Following the successful award of £2.8m grant funding, much needed works to restore the Crystal Palace Subway are now underway. The site is partially located under Crystal Palace Parade, situated on the edge of Crystal Palace Park and forms part of the council’s wider Regeneration Plan to restore and rejuvenate the park. The restoration of this structure will ultimately remove the subway from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register by summer 2022, making the site safe for future generations to enjoy. The site is now closed whilst the restoration works are underway.
With the grant funding, and with the support of the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway (FCPS) and Historic England, the council appointed award-winning conservation architects Thomas Ford & Partners in May 2020, to undertake the restoration of the Grade II* listed subway. The restoration project comprises detailed survey work to understand the current condition of the structure.
Designs are also being developed for a new roof over the east courtyard, to replace the roof that was lost in the years following the great fire of 1936. This work will enable the development of the detailed specifications necessary for a contractor to fully repair and restore the site.
Once completed, it is envisaged that the subway will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register and will be safe for the public to enjoy. The restoration project has provided an extraordinary opportunity to secure a sustainable future for the much-loved community asset, which is of significant historical importance.
The current programme of works for the subway’s restoration indicates that construction will begin in August 2021, with the project due to complete in summer 2022. To date, extensive survey work has been undertaken and the site has been cleared of vegetation. The clearance uncovered the remains of the subway’s south staircase that has been inaccessible since the early 1900s.
History of the subway
First opened to the public in 1865, the subway was originally designed by Charles Barry Jnr, and provided access to the Crystal Palace from the high-level station. The main structure of the subway is a series of spectacular vaults, built from red and cream brick, with an elaborate floor paved in two alternating types of stone.
In 1936, the Crystal Palace was famously destroyed by fire and as a result, the subway is one of the last remaining features of the original Crystal Palace. The subway has an international following and a dedicated Friends group, who have worked for many years to secure the future of the site. Further information on the subway and its history can be found on the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway’s (FCPS) website.
Works completed to date
Prior to the restoration project, the following work has been undertaken to help support and secure the site to date.
Following two years of fundraising by the FCPS, a new access to the subway was created via the entrance located within the London Borough of Southwark’s boundary. A remarkable £52,000 was raised and enabled over 22,000 visitors between 2016 and 2020.
Water ingress to the subway has risked damaging the structure for some time. In an attempt to repair the damage caused to the subway’s roof by excess water penetration, a trial waterproofing exercise was undertaken in 2016. However, this method was deemed ineffective and alternative methods of waterproofing will be utilised during further restoration work.
The west courtyard located within Southwark’s boundary was repaired, refurbished and resurfaced.
Two retaining walls were installed behind the subway’s east courtyard to improve the integrity of the Crystal Palace Parade.
Alongside the physical work that has been undertaken, there have been various events and open days held on site, facilitated by the FCPS. These events have significantly helped raise awareness for the structure, contributing the success of securing £2.8m grant funding from the City of London and Historic England. This funding is currently being utilised to fully restore and repair the subway.
Although the subway’s future is still to be determined, it is envisaged that following restoration, the site will become a multi-functional space that will be accessible throughout much of the year. At present, no commercial proposals for the function of Subway have been established.
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