London underground tunnels and air raid shelters become tourist attractions

There is a locked door on the eastbound platform of Chancery Lane station on the London Underground. The door is a discreet and durable white.

Behind it are wide staircases that lead to a maze of tunnels about a mile long, built in the 1940s. The tunnel was originally intended to serve as a shelter during World War II, and was later used for espionage and the storage of 400 tons of government documents and communications. service.

Welcome to the Kingsway Exchange Tunnel. The tunnel will be located approximately 100 feet underground in central London, extending beneath the Central line of the Underground. They may soon be entering a new chapter. The complex’s owner, Angus Murray, who bought the tunnel last summer, has applied to the local authority for planning permission, along with architecture firm Wilkinson Air, to turn it into a tourist destination. Millions of people a year.

Murray’s London Tunnel will invest a total of 220 million pounds (about $275 million) to restore and preserve the tunnel, as well as adding technology for art installations and other attractions. Murray said he hopes to open the complex in 2027 and could host things like temporary art exhibitions and fashion shows.

Currently, to enter the tunnel, you need to take a small elevator behind a side entrance in an alley off the wide streets of central London. (Visitors to the attraction will use a separate, larger entrance, Murray said.)

When the elevator doors open, you step into a World War II-era tunnel. The tunnel is one of 10 civilian shelters proposed by the British government after the start of the Blitz, Germany’s eight-month bombing of London that began in September 1940. The tunnel was never used as a shelter. By the time it was completed in 1942, the air raids had ended.

During the Cold War, the British government instructed its telephone division (later to become British Telecom) to install a secret communication system inside the tunnels that could withstand a nuclear attack. According to the project’s website, the famous hotline between the Kremlin and the White House ran through the complex. Some of the telephone exchanges in the tunnel remain, although they have not been used since at least the 1980s.

“The idea was that it could provide some protection,” said trustee Martin Dixon. subtarania britanicaa charity that seeks to document and preserve underground spaces.

“If the Cold War had been more serious, we would have been able to continue communicating at some level,” said Dixon, who joined Subtarania Britannica some 40 years ago.

The tunnel beneath Chancery Lane Tube station is more than a mile long and reaches about 25 feet in diameter in some places. Murray said these dimensions would make it one of the largest tunnels ever built for people in a major city.

“They have an interesting history,” he said.

For decades after World War II, the tunnel complex became a workplace for people working in the post office and telecommunications, and parts of it still remain. In some rooms, the stuffy smell of old carpets is unavoidable. The remains of the dining hall still remain in the other. Still other buildings have false windows that surround images of nature as decorations. There are still offices and rooms where workers can spend the night.

Parts of the tunnel are lined with false walls and empty doors behind them. The effect is similar to watching a scene from Apple TV+’s dystopian show “Severance.”

The drinking bar for postal workers still remains, and Mr Murray said he wanted to revive it and make it the deepest underground bar in London.

Telecommunications operations in the tunnel ceased in the 1980s, and British Telecom put it up for sale in 2008. Until the 1990s, BT employees would enter the facility to inspect fire safety and other conditions. The other tunnels were empty.

Although many details of the new attraction still need to be worked out, Mr Murray said the cost of the experience would likely be in line with the price range of other major tourist destinations in London. (Admission to the Tower of London is approximately $40; admission to Westminster Abbey is approximately $36.)

Subtarania Britannica’s Mr Dixon said he was excited by the prospect of Kingsway Exchange being turned into an attraction, provided it was safe and its history preserved.

“I’ve seen thousands of underground spaces, from the mundane to the spectacular,” he says. He added that the Kingsway exchange is particularly interesting because of its various features. “It played a role in World War II and was ready to play a role in the Cold War.”

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