The Nursemaids’ Tunnel, Regent’s Park, London is one of the earliest surviving pedestrian subways in London. It joins the two Crown Estate Paving Commission (CEPC) private gardens, Park Square Garden and Park Crescent Garden, that straddle the Marylebone Road near Regent’s Park Tube station.
A pedestrian tunnel was conceived at an early stage in the development of Regent’s Park. The New Road (now Marylebone Road) was hazardous for pedestrians wishing to cross from Park Crescent to the gardens in Park Square. In June 1821, the residents petitioned that a “subterraneous Communication be made between the two Gardens, so as to obviate the necessity of crossing the New Road, a matter of considerable danger at most times to Children, and of Inconvenience to Ladies who are desirous of going from one Garden to the other” (EB Wilbraham, 28 June 1821). The brick vaulted tunnel was constructed shortly afterwards.
Several early plans, including Charles Mayhew’s plan of 1834, show the tunnel. It was approached along curved paths leading to ramps flanked by stone drainage channels and brick retaining walls. Each end of the tunnel was faced in stucco embellished with fluted Doric columns flanking arched entrances with a simple iron railing above. Internally, the tunnel was probably lit with oil lamps. Later it acquired the name the “Nursemaids’ Tunnel” when it became an important link for nursemaids pushing their “prams” (short for “perambulators”) around the gardens, within the railed enclosures. Of note is that the Silver Cross Pram company was founded in 1877 and the Norland Nanny company in 1892.
During the Second World War, when the area was heavily bombed, the tunnel was used as an air raid shelter.
Grade II Listed
Records reveal that it was listed Grade II for the following reasons:
* an early example of a pedestrian subway built in 1821, being among the earliest surviving in London (if not the earliest) and with few earlier examples listed nationally;
* the portals are well-executed in stucco, each with fluted Doric columns flanking the arched entrances, whilst the tunnel itself has groin vaults supported by brick pilasters and concave walls, altogether of high architectural and design quality;
* the tunnel demonstrates a high degree of survival of the original fabric, even retaining iron hooks and chains embedded in the walls, thought to be fixtures for oil lamps from the original lighting scheme;
* for the carefully-conceived later alterations to accommodate the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first passenger-carrying designated underground railway, in 1854.
* as a pedestrian tunnel built at an early stage in the development of
Regent’s Park, which appears to be integral to the layout of Park Square and Park Crescent and closely associated with architect John Nash’s wider scheme for one of the most ambitious urban parks of the early 19th Century.
* with the Grade I-registered Regent’s Park, the Grade I-listed terraced houses of Park Square and Park Crescent, and the Grade II-listed statue of Edward Augustus Duke of Kent, park lodges and railings to the gardens, all within the Regent’s Park Conservation Area.
Just over 30 years after its completion, proposals were advanced for the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first passenger-carrying underground railway, between Paddington and King’s Cross. This took the form of a cut-and-cover construction involving deep excavation beneath the new road. However, the influence of the residents surrounding Regent’s Park was such that provision was made in the North Metropolitan Railway Act 1854 to safeguard the tunnel from demolition. The Act stated that “in the Construction of the said Railway or any Works connected therewith, the Company shall not interfere in any Manner whatsoever with the subterranean Passage or Tunnel”.
Notwithstanding the provisions of the Railway Act, the construction of the Metropolitan Railway required some structural intervention into the original fabric of the tunnel. At its centre two cast-iron arches and a deck were inserted to carry the tunnel over the railway.
- The CEPC Gardens are private. For about 130 years after Nash built The Regent’s Park, the gardens were reserved for the enjoyment of the owners of the houses in Park Square East and West and Park Crescent East and West- and they paid the CEPC for the upkeep in their garden rates.
- Research by the CEPC has shown that after the second World War when Park Crescent was badly damaged by bombing raids, and some of the houses in Park Square East and West were occupied by squatters, rates could not be raised to cover the upkeep of the gardens. To meet the maintenance cost, the gardens were opened to subscription from residents of the Parish of St Marylebone and CEPC ratepayers from the other terraces around Regent’s Park. This remains the case today, although the number of parish subscribers is limited to ensure that the gardens are not over-run but continue to provide quiet enjoyment for those who have the right to use them. A waiting list for Parish subscribers is operated as demand exceeds the number of subscriptions available.
- CEPC ratepayers can apply for two levels of subscription. In 2021, the Standard Subscription was £510 and the Off-peak Subscription £120. Off-peak Subscriptions do not have access after 6.00pm or at weekends or on Bank Holidays.
- St Marylebone Parish residents can apply for two levels of subscription. In 2021, the Standard Subscription was £790 and the Off-peak Subscription £280. Off-peak Subscriptions do not have access after 6.00pm or at weekends or on Bank Holidays.
- Application for an annual pass can be made on the CEPC website https://www.cepc.org.uk/gardens/garden-subscriptons/
There are 4 ways to gain access to the gardens to see the Nursemaids Tunnel
- By being an owner of a property in Park Square or Park Crescent (or by being a guest of one)
- By applying for a key and paying the annual fee (or by being a guest of a keyholder)
- By visiting the gardens on the annual Open Garden Squares Weekend usually held in mid-June (in 2022 this will be June 11-12)
- By joining a walk organised by the Friends
Mark Elliott, May 2022