Mile-long secret tunnel in central London for sale

A stuffy, noisy mile-long secret Cold War tunnel is up for sale in London, asking price $7.4 million -- it's only five minutes' walk from my office, too, connecting up Chancery Lane with the Thames. It's only got two lifts, which means you couldn't possibly get fire-code approval to run it as a hotel or club, but there's all kinds of intriguing possibilities (e.g. ball pit) for this much subterranean volume.

But it was not long before the documents had to be moved again to make room for a secure international telephone center that the government deemed necessary as relations between Washington and Moscow grew tense. During the cold war, the British government instructed its telephone department, which later became BT, to set up a secret communications system based on the latest technology that would be able to survive a nuclear attack.

It was the beginning of the busiest period for the tunnels, with almost 200 workers spending their days and nights underground to route up to two million calls a week across the 6,600 phone lines. In 1963, the hot line established between Moscow and Washington after the Cuban missile crisis ran through the London tunnels.

The buzzing complex soon became known as “underground town,” with its own recreation room complete with dartboards and billiard tables, a movie theater and two dining halls. Workers often spent the night in sleeping rooms.

Mile of London Tunnels for Sale, History Included (Thanks, Organ Leroy!)


  1. you’re blogging out of london? news to me!
    sorry if that’s a newb thing to wonder, but i assumed you were in LA or SF or NY.

    btw, tunnels rock! this tunnel reminds me of the spadina north/south connecting tunnel on the TTC in toronto.
    just stick a busker in there playing the cello in a rectangle of yellow circles to complete the picture.

  2. Yup, my office — where I go every morning, sit down, and write! Some pics here:

    I used to work out of the spare bedroom at the flat, but now that’s the baby’s room. It’s nice to have a place to meet people that isn’t home, too — plus, I got to turn it into a total lair that has all my favorite junk in it, as well as a reading chair and a napping sofa (which, sadly, I almost never get to use).

    It’s a good 20 minutes from home, 30 minutes most mornings as I usually drop off the baby at day-care on the way.

  3. Soundchaser, I’ve lived in London since 2003 (except for academic 2006/7, which I spent in LA on a Fulbright at USC). Before that, San Francisco, Toronto, Costa Rica, Toronto.

    I agree about the Spadina tunnel! You know, I think that technically that should really be classed as two separate stations joined by an underground slidewalk. It’s kind of a cheat that the TTC pretends it’s all one.

  4. “An eclectic range of would-be buyers has asked about the space, including an overseas billionaire seeking a spot to hold his board meetings.”

    Would these meetings include dipping British superspies into tanks of piranhas?

  5. So over the years the tunnel has been a “temporary base for troops before D-Day” and held host to “almost 200 workers”. More and more I’m confused about the way in which people use the word “secret”.

  6. It’s too bleak to attract many buyers right now. They should have a graffiti competition to liven the tunnel up. A world-class graffiti gallery could be a tourist attraction.

  7. Do want!

    This and Sealand, and I’ll be well on my way to Evil Villain status.

    I’ll probably need some sort of alpine retreat too, any ideas?

  8. Ok, for my alpine lair it’s a toss-up between here and Blofeld’s Retreat.

    Is Blofeld’s too clichéd? Probably, all the other Evil Villains might not take me seriously. I’ll have to do an extreme make-over, if it’s the right choice. Maybe some petawatt laser turrets would do it. Or a nice patio.

  9. Cory,
    If I’m not mistaken, they’ve shut down the Spadina Slidewalk due to maintenance issues. It may be back up now…but it was down for probably almost a year. I used to love that slidwalk…especially jogging down it…made the trip a whole lot faster! Just remember to slow down at the end or you in for a nasty surprise!

    I agree though that the thing needs to be livened up a bit. I think the graffiti gallery would be a great idea. Other idea’s…Archery anyone!

    Arkizzle – there were also Minuteman silo’s available not to long ago as well. You might want to think of adding that to you list of Evil properties to purchase.

  10. The story wasn’t really detailed enough about conditions to know for sure, but if it’s merely noisy and there isn’t any measurable floor vibration, it sounds to me like a great start on a rifle range. Most underground rifle ranges are limited to 100 meters or so and even those are rather rare. A 200 meter firing tunnel would be a huge luxury. I know I’d be willing to pay a reasonable hourly rate to use it. In London, there’s probably a reasonable demand for shooting fun by people with money but no equipment, so the potential for (expensive) rifle rentals exists. Heck, it could be a dedicated training facility for law enforcement snipers; how close is the nearest 200 meter (or longer) rifle range for those guys to train? Whatever the answer, this has got to be more convenient for a number of agencies and the owner could get away with charging them truly exorbitant rental rates.

    The possibilities are endless. Man, this thing could be so much nicer than the 50 meter firing tunnel I’m planning for my retirement place.

  11. Ben English, you should review UK firearms law.

    Most of the Police there don’t even have access to firearms. Civilians in London simply do not have them.

  12. I’m in favor of bicycle races, although the ball pit idea is intriguing.

    With big enough speakers, you may be able to do some fun things with the acoustics as well.

    In short. I want.

  13. I swear this was used for a Doctor Who set. And then I realized I was thinking of the Venture Brothers. And Doctor Who is filmed mostly in Cardiff.

    But I could easily see some of RustyWorlds lost fan club in these tunnels.

  14. I think that NASA and the ESA should buy it. It’s a good size to simulate a long, narrow, otherworldly environment for a Mars mission human endurance test platform. Of course, it doesn’t eliminate gravity, but it is cut off from the world (the submarine comment from the second page of the article), is close enough that if astronaut prospects go insane they can be removed and brought to treatment easily and quickly, and the support staff managing such a test project would have some place nice to live in London while they’re running it.

    It also has the added advantage of being in an English-speaking country so that American scientists and administrators will have an easier time about it, and it’s close enough to mainland Europe that European scientists and administrators won’t have to go very far. And with a mile in length, different detached configurations or multiple simultaneous, similar tests could all be managed at the same time.

  15. Would these meetings include dipping British superspies into tanks of piranhas?

    I think their “meetings” are more likely to involve dipping prostitutes into tanks of hot chocolate and sprinkles.

  16. BlackBird, minuteman silos are a nice addition!

    I could fill one up with water to house my sharks (for the inevitable secret agent that tries to get up in my shit), and another to store all my old contraptions that never quite managed to take over the world. I wonder do Evil Villains have garage/yard sales.. could probably pick up some cheap servo-mounted doom, or a nice shag-pile carpet, at least.

    Let me just put a note out on the EvilVillains mailing list..

    They’re a pretty punctual lot, actually, once you get past the initial trying-to-kill-everyone bit. They do a newsletter every year to let the community know what terror they have been getting up to and what their kids’ hockey teams have been geting up to etc. Really welcoming spirit.

  17. PotFarm:

    I reckon you could cover the £7Milllion asking price in a few months with a mile long stretch of grow-space.

    The electricity bill would be insane though.

    Do it!

  18. MDH, with all due respect, the U.K. is legendary among the worldwide shooting fraternity for a tradition of fine, long-range rifle shooting. (The GB Palma team is especially noteworthy.) Some quick examples:

    I don’t know about London, specifically, but there are a large number of civilians in the U.K. who actively shoot long-range (and other) rifle competition. Beyond that, I can’t imagine any modern country with a full-flowering bureacracy that doesn’t have lots of miscellaneous law enforcement agencies, each with at least a couple of snipers on the payroll.

    IOW, I stand by my original assertion that there there is sufficient rifle shooting in the U.K. to support the notion of a (fairly expensive) all-weather shooting range. Of course, I grant that there may be legal issues of which I’m not aware that are specific to London.

  19. hmmm, ISO luminaires, light pipes? What internal lining would deliver the right frequency reflectivities? LED’s? Lot’s being done growing pot with LEDS these days. Low heat, low wattage, long ,life, high cost…. Or GMO lichen with THC genes that grows on damp concrete walls without light? Vats of bacteria matts? Psilocybin culture?

    Internationally franchised torture chambers? Renditions R Us? No, wait, he’s been laid off….

    Really big, really amateur linear accelerator to make medical isotopes?

    ice rink? Carbon sink? New sport? (mile long hand ball) snake pit? (Parliament just doesn’t do it any more) manufacturing facility for realllly loong extrusions? battery farm? day care? art gallery?

  20. Ben English, with all due respect, I said “In London”. If you’re going to get all pedantic, get better at it.

  21. MDH, there’s a complete ban on handguns, and restrictions on most other weapons, but not a ban on all firearms. London has no laws on this or any other subject which apply only to London.

    Ben’s right and you’re wrong.

  22. Yeah Ben, be more like John. Both correct and classy about it. I’m well aware firearms are legal in the UK, I thought the handgun ban extended to firearms generally in London.

    A shootout? pshew!! pshew-shew!!

  23. Ross, with a 1600 yard sub woofer, you could probably generate a brown note sufficient to flush all of London’s bowels in one go.

    What a fabulous prank, somewhat akin to the old Blotto Box routine.

  24. First: Antinous.

    “How about a Large Hardon Collider?”

    You almost owed me a new keyboard.


    You only gey the yearly Evil Newsletter??
    You should be on the mailing list for Evil Drawn ‘n Quarterly!

  25. You can’t do a drag race on a segway, the flamboyant dresses would get caught in the wheels.

    Bah-Dum Tissssh!

  26. fill the whole tunnel with theatrical atmospheric smoke and have a mile long laser show with pounding music, naked dancers, motorized armchairs and projected holographic video of Margret Thatcher in a latex thong. That’ll make ’em talk.

  27. hang massive spiked steel swinging balls down the center of the roof and take bets on how far destitute graduate students get when paid piecework by distance covered while fueled on vending machine coffee and stale graham crackers.

  28. Oh Jesus, Takuan.. Those two sites you linked.. I’m.. complete

    That’s it folks, we’ve seen Peak Internet, it’s all downhill from here. Thank God we got to see it in our lifetime.

  29. No.. really.. Single greatest website(s) ever..

    Thank you, I will be utilising these wonders of mankind, daily.

  30. Takuan @34 Or GMO lichen with THC genes that grows on damp concrete walls without light? Vats of bacteria matts? Psilocybin culture?

    Actually, it would probably be a good environment for growing some kind of fungus. I know that in Scandinavia, a lot of disused mines are now mushroom farms. I think they generally grow the less magical varieties, though.

    Blackbird @16 there were also Minuteman silo’s available not to long ago as well.

    My partner (romantic, not business) is seriously considering purchasing a former missile silo or communications bunker to be the site of his future business, and possibly also our home. We’ve had many strange discussions of just how to turn it into an evil genius lair. I’m not sure I could adjust to living totally underground, though.

  31. Jackie:

    Living underground could be really easy to adjust to, especially if your building the place (or retrofitting it) yourself. The mental aspect would be the hardest thing to get over. But today, the physical toll of living underground can almost be completely eliminated. We need sunlight to live well. We can do without it…but our bodies suffer. The same devices used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, or as Denis Leary calls it…%^%$ing WINTER!) are now being sold commercially as regular lightbulbs as well that produce the specific colour temperature and general wavelengths as the sun. At this point, I don’t know how effective they are though.

    HOw to turn it into an evil lair? … I dunno…A flashing neon sign that says Evil Lair? Maybe an “open” sign too…

  32. HOw to turn it into an evil lair?

    With the addition of some sort of human-killing animal enclosure (usually sharks, but you could really get creative) and an internal electric-train network. Quite simple.

    You may also need henchfolk and you will definitely need a logo; some big impressive brand to put on everything from the train-cars to uniforms to tins of food, and of course, as a background to the boardroom of your organisation.. you do have an organisatiion, don’t you?

    You organisation will need a name; one word, sciencey – with a latin root, eg. Quantum, Spectra, Parallax, Nucleus, Matrix, Fulcrum etc.

  33. Na man…Laughing Hyena’s. What says evil more than someone (thing) laughing at you as they kill you!

  34. @16:
    actually the spadina moving walkway has been gone for years. they actually removed it completely. you can see where it once was by the color of the tiles, and how every so often the wall still has the engraved “please hold hand rail” or whatever. not sure when you last saw it, but i’ve been living in toronto for three years and it’s been gone as long as i can remember.

    and yeah, it should really be two stations. it’s a pain trying to explain to people who don’t know that there are actually two subway stations called spadina. although generally people who know refer to them as “spadina north” and “spadina south” or something along those lines. but frankly the ttc has issues way bigger than confusing station names!

  35. Soundchaser:
    I haven’t been there in a while…I prefer St. George…one set of steps immediatly to the other platform. MUCH more convenient that sluggin what has to be a block or more underground…

    yeah…they do have bigger problems than station names!

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