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Description: South Kensington Subway
Date Listed: 4 April 2006
English Heritage Building ID: 493237
OS Grid Reference: TQ2687778859
OS Grid Coordinates: 526877, 178859
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4944, -0.1737
249/0/10285 EXHIBITION ROAD SW7
04-APR-06 South Kensington Subway
Pedestrian subway. Built 1885 by the Metropolitan District Railway with later alterations. 433m long. Engineer in Chief Sir John Wolfe Barry with JS McCleary; contractors Lucas & Aird. Subway runs east from South Kensington Station, then turns northwards beneath Exhibition Road, emerging next to the Science Museum.
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION: Built in brick. Part jack-arch construction carried on heavy riveted wrought-iron beams, and part barrel vaulted.
INTERIOR: Walls clad in cream and yellow-brown glazed brick in alternating header and stretcher courses. Moulded stone plinth. First stretch of tunnel top-lit by lightwells (that near junction with Cromwell Road now blocked). Section alongside Natural History Museum gardens has segmental headed windows; some blocked, others with original timber sashes. Exits to to Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum gardens have brick segmental arches flanked by cast-iron Egyptian columns; the latter has modern decorative wrought-iron panels. The lightwells emerge at 3 intervals along Exhibition Road standing 1m high above street level, the southernmost paired; each set within a cast-iron enclosure with lattice panels. Entrance adjacent to Science Museum built 1915. Portland Stone with banded rustication.
HISTORY: The subway's history is inextricably linked to the development of 'Albertopolis', the name coined in the 1850s and resurrected in recent years for the 87-acre site south of Hyde Park purchased by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 with profits from the Great Exhibition. Exhibition Road - whose route the subway follows - forms the spine of Albertopolis. The nickname satirised the vision of Prince Albert, the Commission's President, of the area as a centre for education, science and art - an ambition largely realised within a few decades of the Prince's death.
The original proposal, by the Metropolitan Railway, was for a subway providing a pedestrian route and tramway from South Kensington Station to the Albert Hall. The scheme was then taken up by the rival Metropolitan District Railway. Provision was granted under the Metropolitan District Railway Act (1884) for a shorter, pedestrian-only subway, terminating just short of the present northern exit. The subway was opened by the Prince of Wales on 4 May 1885. It provided access to South Kensington's international exhibitions and to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens (now the site of the Science Museum and Imperial College), with secondary exits to the Natural History Museum and the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum). The Builder described it as 'one of the most valuable adjuncts for public convenience that we ever knew a railway company to undertake'. The subway was lit by electric light, then a recent innovation. Used only on special occasions after the last exhibition in South Kensington in 1886, it was opened to the public free of charge in 1908.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Of special interest as a relic of South Kensington's function as an international exhibition centre, of the application of engineering methods to create a new means of managing foot traffic in a brand new quarter of London, and in the development of 'Albertopolis' - a unique and internationally important complex of cultural and educational amenities. The subway is well-preserved, its structure and finishes largely original.
SOURCES: South Kensington Subway, English Heritage report, May 2005; Survey of London Vol XXVIII: The Museums Area of South Kensington and Westminster; London Transport Museum archives; The Builder, 9 May 1885
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.