Whether one wants a clinically presented (yet in depth knowledge) or a no frills, haphazard yet exciting exploration of the Kingsway subway is probably down to one’s individual preferences, but once again Secret Vault have gone where Hidden London Hangouts missed out! The fact its ‘Holborn Tramway’ doesn’t indicate some sort of new, exciting tram proposed there but inevitably it’ll be the old tram subway! Hidden London Hangouts have covered it too but not like Secret Vault! Once again its thumbs up to the latter for a much greater in depth exploration broadcast last night as well as solving some questions of how the road tunnel has been built and what actually remains of the tram subway towards its southern end.
The tram subway was grade two listed over twenty years ago thus its a historic structure and cannot be altered or demolished. It has in fact been altered part of it was dug up for the Crossrail construction works (which I wrote about here) the stipulation was the works had to restore the tram subway to the same exact condition it was found in – and yes that included relaying the tracks and the centre conduit rail! other than that no work can be done therefore the tram subway remains much as it is – given that it already had considerable alterations including infilling of the tram tracks further south which were done prior to the grade II order imposed upon it in 1998.
This is usually as far as things go – but Hidden London ventured no further than the southern extremity of Holborn tram station. The Secret Vault however ventured well beyond here and found a way to see the old Aldwych tram station! Picture source: Secret Vault.
One thing I had always understood was one could go no further than about where the road ramp gets to a few feet or so in height, even Hidden London didn’t go that far, but what surprised me was there is indeed a way to see the old Aldwych tram station – its still there contrary to popular opinion which more or less tells us its disappeared because the road was built through that site. Well the new sixties road underpass was in fact built through here but the actual road tunnel is somewhat narrower than the tram tunnel itself (because the tracks fanned out in order to accommodate the island platform) thus there is in fact a box within the old tram station site. And that’s ensured what’s left of the Aldwych tram station largely intact. In fact the historic pictures shown below are the best I can find of Aldwych tram station – which does rather make up for the fact its invariably Holborn tram station that gets an airing whether its modern exploration or a historical overview!
The remains of Aldwych tram station. Glazed tiles can be seen (they seem to be a green or a sort of blue colour.) Source: Secret Vault.
In fact we are often told there’s little left of Aldwych tram station because the Strand underpass has been built through the site of it. That’s wrong. In large it does exist, almost complete (except the tracks and central island platform) because the Strand underpass is actually built in a box within the former tram station. This means the side walls with their huge advertising spaces still exist as do the glazed tiled trimmings and spaces around the advertising areas. Its done in a sort of green/blue glazed tile colour. Its most interesting because there’s very little pictorial evidence of Aldwych tram station, even in the days when it was in use.
Rare image of Aldwych tram station in use, seen during the Kingsway subway’s official reopening on 14 January 1931. Pic from my London County Council Tramways Handbook published 1970.
The Aldwych tram station in 1962 – before the new road underpass was built. Source: Layers of London
In terms of the Secret Vault’s presentation there’s far more to see and its most fascinating to learn how the Strand Underpass was actually designed as a box within the Kingsway Tram subway from a point about where Bush House is and right through the former Aldwych tram station’s site. Rather than having a spoiler I’d much rather people watched the Secret Vault’s instalment and see how these things came together in terms of the Strand Underpass construction as well as the old tram subway itself.
The Hidden London Hangouts team were beaten right to the very end of the Kingsway Tram Subway! Better luck the next time Hidden London and Secret Vault take on another round of similar projects!
The Hidden London Hangouts episode was first shown in November 2020. Yes I know they gave a full on detailed history of the subway and the area that existed before the whole Holborn/Aldwych area was rebuilt. I cant argue with that I do find Hidden London’s presentations very interesting but there’s nothing that can beat the pace of those by the Secret Vault. And yet again its good old Secret Vault with their new instalment on 20th April 2021 – its thanks once again for a revealing episode which told us much so much more about the Kingsway tram subway than any Hidden London Hangouts episode (or Subterranea Britannica or anyone else) could ever have!