Friday, September 26, 2014

In the Crystal Palace Subway

Looking like a Victorian brick version of the Alhambra, languishing and locked up underneath the A212 (Crystal Palace Parade) for decades, the Crystal Palace Subway is a beautiful hidden gem of South East London. It was made in 1865 as an underpass between the newly-opened High Level train station and the Great Exhibition (the literal Crystal Palace) which had moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham in 1852-54. The Crystal Palace burnt down in 1936 and dwindling visitors to the area meant the station, said to be England's most magnificent outside of London, fell into disuse. It was closed in 1954 and demolished in 1961. Which left the subway all on its own. In the 1970s it was used frequently by glue-sniffers, and a handful of times a 'Subway Superday' was organised by the Crystal Palace Foundation and Norwood Society. The last one was in 1994. In 1996 the Chemical Brothers filmed a video there and briefly became a venue for illegal raves. Since then it's been closed for health and safety reasons and only opened occasionally, such as for Open House this year and last.

But what a shame. It's a beautiful, almost mythical space and being there as part of Open House felt more special than seeing any office or government building that weekend. It's longing to be opened up to the public be it as a cafe, restaurant, bar, art gallery, anything at all really that puts it to use. When it was owned by the GLC, the subway was regularly opened up. Since it's been handed over to both Bromley and Southwark councils, it's in a mire of red tape and indecision.

Poor Crystal Palace, it seemed to have it all: the Great Exhibition (burnt down); beautiful train station (knocked down); subway (locked up); cinema (not in use). There are vintage shops and restaurants galore but not an M&S or Waitrose for miles. Thank God for the parks and the dinosaurs!

Friends of Crystal Palace Subway

Previously on Barnflakes:
Random Film Review: The Pleasure Garden
London through its charity shops #25: Crystal Palace
The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace

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