An ambitious £3million project to restore and re-open one of the last vestiges of the grand Crystal Palace has been given a green light.
Bromley Council last week granted planning permission for a restoration project for the Crystal Palace Subway, the walkway under Crystal Palace Parade that used to link the old Higher Level railway station for first-class passengers visiting the great glass attraction, but which has laid derelict and almost forgotten for 70 years.
The scheme is backed by Historic England and has received grants from the City of London Strategic Investment. The project has been driven by the energetic Friends of Crystal Palace Subway.
The restored Subway, with a new weatherproof roof, could be open for visitors as soon as next year.
What is now known as Crystal Palace railway station was once one of two stations which served one of the wonders of the Victorian age, following Palace’s reconstruction on top of Sydenham Hill in 1854. The current station – itself a monument to fine Victorian brickwork – was originally the “Low Level Station”, which left alighting passengers with a quarter-mile walk up Anerley Hill to the Palace.
To increase capacity and reduce the walking distance, a new High Level Station, with the Subway, was opened in 1865 on the western side of Crystal Palace Parade, widely understood to have been designed by Charles Barry, the architect best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament during the mid-19th century.
According to the Friends’ website, “From the High Level Station, it was intended that first-class passengers proceeded to the Palace via a subway composed of groined arches of coloured brick and stone, resting on 18 columns of the same materials.
“The corridor lead under Crystal Palace Parade to a vestibule roofed with glass and iron and communicating with four staircases, two for entry and two for departure, the grandeur of architecture was considered a fitting approach to the Crystal Palace.”
But once the Palace itself was destroyed by fire in November 1936, the use of the railway line declined rapidly, and the High Level Station was closed in 1954. Demolition began in 1961, parts of the site used for housing. While the vaulting beneath the parade has survived, the roofed vestibule was largely destroyed. In 1972, the disused subway was listed by English Heritage.
The Subway is today on Historic England’s “at risk” register, though the works proposed should rectify that and create a new attraction at the edge of Crystal Palace Park, not far from the museum dedicated to the area’s rich history.
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