Kingsway Tramway opened in 1906 and connected North and South London. The tram tunnel was a thoroughfare for London’s working class in the early 20th Century for 46 years before the last tram travelled through in 1952. There was an outpouring of support for the last trams that travelled along the line. The routes were not only full with passengers but well-wishers lined the streets and walked alongside the trams.
In the 1800s Covent Garden market spread and the Kingsway became slum housing as the rich left the area. In 1861 the first horse-drawn trams arrived in London. To create a smoother ride, these trams were placed on tram lines installed on top of the cobbled streets. However, this was a hazard for pedestrians and so an Act of Parliament meant that the lines had to be built into the road. These trams were an instant hit with the public. They were a cheap method of transport, could carry high numbers of travellers with enough passenger-room.
By 1900, the slum areas between Holborn and the Strand were demolished to redevelop the area. The new road, The Kingsway, was built with a tunnel beneath to hide the trams and keep the wealth residents happy. The Kingsway tunnel was the first of its kind in London: a tram moving underground. Initially it was only large enough for a single-decker tram to travel through. However, in 1929, the Kingsway had to accommodate double-decker trams and so they dug down further.
The Decline of Trams
London County Council, who supported the tram, were taken over by The London Transport Board in 1933. The LTB wanted to replace the trams in London and across the city they were being phased out by trolleybuses. By 1940, the only trams that survived were in South London and the three routes to travel through the Kingsway into North London.
Unlike other underground spaces owned by the LTB, the Kingsway Tramway was never used as an air raid shelter. It is only a few feet under the ground the tunnel caved in twice during the war due to bomb damage. After WWII the LTB began closing routes through the Kingsway tunnel as well. The final service to go through the tunnel was in 1952 and it did so with a public outpouring of love for the tram system.
In 1953 the tramway was used to store 120 buses and coaches in case they were needed for the Queen’s Coronation. This has set a precedent for the space. Since 1957 it has been leased out as a storage facility. Camden Council currently use it to store old lamposts, bins and road signs!
In 2012, Crossrail announced that they needed to dig down under the tunnel entrance to create a grout shaft into another access point. This hole was 5 metres wide and 8 metres deep. Crossrail had to promise to put everything back into its original condition due to the site’s Grade II listed status.
Since 2021, The Transport for London have been conducting tours of the Kingsway tram tunnel. These can be booked online and are a great way to see a different side of the capital city.
Last Updated on 8 August 2022 by Leonie