Picture This: The Imperial Underworld
I was shocked in my first year, coming out of a tutorial, to be told to follow my tutor down a service duct. He showed me how to get from the Computing Department to the Union Bar without getting wet one day when it was tipping it down."
Staff and students go about their daily business oblivious to the world beneath their feet: a network of tunnels under the South Kensington Campus that is shrouded in mystery. One winter afternoon, Imperial shimmied down a hole and became lost for a time in this subterranean land. The purpose – to investigate the myths that have become campus legend. Rumours range from the discovery of a mummified body to tunnellers being stopped by military police with machine guns. As we descend deeper, the temperature rises noticeably. “That’s hell down there,” says our guide, Chas Guirey, Head of Maintenance, pointing to one particularly blistering tunnel.
The Victorian iron door leading into one of the tunnels
Chas Guirey, Head of Maintenance
A ladder under Exhibition Road leading to a tunnel under the City and Guilds Building
A ladder in a tunnel under Exhibition Road leading to the City and Guilds Building tunnel
Toilets dumped in a room by the Science Museum
Over 100 years old the RCS1 Paddle Fan is no longer used
The Imperial underworld through a doorway
The tunnels were used for ventilation, heating and service
The red door in the Skempton basement plant room leads to the tunnels
There were rumours of nuclear waste being stored in the tunnels. Being the idiot I am, I went down. We do not talk of that day or how I glow in the dark"
(IMPERIAL SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY MEMBER, 1992)
Constructed after the Great Exhibition of 1851 for the Imperial Institute’s heating systems, the tunnel network criss-crosses campus, running beneath Exhibition Road to reach Southside and Prince’s Gardens. In days gone by they’ve played host to drinking parties in the foundations of the Queen’s Tower, secret trysts (a love nest complete with a bed, a light and an empty bottle of wine was once discovered) and kidnapped constituent college mascots held captive, awaiting ransom payment.
Today, they house the College’s network of cables, wires and heating ducts. Essential stuff, but a lot less exciting than imagining what went before.
Adam Wielowieyski-Ipnarski (Computing 2001), describes his time traversing the maze as: “The thrill of the unexplored”. And indeed it is.
Share your tales of the tunnels by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org