The Subway’s Route
The subway at the South Kensington station end where it joins the station’s ticket hall.
This isn’t the original entrance but rather it was from a footbridge below which directly linked to the platforms. There seems no records of when these alterations were effected but it appears it was in the late 1920s that this work was done.
The original layout consisted of steps up to the ticket hall which was formerly in the arcade where the shops now are. The ticket booths were on the north side of this thoroughfare and the stairs on the south side. Both sides have since been built over with shops. The aforementioned footbridge was totally separate from the old ticket hall/stairway arrangement.
The rebuild consisted of an extended ticket hall area which did away with the other staircases and this utilised a raft across the site where the original subway access was located. This had to be at a level which could also afford escalator access to the Piccadilly Line. Thus it meant a new entrance (with steps) to the South Kensington subway had to be built.
Originally passengers alighted from the platforms and walked up to the footbridge which then led directly into the subway – there was no change of level at all. In the rebuild (which is the current arrangement) passengers have to first take the stairs up to access the ticket hall and then take the other stairs DOWN into the subway itself.
People may be surprised to learn the tunnel doesn’t really use the centre of Exhibition Road or Thurloe Street for that matter. First of all it exits the tube station down some steps and then turns to run at an angle towards the southern side of Thurloe Street.
What this means is it veers to the south away from the centre of Thurloe Street. When it reaches the junction with Exhibition Road it is almost underneath the houses on the south side of Thurloe Road. That enables the turn into Exhibition Road to be executed at 90 degrees. But its curious how they did it, or even whatever reasons had been given for this somewhat curious alignment, because for example, a 120 degree turn would have worked just as well and that would have resulted in a slightly shorter tunnel too!
The tunnel isn’t heading straight down Thurloe Place (which is in a north easterly direction.) Instead its heading due east and by the time the turn shown is reached, the subway is actually right against the south side of Thurloe Street.
The subway just to the north of where it turns from Thurloe Street into Exhibition Road. The turn also marks the start of the subway’s gentle rise northwards.
The first two skylights indicate a partial centre alignment under Exhibition Road as the picture below shows.
The tunnel under the first part of Exhibition Road where it aligns with the centre of the roadway. As soon as the tunnel reaches Thurloe Place it turns to run diagonally towards the exit for the Natural History museum. The first skylight can just be seen at the top of the picture.
The subway changes direction from the centre of Exhibition Road to run along its west side. This section is characterised at street level by the section between the two northernmost subway skylights.
Further along Exhibition Road the subway passes under Thurloe Place where it changes to the west side of Exhibition Road and heads directly for the Natural History Museum exit.
The tunnel’s switch to the west side of Exhibition Road. The Natural History Museum’s exit is on the left, just before the subway makes a final straight run up the side of Exhibition Road.
The subway where it meets the exit for the Natural History Museum.
The lengthy northern section of the subway underneath Exhibition Road.
The original section of tunnel can be defined by its uniform width throughout as far as the Science Museum’s East Block. The construction of a much wider section beyond is a mystery and its not know why it was built as such, other than being the extension to the new 1908 entrance. This extra space may have been for the purpose of providing museum exhibits or stands.
Parts of the subway can be prone to flooding. This is the section near the northern exit.
The northern end of the subway. I’m not sure what the space to the right was for – by the time this section was built it seems any further extensions that had been mooted (such as that to the Royal Albert Hall) never got off the ground.
Here’s an earlier view of the northern exit area. I’m not sure what was going on here – perhaps the area behind the hoarding was being used for storage – rather than any renovation work for example being done.
Directions at the top of the subway exit by the Science Museum. In the older days of the subway the locations would have included places such as the long vanished Imperial institute, the Imperial War Museum (now to be found in South London), and the Royal School of Art & Needlework.
The 1908 Science Museum exit at 25 Exhibition Road. The structure was re-built in 1919 to blend in with the new Science Museum buildings. The doorway at right once led into the Post Office Building.
The subway entrance/exit in relation to that for the Science Museum.
Brickhouse Dudley was a manufacturing company in West Bromwich it closed down in 1999. It had began life as Brickhouse Foundry and expanded considerably. A second plant, Prince’s Foundry, in Tipton was acquired to complement the business. The manhole cover see in the subway is an example of its work.
Brickhouse Dudley drain cover in the subway.
Those mysterious holes regularly spaced along the sides of the subway tunnel are an enigma. Many of them, very similarly sized and shaped. What could they have been for?
The subway barely ever featured in the public domain despite the copious amounts of publicity printed by the underground over the years. Perhaps knowledge of it was good enough? Below is an example of an old tube guide to the museums, no mention of any subway! Might as well walk the streets to the museums!
Here’s a good photo guide to the South Kensington subway.
Originally published April 2016 – Updated 2022.