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Crystal Palace Subway
Photograph: Wei Huang / Shutterstock

A secret – and beautiful – bit of Victorian architecture will reopen to the public

The magnificent Crystal Palace Subway has been closed to visitors since 1954

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell

It’s not often that the words ‘breathtaking’ and ‘underpass’ are found next to each other. Probably never, in fact. But on this occasion, it’s entirely merited. A superb example of high-Victorian London architecture is being restored and reopened to the public after more than half a century of neglect.

The Crystal Palace Subway was built in 1865 beneath Crystal Palace Parade to escort first-class passengers from the (now vanished) High Level Station to the Crystal Palace itself. As befitted such important visitors to the exhibition, no expense or lavishness was spared in making sure that crossing a road was as magnificent an experience as possible. The underpass is a forest of decorative brick columns, that fan out at the roof, creating an almost organic environment. There’s a definite Moorish influence to the design, a style trend at the time.

Sadly, following the destruction of the Crystal Place by a fire in 1936, the subway lost its purpose. The elaborate High Level Station was closed in 1954 and demolished in 1961, and the underpass has been at risk ever since, despite being grade II*-listed (for an added frisson, there have long been rumours of abandoned trains bricked up in disused tunnels beneath the old station). Now, nearly 70 years after it was closed to the public, it will be restored to its full pomp, part of wider regeneration plans for the rundown Crystal Palace Park. 

Under the new £3m proposal, the adjacent courtyard will get a new glazed roof (as it had originally), the decorative brickwork will be cleaned and restored and Londoners will finally be able to see this magical place as it would have looked when it greeted visitors to the Crystal Palace in the 1860s. Everyone, come and see the city’s most breathtaking underpass!

Crystal Palace Parade, SE19. For more information on the project, visit the Friends of Crystal Place Subway.

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