Chancery Lane

The exchange utilized the twin Deep Shelter tunnels excavated under Chancery Lane during the Second World War.
The tunnels were taken over by the GPO and extensions began in 1951 for a vast underground telephone exchange at Kingsway.
The backbone of the exchange was a twin tunnel 100 feet down on the northern side of High Holborn, between Hatton Garden and Red Lion Square, with Gray's Inn Road running over it. Eating, sleeping and working facilities were provided on the Red Lion Square side. Telecommunications plant, generators and repeating stations occupy most of the Hatton Garden side, while four extension tunnels running beneath Chancery Lane underground station, house switching units and a artesian well. A short tunnel links the exchange with the PO's Holborn cable tunnel. The exchange opened in October 1954.
(London Under London p86)


The front of 32 High Holborn, the unassuming entrance to Kingsway Exchange

The rear of High Holborn. Note the air intakes and exhausts for generators.

Furnival Street heavy goods lift.

Tooks Court - Cursitor Street entrance now demolished

The Tooks Court - Cursitor Street entrance demolition, 2nd January 2001

All the surface stuructures are being demolished and the site will be redeveloped with office buildings.
The contractors completely enclosed the site with acoustic and environmental shielding.
The 10 foot thick walls and roof required specialist demolition.
The shaft to the exchange will be capped some distance below the surface, when the basement is excavated.

The ventilator in Leather Lane.

The system was completed in 1954. The Soviet Union exploded their Hydrogen bomb in 1955 and the complex became obsolete. However the PO persuaded the government to finance 3 more extensions.
1)  in the 50's to join the Faraday to the Covent Garden exchange.
2) 1966 joining the Trafalgar Square PO with Colombo House via Waterloo.
3) 1976 extending the Paddington tunnel to Shepherd's Bush.
(London Under London p187)

In 1939 the PO dug a second cable tunnel from the exchange under High Holborn to its HQ at St.Martin's-le-grand where it formed a "T" with the Wood Street tunnel. The Holborn Exchange at on end brought together the telephone lines (links) with all the government departments and was a direct link to Whitehall's own FEDERAL exchange. (e.g. FED 1234) and passed them to the Faraday International Exchange at the other end of the tunnel.
The cable tunnel under Whitehall, which links up with the Whitehall telephone exchange on Northumberland Avenue is still in use. The cold war period saw growth for deeper, more secure communications.

To visit the superb Subterranea Britannica Research Study Group

Kingsway site, with excellent photos and plan of the site.

Click here.

Visit Sebastian Ballard's extensive site!

Click here!

And see his fine pictures of Birmingham's ANCHOR Exchange.

Exchange codenames.

FORTRESS - Moorgate exchange Fore St - Montagu House
CITADEL - Faraday exchange
RAMPART - Colombo House, South Bank, Blackfriars Road, near Waterloo
BASTION - Covent Garden exchange - Bow St

Sir William Halcrow & Partners built most tunnels since the 30's. Whitehall government tunnels, Post Office, deep shelters, PO railway, Victoria and Jubilee lines, raw water mains.
Built by Halcrow, 8 miles long and 16.5 ft diameter. 2 ft gauge railway (sic), later tunnels were smaller diameter and had battery powered trucks to pull cables. They were well ventilated and well lit by fluorescent light. Entrance to tunnels via Post Offices presumably exchanges or by manhole covers dotted about. Easy to spot.
In December 1980 the staff of the New Statesman held their Christmas party in one. Also tunnel from Colombo House (RAMPART) to Faraday House (CITADEL) It crosses under the Thames at an angle just below Blackfriars Bridge. These tunnels are connected to the government tunnels under Whitehall and the 12 miles of Post Office tunnels stretching east - west across London. final system - 3 more extensions. The system was completed in 1954. war Chancery Lane was taken over by the Post Office and annexed to the Kingsway underground exchange.
(London Under London p184-187)

Secret London by Duncan has good description of cable tunnels p44.

"On a tour organized by Subterranea Britannica in 1995 we visited a former MoD bunker directly beneath Chancery Lane tube station in central London. There were inconspicuous entrances in High Holborn and Furnival Street."
(The Guardian, N&Q April 23 1997)

To visit Duncan Campbell's site and look at exceptional photos.
Click here


Harrington House in Craig's Court, off Whitehall.

Built at the turn of the eighteenth century, today it houses the Whitehall Telephone Exchange offices. (Discovering London Curiosities, John Wittich, Shire Pub. 1973, 3 rd. ed. 1990.)

The entrance to the Whitehall tunnel and Exchange is the first door on the left on entering the courtyard.

NB The authorities are very touchy about Craig's Court being photographed.

All colour pix © Roy Smith
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