Aldwych and Kingsway Scheme 1905 and 1920-1929
The Aldwych and Kingsway scheme was the London County Council's first large urban improvement scheme in central London. It was opened in 1905 and signalled the council's vision of London as a modern city of tree-lined boulevards, office blocks and free-flowing traffic.
There had long been calls for a new route for traffic between Holborn and Fleet Street, but it was not until the London County Council (L.C.C) came into existence that the scheme took shape. A new road was proposed between Holborn and Fleet Street. The slum properties and crowded alleys at the east end of the Strand would first have to be cleared, which was seen as a further advantage of the scheme.
Although modern in spirit, the scheme respected London's past. The new crescent at the south end was designed around the historic church of St Clement Danes. The Saxon-sounding name given to the new crescent, Aldwych, was chosen as a reminder of London's long history of continuous settlement.
The scheme's large boulevard, running north to Holborn, was named Kingsway in honour of Edward VII. A hundred feet (30 metres) wide, it was London's widest street and thoroughly modern in spirit, not least because a tunnel for electric trams ran beneath it. The building plots on either side of the new boulevard were leased to speculative builders, the intention being that this would become London's new commercial district.
From its beginning, the Aldwych and Kingsway district had overseas associations. Aldwych's location on the royal route between the palace and St Paul's Cathedral made it suitably symbolic for buildings associated with the Empire. Australia House, constructed between 1913 and 1918, was the first of the large Dominion headquarters in the area, and India House followed in the late 1920s. However American associations came to dominate this part of London. The Waldorf Hotel was built in the north side of the Aldwych crescent between 1906 and 1908 and soon became a meeting place for Americans in London. Several American firms established their headquarter buildings in the new office blocks that were erected along Kingsway, among them Kodak, whose 1911 building was one of London's most architecturally modern buildings at the time.
The tram subway was opened in 1908 as an integral part of the Kingsway development scheme. It too was built by the L.C.C, and it linked its electric tram routes north and south of the river. Before the subway these had operated as two separate tram systems. The subway ran through a -mile long underpass under the new streets, Kingsway and Aldwych. Electric powered trams were still a novelty in London at this time.
Trams used the shallow cut-and-cover subway for over 40 years. When it was first built, it could accommodate only special single-deck trams. Engineers knew that a larger tunnel would have been preferable, since all other L.C.C. trams were double-deckers. However double-deckers would have had to travel down a steep gradient to avoid the nearby Fleet sewer.
King Edward VII opened the first section of the tram subway on 24 February 1906. It ran from Southampton Row in the north under Kingsway and terminated at Aldwych, with an intermediate station at Holborn. The second section, completed in March 1907, continued southwards to Victoria Embankment under old Waterloo Bridge.
In 1930 work finally began on the Kingsway subway to increase its height. The tunnel reopened for double-decker trams in 1931, only to close in 1952 when trams stopped running on London's streets.
The southern section of the subway was converted in the 1960s to become the Strand underpass for road traffic. The northern end of the subway has been abandoned since the completion of the Thames Barrier in 1984. Until then it was used as London's Flood Control Centre. The tram tracks can still be seen on the northern ramp in Southampton Row.
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