BT sells off secret tunnels under London

Secret tunnels under London that have served as everything from air-raid shelters to the home of the exchanges that connected international hotlines are for sale by BT.

The Kingsway Tunnels are around one mile long and run under High Holborn in London. They were dug 100 feet below ground in 1940 as air raid shelters for up to 800 Londoners, and were fitted with electricity, water and other services.

Elaine Hewitt, group property director for BT, said: “These tunnels were taken over by the Post Office, BT’s predecessor, after the Second World War and have been used in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways since then."

The tunnels have been used by the Government as a secure ‘reserve war room’, by the Public Records Office to store 400 tons of highly sensitive documents, and by BT as a ‘trunk exchange’ connecting long-distance calls before the introduction of the STD (subscriber trunk dialling) code. In the 1950s, the site gained notoriety because the ‘hot line’ that connected the presidents of the USA and Russia was routed through the exchange. In the 1980s, the complex was home to BT’s London Area Group that serviced closed-circuit television systems. The tunnels have also housed secure data back-up services.
The tunnels are now on sale, though BT has said it will consider leasing them. Planning restrictions mean they can't be re-used as a hotel, home or office.
Hewitt said, “We are looking for a purchaser with the imagination and stature to return the tunnels to productive use. The site has the most fantastic history and, now that we have no requirement for it for telecommunications use, it is right that we should offer it to the market.”

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