South Kensington Subway #3

South Kensington Subway #3

Pavement Lights

The subway’s pavement lights can be seen here in Thurloe Street near the station entrance.

It seems there were originally six sets of pavement lights in the subway – including two small lights in the turn from the main tunnel to the steps leading into the station. They can be seen from outside adjacent to 32 Thurloe Street.

The pavement light in Thurloe Street as seen from the subway.

Glascrete pavement light by the Science Museum.

The other four sets of pavement lights were provided in the northern end of the tunnel. King’s (Glascrete) provided four pavement lights alongside the Science Museum during 1916-19. Clearly there were older pavement lights at these four locations, quite possibly they were removed during the building of the museum’s East Block.

A further set of three pavement lights were included as part of the subway’s 1908 extension. These can be seen immediately by the northern exit adjacent to the Science Museum.

The subway’s floors are not slippery…

The subway was built by and the floors largely by Wilke’s Metallic Flooring & Eureka Concrete Company, who provided the flooring in some of London’s grand buildings and for other railway companies. Some reports suggest work was also done by the Patent Metallic Paving Company. This may have been for the 1908 extension. Extolling the endurance of the new type of flooring surface, it was claimed that by 1905 that over 27 million people had walked the subway in just three years!

Wilkes was apparently a very short lived company. By 1891 it had wound up due to what appears to have been a legal dispute with the Midland Railway.

It seems Wilke’s work was however largely focussed on the longer straight sections of the subway. The short bit out of South Kensington station underneath Thurloe Street seems to have been delegated to a company known as Roadamant based in the City.

Roadamant’s presence evident in the subway floor.

The floor of the subway was originally heralded as being entirely non-slip. This is somewhat true except in certain conditions when a thin film of water of certain viscosity does make the floor’s surface slippery, as confirmed by tests made in 1986. According to the experimenters’ findings the more water there is the less slippery the floor is. Clearly the amount of footfall over the years has affected the floor’s original capabilities.

The Museum Exits

As well as the one by the Science Museum, two other dedicated exits were built. The first at the Natural History museum leads into its gardens, the second leads directly into the basement of the Victoria & Albert museum. The V&A tunnel was closed for several years but reopened in 2004

The steps down from the Natural History Museum grounds to the subway.

Above & below: Images showing the entry points of the Victoria & Albert museum’s connecting tunnel to the South Kensington subway.

V&A museum: Up the stairs to street level, down the stairs for the subway.

Stairs leading to the Science Museum in Exhibition Road.

The Skylights

View from the subway up to one of the skylights in the southern end of Exhibition Road.

Young and Company of Pimlico did the casts for the skylights that can be seen along the southern end of Exhibition Road. Young’s was based in Eccleston Road and were a noted company especially for the art bronzes it casted, and the bronze sphinxes at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment are examples of its work.

There are currently five of these skylights at three locations, all very close to each other. The northernmost one was a single unit which and originally formed part of the Cromwell Road exit. When this exit was closed it appears a spare curved end section was utilised to close off the stairwell and this is why that particular skylight differs from the other four.

A strange matter concerning the skylights is that at one time there were only four. Photographs show just one half of the pair right by Thurloe Place, the other, nearest to the road was a pavement light instead.

Below Thurloe Street (originally known as Alfred Place West) there is a strange, fully tiled, hole in the ceiling. I am not sure what it was, it may have been a small skylight or a ventilation shaft. Whichever it was it would have had to rise up in the middle of the roadway. However as old maps do not show anything of the sort these cavities might have been for lights rather.

Cavity for lights perhaps? Like a chandelier of some sort?

How Many Windows?

One of the four remaining windows that open onto the Natural History museum’s gardens.

There were originally ten windows that looked from the subway directly onto the gardens of the Natural History museum. Extensions to the museum over the years has meant that only four of these windows have survived. Nevertheless the 1908 extension to the subway also involved a further window – the 11th. Nowadays it seems strange that a window was put here but for about 15 years it did look out on a small patch of land belonging to the Science Museum.

One of the original recesses in the Natural History Museum’s grounds for the subway’s windows. This is how all the windows at the northern end of the subway once looked.

Additional 12th window/exit by Museum lane, likely to be a service access point of some sort.

There was a smaller additional 12th mystery ‘window’ approximately where Museum Lane is now, a short distance north of the V&A exit. Maps show a short tunnel heading west from here so it may have been a service access point of some sort.

Some of the windows were in fact blank and these are now used for a display on the District Line’s 150th anniversary.

Originally published April 2016 – Updated 2022.

South Kensington Subway #1
South Kensington Subway #2
South Kensington Subway #3