Hidden forty metres below the streets of our capital city is a mile-long network of secretive tunnels; The Kingsway Exchange tunnels. Cloaked in mystery under the Official Secrets Act for 70 years after being used as a MI6 base during World War II, the subterranean passages (much like Gretchen Wieners’ hair) are full of secrets.
Well, luckily for us Londoners, we’re getting a sneaky peek into the mysterious action, as the site is being transformed into a brand spanking new immersive tourist attraction after being bought by London Tunnels LTD.
The tunnels measure 25ft in diameter (the equivalent of three London buses, FYI) and span 8000 square-metres beneath High Holdborn. They were originally constructed to serve as deep level wartime shelters and were later used as a base for Winston Churchill‘s “secret army”. They were then repurposed during the Cold War as a covert telephone exchange, operating the very first transatlantic telephone cable. So yes, these tunnels have a pretty impressive CV, to say the least.
The pathways were home to the UK’s deepest underground bar and also had a restaurant, fully equipped with enough food to feed hundreds of Londoners for months on end, in the case of a nuclear attack. The tunnels have been vacant for years, having been taken over by BT in the 1980s but all that is about to change.
The London Tunnels LTD will be investing a whopping £220 million into the passageways and will be transforming them into London’s latest tourist destination. £140 million will go towards the restoration and preservation of the site, whilst the remaining £80 million has been allocated to the interactive technology.
Giant screens, interactive structures, scent-emitting technology and hundreds of individual acoustic pinpoint speakers will be installed to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of the tunnels during its wartime use. The attraction will give its visitors a truly immersive experience. The underground bar is also going to be revamped as part of the transformation.
Planning permission is yet to be confirmed so this could all be a big old pipe (or tunnel) dream but if all goes to plan, the attraction is set to open in 2027 with up to 2 million people visiting the site per year. I personally am hoping for it to go ahead because sipping a martini in the tunnel that inspired the ‘Q Branch’ in the James Bond novels would be pretty darn cool, right?
Read more about the proposed plans here.