Restoration of Crystal Palace’s Victorian subway to nowhere given go-ahead

A computer generated image of the proposed restoration. Pic: Bromley Council

The restoration of Crystal Palace’s ornate Victorian subway has been given the go ahead following a unanimous vote of approval by Bromley Council.

A grant of £2.8m has been secured by Bromley Council and Friends of Crystal Palace Subway to restore the space to its pre-war state, removing it from Historic England’s ‘at risk register’.

The project will see the rebuilding of the existing subway structure and the construction of a new roof and parapet walls. Bromley Council said they hope work will begin later this year.

Councillor Katy Boughey, Chairman of the Plans Sub-Committee No. 3, said in a statement sent to ELL: “We are pleased to unanimously approve this application for well-considered restoration works.

Image of Crystal Palace Subway from the inside. Pic: Tim NW

The proposed design is attractive and in keeping with the history of the subway, making good use of the available resources to preserve this valued structure. I look forward to seeing the restored subway in due course.”

The historic site opened in 1865 as a dedicated pathway for First Class passengers to pass between Crystal Palace High Level Station and the Crystal Palace itself, which burned down in 1936. During World War II, it was used as an air raid shelter by Camberwell council. However, after the Second World War, the High-Level station was rarely used and fell into a state of decline, leaving the subway without a purpose.

Through the Seventies, the subway was bricked up to prevent its use. In 1996, The Chemical Brothers used the subway as the location of their ‘Setting Sun’ music video. Since then, the site has been opened regularly for cultural and community events including classical concerts, and open days were offered.

The build is being coordinated with the broader plans outlined in the ‘master plan’ for the regeneration of Crystal Palace Park by Crystal Palace Park Trust, an independent group with a board comprised of members of the local community.

The plan details the proposal to restore the subway, stairs and vestibule of the site and change its use to the Museum/Interpretation Centre.

“The subway is the best surviving remnant of the Crystal Palace. We strongly support the restoration of the subway,” said the Trust in the official plan for the restoration project.

“Although the Trust has seen no proposals for the Museum/Interpretation Centre, its preliminary view is that this would be an appropriate use for the space.”

Councillor Peter Morgan, Executive Councillor for Renewal, Recreation and Housing, said: “I look forward to seeing works begin on this important restoration. It is essential we carry out these works in a timely manner to preserve this cherished subway for years to come and ensure it does not deteriorate further, with this restoration also contributing to the regeneration of Crystal Palace Park.”

Thomas Ford and Partners, the conservation architect firm responsible for the restoration, will clean the brickwork, clear staircases, and construct a new steel and glass roof. The hope is that it will become a usable space that can be utilised for public events by as early as 2023.

Clive England, the project’s lead architect from the firm, said in a statement: “It is a real privilege to be a part of this exciting project, which will restore the historic subway and provide it with a sustainable future.

“Whilst we work on conservation projects throughout the UK, there is something very special about being involved with such an important project in our local community, close to where we live and work.”

The subway, which has been open to the public at least three times a year since 2016, has recently been used for market events for local traders. There have been many schemes proposed to facilitate a more permanent use of the underground space, but so far none have been implemented.

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