Looking at the price it’s obviously as steep as the incline at the northern end …..

    • MB says:

      Good idea to park a “heritage tram” there, there are going to be people there who have never seen one close-up and certainly never sat in even if only stationary.

  4. Nic Houslip says:

    My cousin took me to the Kingsway tunnel in 1952 as a 9 year old to ride on a last tram through the tunnel. I do remember, quite vividly, the noise from the motor and the gears driving the wheels. It was so very different to the London Transport RL’s and RT’s and the trolleybuses that my Mum took me on, but it was a step in the progress of public transport. 7 years later, as I was about to leave school the RM’s[Routemasters] were introduced on my route to school.

  5. Doug says:

    I remember getting on the tram (I think it was route 33) at Manor House terminus when I was a young lad. My bother and I sat downstairs at the front so we could see the driver. Not sure why or where we were going but I can remember clearly going down the ramp into the tunnel. The fascination was also seeing the ‘plough’ being inserted and removed whilst the car moved slowly at Manor House.

  6. Steve says:

    £46…. 😮

    It’d be good to see, yes. But that price is mad!

  7. John says:

    Good to read that this is opening – I’d be up for a visit. Bad to read the price – £46.50 for an hour – no, I won’t be visiting. To put some perspective on it, I can pay about half that price to ride all day on steam trains at a preserved railway.

    Or is this a printing error?

    • ianVisits says:

      You’re comparing apples and oranges and people put different values on entertainment depending on their preferences. If you want to compare different things, how does a tour of the tunnels compares to say the cost of a ticket to a football match, a night at the theatre, a headline pop concert?

  8. JP says:

    Yes the ticket price is what it is but, as stated, has bonuses. Unfortunately all the tickets have gone even before they go on more general sale.

    I was lucky enough to enjoy this atmospheric venture virtually as a Christmas present. I must admit that I wondered if it would live up to actual tramps through dusty musty tunnels I’ve done.
    I was enthralled and can only congratulate those signed up. There’s quite a treat in store for them.

  9. Richard says:

    I got two tickets for the wife and me to take the tour in September. Many years ago I had a wiring repair job for the flood control centre, but never ventured any further. Concession prices was 40 quid each (not sure what the extra £1.50 booking fee was for though)
    Looking forward to it, i’ve worked down and seen many parts of underground London, but never this one.

  10. Gordon Rix says:

    Nearly every time I visited London, one thing I did was to look at the Holborn end of the Kingsway Subway. To me, the gated tram entrance/exit, always looked the same but interesting. I would walk the length of Kingsway to the steps leading to/from the Holborn & Aldwych tram stations. In those days,(early 1960s) they were surround by elaborate black iron work with locked gates to prevent entrance by anyone including inquisitive 12 year old school boys such as me.About 4 years later,upon being told that part of the subway was being converted into a car underpass, curiosity got the better of me. After arriving at Holborn,as usual,I went to the incline and Holborn tram station, They were the same as they had been every time in the past that I’d visited them.This was followed by a walk to Aldwych tram station where,to my delight,the iron gate at the top of one of the flights of steps, was open. With no thought of danger,injury or the fact that I shouldn’t do what I was about to do,down the steps I descended. At the bottom,there I was actually standing on the platform of the Aldwych tram station, no sound of trams, just of pneumatic drills coming from somewhere. After a few minutes,along one of the two Strand tunnels I proceeded. If my memory serves me right,there was grids between the running rails and the conduit pick up trough. The noise was getting louder and not too far away, movement was noticed. To be on the safe side, a reverse action was executed and back to Aldwych tram station I went. My exploration couldn’t be left there, so following the occasional light and the feeling underfoot of the tram track,a near enough straight route led me to Holborn tram station.Lights allowed me I investigate the change over points.I then followed the last part of the subway thanks to the light entering around a rather make shift corrugated iron set of gates. A dip in the entrance/exit was noticed and just over a double deck tram height, a leaking sewer that had been there for many years could be seen.I was advised on another occasion that about every 3 weeks,water is pumped out of the dip so as not to cause an obstruction. With a little bit of hesitation and a fear of being locked in,l made a cautious return to Aldwych tram station.Now, over 60 years later, I still look at the incline, the entrance/exit to Holborn tram station, visualise the double tram width subway and then the exit to the Stand Underpass where the Aldwych tram statio was. Although regrettably not on a tram, I can say that I have explored near enough, the whole of the Kingsway Subway and its stations although dark and unofficial,

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