Deep below the capital’s streets, the secret wartime spy HQ that inspired the deadly gadget-making Q Branch in the James Bond novels could soon be a premier London tourist attraction.
Some 30 metres below High Holborn, the Kingsway Exchange Tunnels played host to the Special Operations Executive, an MI6 offshoot, during the second world war and later connected the Washington-Moscow hotline brought in after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Now the company that bought the 7.6 metre-wide tunnels from telecoms giant BT wants to open them by 2027, promising an immersive historical experience for up to 2m visitors a year.
The London Tunnels plans to invest about £140m into the restoration and preservation of the tunnels, which occupy 8,000 square metres under the metropolis, working with Wilkinson Eyre, the architecture practice behind Battersea Power Station’s renaissance, engineer WSP and placemaker Futurecity.
The tunnels, connected to the Tube and originally air raid shelters, could become one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in London, according to Angus Murray, chief executive of The London Tunnels.
Paul Baker, a director at Wilkinson Eyre, said: “These secret spaces present the opportunity to tell extraordinary stories that helped shape the 20th century, alongside awe-inspiring digital immersive experiences.”
Some of the original equipment used in the tunnel will be kept and displayed, such as the first transatlantic telephone cable, TAT1, which later carried the hotline between Moscow and Washington.