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39 Furnival Street - entrance to Kingsway secret tunnels


London has lots of secret underground tunnels, dating from Victorian times, and especially from the World Wat 2 and Cold War eras.

One of the main secret telecommunications and secret (relatively) bomb proof complexes is in the Kingsway area around Holborn.

MI6's secret tunnels - A deep, dark secret

Nov 24th 2008

Snooker, piranhas and a hotline to Moscow


That might be why I have never noticed anything unusual about 39 Furnival Street. A brick building in a row of offices, its black double-doors are unmarked and unremarkable. But if you stop for a moment and look up, you might reconsider that judgment. Above the entrance is an industrial-size cast-iron pulley--odd in a street of legal firms. Above that, curiouser still: a wide, gaping air vent of the sort that you might see at the top of a mine-shaft.

What lies inside was once subject to the Official Secrets Act. But now this mysterious property is up for sale, and so I find myself with a few other journalists on the other side of the doors, signing consent forms and handing in my mobile phone (whose signal had mysteriously vanished as soon as I crossed the threshold). A lift takes us down 100 feet, deeper than the London Underground, which we can hear rumbling above us. A set of atom-bomb-proof doors are swung open and we step out into the secret of Furnival Street: the Kingsway tunnels, a miniature city beneath a city.

Dug in 1940 as London was blitzed by German bombers, the tunnels were designed as a air-raid shelter for up to 8,000 people, and as a possible last-ditch base for the government in the event of an invasion. They were never used as a shelter; instead, towards the end of the war they were taken over by the "Inter Services Research Bureau", a shady outfit that was in fact a front for the research and development arm of MI6 (perhaps better known as Q branch in the James Bond novels).

After the war, the tunnels were passed to the Post Office and then to British Telecom, which hopes to sell the warren for £5m now that it is surplus to requirements.


The tunnels--a mile of them in total, comprising two main drags and four smaller offshoots--have homely, superterranean-sounding names: South Street, Second Avenue and Tea Bar Alley. The illusion is only broken when you see behind the wood panelling the iron support structure, embossed with the initials of the London Passenger Transport Board, from whom parts of Tube tunnel were borrowed to build the complex.

The tunnels were still in secret use long after the Battle of Britain had given way to the Cold War. Deep under my bicycle route, technicians maintained the "hotline" between Eisenhower and Khrushchev, as well as a basic domestic network for Britain that would keep the country connected in the event of a major strike.


I spot an old circuit diagram on the wall, mapping out each of Britain's national newspapers. Were they being bugged back then? Probably. The question on my mind as we make our way back to the surface is: in which tunnel are the eavesdroppers hiding now?

Latitude: N51:31:02 (51.517191)
Longitude: W0:06:37 (-0.110373)



39 Furnival Street entrance to the Kingsway tunnels complex

Some more details can be found on Malcolm Bay's Kingsway Telephone Exchange website., including this diagram from Peter Laurie's 1979 book Beneath the city streets: A private enquiry into government preparations for national emergency


Kingsway Telephone Exchange diagram (click for a larger image). The Furnival Street Exit is marked as number 16 on the diagram, and the Prudential Building is number 7.

More photos:

Security Service MI5 - Thames House


The Security Service MI5 headquarters is called Thames House, and is at 11 Millbank, by Lambeth Bridge. This intelligence agency deals with Counter-Intelligence operations against foreign spies and also Counter-Terrorism against foreign and domestic terrorist suspects.


The southern part of the complex, 12 Millbank nominally contains the Northern Ireland Office, but it is inconceivable that much of this southern building, is not also used by MI5.

Thames House has been recently Designated as a Protected Site under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 128, which makes it a criminal offence to cross the outer boundary without permission, Strangely this boundary specifically exempts the main steps in front of the main entrance which is set back from the road. The pavement outside is part of the SOCPA section 132 Designated Area around Parliament Square, where you can be arrested for, in the opinion of a Police constable, holding a demonstration without having obtained prior, written permission a week before. The word "demonstration" is not defined so it could mean just wearing a tshirt with a slogan which the Policeman does not understand.

These restrictions on demonstrations have nothing to do with the "security" of Parliament, and everything to do with suppressing sometimes noisy political demonstrations, which remind the Labour Government of their failures over the Iraq war and other controversial policies which they have inflicted on us.

Perhaps the steps of the MI5 Thames House building are a legal Temporary Autonomous Zone.


Click on the image above to go to Google Street View, which passes along the eastern side facing Millbank and the northern side facing Horseferry Road, giving only longer range views of the Thames House building along its Thorney Street western and southern sides.

Ground level and aerial shots of Thames House have featured heavily in the BBC Torchwood sci fi drama Children Of Earth, screened on 5 consecutive nights in July 2009. The "13th floor" is where a evil extra-terrestrial monster known as the "356" installs itself as an "Ambassdor" via a "pillar of flames" descending from the sky.

See:the Spook Country blog article: Torchwood Children Of Earth - MI5 Thames House and the Government Car and Despatch Agency





Secret Intelligence Service MI6 - Vauxhall Cross


The Secret Intelligence Service / MI6 headquarters building, at 85 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall Cross, SE1 7TP, right by Vauxhall Bridge and Vauxhall mainline railway and Tube stations. SIS / MI6 concentrates on foreign intelligence operations i.e. spying, but has had roles in Northern Ireland as well.


GPS grid coordinates:
Latitude: (WGS84) N51:29:16 ( 51.487799 )
Longitude: (WGS84) W0:07:29 ( -0.124639 )


See also the semi-live BBC Jam Cam image, (which are updated every few minutes, unless there is some interesting incident, when the feeds are censored), from the Vauxhall Cross / Albert Embankment camera.

The distinctive building was designed by architect Sir Terry Farrell.

Apart from the basic cost of the land and the fabric of the building, and the subsequent secret communications and security fit out, the Italian marble cladding cost an estimated £60 million circa 1988.

This real life Spook Country HQ has also been used as a backdrop and film location for several James Bond 007 films i.e. Golden Eye (1995), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002), and Casino Royale (2006).

On September 20, 2000, at around 10:15 pm the building was attacked by a Russian-built Mark 22 rocket propelled grenade (RPG), launched from Spring Gardens park, over the mainline railway station, through which a train which I was on, had just passed through a few minutes before.

This blew out a small window on the 8th floor, in the central lift shaft/ fire stairs core (left hand window), but luckily nobody was hurt. The Anti-Terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police attributed responsibility to Irish Republicans, specifically the Real IRA terrorists.


This building has been recently Designated as a Protected Site under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 128, which makes it a criminal offence to cross the outer boundary without permission, technically the curtilage i.e.the outer gates and fences and walls.

There is a Public Right of Way which is part of the riverside wall footpath, so it is still perfectly legal to walk all the way around this building, even on to the river side, where there is a marble terrace. You do get a good photo view of the Houses of Parliament and the MI5 Thames House, Millbank Tower and the National Gallery on the other side of the river Thames from there.

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