Change in route could reopen ‘secret’ cavern and save local homes
Published: 7th July, 2011
by JOSIE HINTON
A HUGE underground cavern built beside the Regent’s Canal as part of the country’s first rail link to London could be brought back into use through the government’s proposed HS2 scheme.
The little-known railway vaults, close to Gloucester Avenue in Camden Town, could be restored and opened to the public for the first time in decades if the controversial high-speed link was re-routed, heritage campaigners have claimed.
The forgotten Grade II-listed Stationary Winding Engine Vaults were built by engineer Robert Stephenson in 1837 as part of the historic London and Birmingham Railway.
The vaults, which lie flooded beneath the railway line alongside Camden goods yard, were built to hoist trains up the hill from Euston on an 12,240ft rope – as their engines were not strong enough to power up the slope.
Although one of the most remarkable surviving features from the early age of railway, most Camden residents do not know the 170ft long, 130ft wide chambers even exist.
They are only drained for inspection once every six years but remain locked at other times.
Now, as the government continue work towards the HS2 line, strongly opposed in parts of Camden for the demolition and disruption it is expected to cause, heritage campaigners are calling for the vaults to be brought back into use.
All the HS2 engineers need to do, campaigners say, is change their plans. Once drained and restored, it is claimed the vaults could be used for a variety of commercial purposes such as a café, sports club, swimming pool or even a nightclub. Architects’ sketches show how they could be transformed.
Peter Darley, secretary of the Camden Railway Heritage Trust, said part of the space should be given over to a museum commemorating Robert Stephenson.
He said: “We are giving HS2 the opportunity to do something really special here. The vaults are a relic of the railway which offer extraordinary but viable development opportunity.”
According to the conservation group, HS2 engineers admitted at the Euston roadshow they avoided running the tunnel under railway land as they were unwilling to risk damaging this historic site.
But Mr Darley said investigations had shown it is possible to align HS2’s tunnels near to or beneath the vaults without damaging or destroying them.
“Re-routing the tunnels under railway land would not only remove the threat to local housing, but would raise the question of the future of these large and provocative vaults,” he said.
Martin Sheppard, of the Gloucester Avenue Association, who is jointly submitting the bid, along with the Camden Railway Heritage Trust, said the proposals would also benefit residents of Gloucester Avenue – who would no longer have high-speed trains running beneath their homes.