Hidden Tunnels from World War II to Reopen as a Tourist Attraction

London developers are running out of space above ground, it seems

There’s already a lot going on underneath London – you’ve got the Tube, old Victorian streets and even subterranean hotels – and now some forgotten tunnels that have been closed off for decades will be added to the city’s roster of underground attractions. In the £220 million plan for ‘The London Tunnels’, a mile-long system of tunnels is reimagined as a museum about the history of London, as well as a bar.

The tunnels date back to the 1940s when they were built below High Holborn as a deep-level air-raid shelter during World War II. However, they ended up being used as a government communications centre instead and went on to be known as the ‘Kingsway telephone exchange’ when, in 1956, they became the UK termination point for TAT-1 (the first transatlantic phone cable). The tunnels were used for various other purposes throughout the 20th century before becoming disused in the 1990s and put up for sale by British Telecom in 2008.

In the 1980s, the tunnel system housed Kingsway Computer Centre and featured a staff restaurant, tea bar, games room and licensed bar which was claimed to be the UK’s deepest licensed bar (at 60 metres below ground level). That title is set to be reclaimed, as The London Tunnels proposes reopening the fully licensed bar (though this one will reportedly sit at 40 metres below ground level). The rest of the tunnels will be used as a museum that will retrace the timeline of the system’s life, from the 1940s up to the present day. An exhibition on James Bond is reportedly in the works.

The ambitious plans have already been met with interest and with planning approval granted by the City of London, all that remains is the green light from Camden Council (because the site crosses over the boundary of both jurisdictions) before work can begin. If it does get the go ahead, it looks like The London Tunnels won’t be ready to open until at least 2027. For anyone hoping for some subterranean urban exploration, the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours will have to do for now.

High Holborn, London