Plans for a major restoration project at the Crystal Palace Subway, a Grade II* listed structure part located underneath Crystal Palace Parade, are taking shape following successful bids for £2.8m of grant funding from the City of London and Historic England. This follows on from previous smaller scale funding bids over the last few years including one, in 2015/16, to provide safe access to the subway on the Southwark side of Crystal Palace Parade. Local businesses, residents and other local organisations contributed - including the Dulwich Society which secured a £16,000 grant from Southwark Council’s Cleaner Greener Safer scheme.
Designed by Charles Barry Junior the Subway was opened to the public on the 23rd December 1865 and allowed first class passengers to walk directly into the Crystal Palace exhibition spaces from the station without have to go out in the open and cross a busy road - the Victorian equivalent of the fast-track system that business class flyers have when checking in at airports today. More recently and following the setting up of the FCPS, the Subway has intermittently been used for cultural and community events and it is the intention that this kind of activity will become more frequent following the completion of the project.
The proposed design by Sydenham based conservation architects, Thomas Ford & Partners, who will improve site accessibility and give it a more sustainable future, as well as removing it from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register. The plans include new stairs down from the park and a new roof - there was a glazed roof originally but the site has been largely open to the elements since the main buildings burnt down in 1936. In their supporting statement the architects say that the new roof needs to address a number of critical requirements not the least of which is to facilitate the use of the space beneath, but it also needs to respect the historic structure, provide security and be easy access to for regular maintenance. Few can disagree with the analysis but, when looking at the design, there remains a nagging feeling that it could have been more structurally adventurous. In its day the Crystal Palace was at the forefront of building technology with its use of prefabrication and standardisation. The new scheme is functional. and it will work well, but it is not as exciting as one might have hoped.
Bromley Council and the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway (FCPS) are working in partnership and the project is currently in for planning approval. It is envisaged that restoration work could be complete towards the end of 2022 and the subway will remain closed whilst the works are carried out. For further information see www.Bromley.gov.uk/CrystalPalaceSubway and join the council’s mailing list to receive further updates.