Last Train to Orpington

Secret tunnels under London

by on Sep.05, 2010, under Uncategorized

For many years I have been facinated by rumours of ‘secret tunnels under London’. There are many different stories and even some books written about the subject. It turns out that there is actually alot of truth in these stories, and that secret tunnels unquestionably exist; But how many of them do we know about and are they still used? Are there more to discover than we know?

Unsurprisingly, it it clear that many of the secret tunnels under London were built as war-time shelters and bunkers. One particular underground complex is under Holborn tube station and was dug in 1940 as London was blitzed by German bombers. The tunnels were designed as an air-raid shelter for up to 8,000 people, and as a possible last-ditch base for the government in the event of an invasion. They were never used as a shelter; instead, towards the end of the war they were apparently taken over by MI6 as a research facility (perhaps better known as Q branch in the James Bond novels). Later it became an emergency telephone exchange and communications centre and was in use until very recently.

The Holborn facility is generally known as ‘Kingsway’. One of the entrances was (and is) on 31-33 Holborn. It is an anonymous glass doorway behind which there is (apparently) a lift. When I first visited this site years ago (in the early 1990s I think) There seemed to be a security checkpoint behind the doorway with a security guard in it. Nowadays it seems unmanned.

Entrance to Holborn/Kingsway complex at 31-33 Holborn

Entrance to Holborn/Kingsway complex at 31-33 Holborn

The whole complex is now deemed surplus to requirements and is up for sale. Some people have even managed to visit it. The excellent site Subterranea Britannica has a detailed section describing the facilities with many photographs.

What else is there?

Well, there are definately tunnels under Whitehall, and rumours of other tunnels around leicester Square and Covent Garden.  Several London tube stations – mostly on the Northern Line – also have bunkers beneath them, which were built as war time shelters.  Many of these facilities have now been sold. There are also rumours of tunnels connecting Buckingham Palace to the deep tube network, allowing quick exit for the royals in the event of an emergency.

The Whitehall tunnels are possibly the most interesting, and unlike the Buckingham Palace rumour (which seems a bit far-fetched to me), definately do exist. Part of the network is now the ‘Cabinet War Rooms’ museum but there is much much more that is obviously not accessible. One section of the network is known as ‘Q Whitehall’, and another section apparently connects to tunnels going south of the river Thames and terminating at Waterloo. I have had this confirmed by a number of people, most recently by a BT engineer I happened to get talking to quite by chance in a bar – bizarrely close to the above entrance to the Holborn tunnels.   There is an article here that gives bit of the background, and a more lengthy article here.

The question is what else? More to follow…

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