Going Underground: historians want your Subway memories

Do you have memories of Crystal Palace subway? Did you use the subway as part of the old High Level railway station or when it was an air raid shelter during the war? Maybe you played there as a child, attended Subway Superdays or went to secret parties there?

Crystal Palace Subway Open House Event-14

Photo by Angie Davila

Volunteers at the “Inspired by the Subway” project would love to hear from you if you have any memories that you would like to share. The volunteers are trained in oral history interviewing and recording and they are collecting memories for an exhibition in September.

All materials will be archived professionally.

The project is also collecting photographs, film or video clips, plans, drawings, paintings and other materials relating to the subway. Originals can be placed in the London Metropolitan Archive where they will be protected for future researchers or materials could be scanned or copied to create a record that can be shared with other people.

Recently the recipient of a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Sharing Heritage Programme, Friends of Crystal Palace Subway is a grassroots community group working to reopen the Subway to the public and improve educational and heritage events and facilities.

The project is committed to delivering training opportunities to local people in research, media and heritage skills. Participants gain a greater insight into the history of the Subway and the local area, as well as having the opportunity to put this knowledge to use by hearing and recording the memories of how people have used and enjoyed this part of our past, one of the few surviving features associated with Paxton’s vast Victorian Crystal Palace, which had staged Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in Hyde Park more than 150 years ago, was later moved to Sydenham Hill but which burned down in 1936.

The subway was originally used as an underpass between the Crystal Palace High Level station and the Palace itself. It now sits beneath the main road marking the Bromley and Southwark boundary.

With its Byzantine-inspired architecture and stunning geometric brickwork, the subway is a hidden gem of the Victorian era, first opened to the public in December 1865. The subway was used as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War but was closed to the public in 1954. Friends of Crystal Palace Subway ultimately aims to reopen the space to the public, having provided public access during the London Open House weekend last September.

The Crystal Palace area is a hotbed for local heritage groups and the interest shown by the community in the project has already been strong. From exploring children to illicit parties, the project hopes to hear from anyone with a memory of the subway, no matter how small.

“Friends of Crystal Palace subway were excited to receive HLF funding for this project and three months on that feeling is not diminished as the level of interest in what we are doing has exceeded all expectations,” Sue Giovanni, the project manager, said.

“We have been able to recruit a dedicated group of volunteers some of whom are now trained as interviewers while others are uncovering historical treasures from a variety of archives. Our search for people to share their memories of the subway has got off to a promising start but we would like to widen this out beyond the Crystal Palace area and I encourage anyone who remembers the subway from previous decades to get in touch. We would love to hear from you.”

Findings will be collated in an Open House London exhibition in September.

  • If you have memories or materials please contact Sue Giovanni on 07956 861052 or inspired@cpsubway.org.uk

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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