The 20/12/18 edition of ‘The Times’ used a picture of the Crystal Palace Subway to illustrate an article on the number and type of buildings that Historic England had listed over the year. Although originally listed Grade II in 1972, the subway has been upgraded to Grade II* to reflect the recent efforts of the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway in raising its profile through historic research, restoration, maintenance, and the provision of better public access. The Dulwich Society can claim some credit here as it helped to secure a £16,000 grant for the works from Southwark Council’s Cleaner Greener Safer scheme - to go with the £15,000 from Bromley Council’s Crystal Palace Park Community Projects Fund and a £3,500 grant from The Heritage of London Trust, £6,000 from local businesses and £5,000 from crowd funding. The work done on the interior by the Friends, the paving of the external area on the South West elevation, and the reconstruction of the access stair down to it, have ensured that the subway is now one of the most popular destinations in London Open House in September each year.
Although intended originally for first class passengers, the subway shows how it’s possible to make a simple walk from a station under a road into something special by, in this case, using imaginative architecture to give an appropriately dramatic introduction to the Crystal Palace itself. A more current lower key local example is the soon to be installed new mural in the Herne Hill Station underpass - subways don’t have to be grim and cheerless. And it also reminds us how important trains were in creating Victorian England as, without them, the relocation of the Crystal Palace to Sydenham Hill would have been a non-starter. No number of horse-drawn coaches or buses could have ever dealt with the numbers of visitors.
The update listing description also confirms that the station and the subway were designed by Charles Barry Jnr, son of Sir Charles Barry, the designer, with Augustus Pugin, of the Houses of Parliament, and Dulwich Estate architect & Surveyor from 1858 to 1900. It had always been assumed that his brother, Edward Middleton Barry was the architect, but this now appears to have been a printer’s mistake when the project was originally published in the Illustrated London News. Later researchers saw the article that named E M Barry as the architect and failed to see the correction the following week confirming that it was Charles aol mailBarry. This should not have been a surprise given that the latter lived about half-a-mile away along Sydenham Hill, and that his architectural partner, Robert Richardson Banks, lived literally over the road on Crystal Palace Parade. Unfortunately, the one thing that Historic England have been unable to clarify is who actually built the byzantine style vaults with their amazing polychromatic brickwork. As yet, no paperwork has been found to confirm the apocryphal rumour that Italian workmen were specially imported to do the work - it makes a good story though.