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The Crystal Palace Subway

I spent this wet Sunday afternoon taking pictures in a gorgeous place, called the Crystal Palace Subway (scroll down for full gallery).  I missed out on all the Open House Weekend fun (is it just me, or have they not really advertised the event this year?), but this more than made up for it.

Opened in 1865, the Crystal Palace Subway connected a large rail terminus (demolished in the 1960s) with the Crystal Palace grounds. And that – it would seem – was the subway’s high point.

The line connecting Peckham Rye to Crystal Palace never managed to attract huge crowds and after the 1936 fire, in which the palace itself and part of the station’s concourse got destroyed, it was practically doomed. After the war very little was done to restore the badly damaged and neglected station, which was eventually shut and razed to the ground to make space for the rather drab-looking estate on the western (Southwark) side of Crystal Palace Parade.

The subway itself – sitting below the street and between two boroughs, Southwark and Bromley – survived mostly intact and it’s an amazing space. And now a bunch of local enthusiasts have been trying to change the situation and make the space work for the local community again. And as far as I am concerned, both councils should do everything they can to make it happen.

To begin with, the covered part of the subway is in excellent condition. Looking at the ceiling it’s hard to believe that it’s been over 150 years since the construction ended. The pointing is in perfect condition – and so are most of the bricks. It actually looks like it’s been renovated, although I was assured that wasn’t the case. Which, I guess, is a testament to the quality of Victorian craftsmanship.

There are no visible leaks, or cracks, which, as I was told, is mainly due to the fact the roof is separated from the road above it by a thick layer of impervious clay. Would love to verify that.

The former concourse however and the park-side entrances are neglected and – in places – badly damaged. Not beyond repair though.

I was shown today a proposed design for a new building which would serve as an extension of the subway. The development would sit above the former concourse and the subway could become its integral part. Regardless of whether the building will actually be built, the subway is a perfect place for a gallery, cafe or another similar venue. Therefore the Crystal Palace Subway supporters have my support. Hopefully Val Shawcross – Lambeth and Southwark’s representative on the London Assembly, who lives locally and who also visited the Subway today – will be able to add some momentum to the campaign.

You can follow @cpsubway on Twitter. Thanks to Jules Hussey for organising the day and to Tom Murphy for the heads up.

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