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Trams, Trolleys And Twisted Threads

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On Saturday I visited the Kingsway tram tunnel in central London. This wonderful piece of Edwardian transport infrastructure opened in 1906 to allow electric trams to traverse central London without being held up by the horse-drawn congestion above ground:

Kingsway tram tunnel (David Rooney)

Kingsway tram tunnel (David Rooney)

It was initially built for single-deck trams (compare my pic with this period photo from the London Transport Museum), but the tunnel was enlarged in the 1930s to accommodate double-deck vehicles similar to this one in our reserve collection, originally from Glasgow:

Glasgow double-deck tram (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Glasgow double-deck tram (Science Museum / Science & Society)

However, by the second world war trams were falling out of favour and were rapidly being replaced by electric trolley buses and diesel buses. By 1952 the tunnel was no longer fit for purpose and was closed (a portion was converted in the ’60s to act as a vehicle underpass).

Since then it’s been fenced off and used for storage, and is rarely open to the public (but see this visit report, and this one), but for a few weeks, the Science Museum’s artist-in-residence, Conrad Shawcross, is using the tunnel as the site for his latest artwork, ‘Chord’ (read about it here). Chord features a complex rope-spinning machine crawling along a timber track within the tunnel – the perfect slow antidote to the frenzy of traffic above.

It’s a beautifully-made and engaging sculpture and well worth a visit if you can get a ticket. And if transport is your thing, you might also be interested in seeing behind the scenes at the Science Museum’s store in west London, Blythe House… if you join our membership scheme you get invited to special member events, including my tour of one of the transport rooms on 12 November…

Model vehicles in the Science Museum collection (David Rooney)

Model vehicles in the Science Museum collection (David Rooney)

Written by David Rooney

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  1. Mrs Redboots

    My daughter took me to the Tram Tunnel on Saturday, too – I really loved Chord, far more than I expected to. Very pretty and fractal – I was impressed. Loved the tram tunnel, too – have longed to visit that for years.

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