Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Campaign To Reopen Crystal Palace Subway

The former Crystal Palace, pictured in 1854

I joined the campaign to reopen to the public a Grade II listed subway which runs underneath Crystal Palace Parade in South London and I'd estimate that probably around 90% of the locals don't know the subway exists at all. With The Great Exhibition moving to Sydenham Hill in 1854, a train station needed to be created to deal with the expected vast numbers who visited the site. The station wasn't finished until 1865, and the subway was created to link one side of the road (Crystal Palace Parade) where the station was situated to the other (The Crystal Palace).

Crystal Palace High Level Station Terminal

The grand terminal was the work of architect Edward Middleton Barry, whom was a prominent London architect at the time, but it was Italian Cathedral craftsmen who designed and worked on the subway. Many feel the subway especially is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture and being hidden away from the public eye is very disappointing.

The subway running underneath Crystal Palace Parade

The subway contains row upon row of octagonal columns supporting the roof with red and cream brick interlaced with stone ribs. As the passengers ventured out through the stunning subway arches they would come out onto a courtyard and then walk up the stairs which led to the foot of The Crystal Palace.

Subway Arches leading to courtyard

Many ideas are floating around as to what the subway could be used for which include using the courtyard in particular to stage local performances of music, theatre and poetry, as well as art exhibitions and book readings. The subway would of course be used to lead the public from Crystal Palace Parade and through to the courtyard and could be used as shelter and relaxation and maybe a few stalls too. The subway and courtyard could become a focal point for Crystal Palace and surrounding areas, with regular and seasonal markets being held amongst the pillars of the subway and an open air cinema for a hundred people, the ideas are endless!

For me though of course with being a historian I don't want this sites historical factor to disappear and I feel the subway would be a fantastic addition onto the current Crystal Palace Museum which could hold guided tours around the subway and Crystal Palace grounds and would be able to recapture the magic of the largely forgotten story of The Crystal Palace and bring it to life again, after all the subway is probably the most pristine building left after the fire.

I really hope the local council realises the potential of this site and gives everyone in Crystal Palace more to do, as currently restrictions are so tight in the park itself a few events which have been attempted to be organised have met much red tape and been forced to cancel or reschedule. I hope you can get behind this with me as Crystal Palace has great links to most of London so potentially millions of us could use it, please take 30 seconds to sign your name on the petition as the more names the council see the more likely it is to happen


  1. Our very own Old Vic Tunnels, with equally inventive potential. Let's hope Southwark and Bromley councils will seize the initiative.

  2. Just to clarify - the Grand Terminus of which you speak is no longer standing. Crystal Palace (High Level) was demolished in 1960 and the site is now housing (Bowley Close and Spinney Gardens). You can still see the blocked-up tunnels at the end of that road, which took the tracks to Nunhead. The current station was built on an entirely different line.

  3. Ahh I thought some of the old terminal was still there as the picture I saw looks like where platform 3 and 4 are today. Will change this and add a picture :)