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The Nursemaids' Tunnel, Regent's Park

A Grade II Listed Building in City of Westminster, Westminster

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5237 / 51°31'25"N

Longitude: -0.1462 / 0°8'46"W

OS Eastings: 528706

OS Northings: 182155

OS Grid: TQ287821

Mapcode National: GBR C7.CZ

Mapcode Global: VHGQS.FY2V

Plus Code: 9C3XGVF3+FG

Entry Name: The Nursemaids' Tunnel, Regent's Park

Listing Date: 30 August 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1465464

Location: Westminster, London, W1B

County: Westminster

Electoral Ward/Division: Marylebone High Street

Built-Up Area: City of Westminster

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Summary


Pedestrian tunnel. Built in about 1821 during the laying out of Regent’s Park (then Marylebone Park) to the landscape design of the architect John Nash.

Description

Pedestrian tunnel. Built in about 1821 during the laying out of Regent’s Park (then Marylebone Park) to the landscape design of the architect John Nash.

MATERIALS: constructed of London stock brick with tunnel portals faced in stucco.

DESCRIPTION: a groin vaulted brick tunnel with two matching portals faced in stucco. The portals each comprise a rounded arch with a projecting keystone and plain panels in the spandrels flanked by fluted Doric columns supporting a plain freeze. On either side are wing walls, scored to imitate ashlar, and with a projecting coping. The south portal is topped by an iron railing. Internally the tunnel has groin vaults supported by brick pilasters and concave walls to each bay. There are iron hooks and chains embedded in the lime-washed walls, which are probably fragments of the original lighting scheme, most likely for oil lamps. At the south end is a segmental-arched doorway set in the east wall. The tunnel is paved with York stone slabs except at the centre where it crosses above the Metropolitan Line. At this point a deck has been inserted. It is supported by two cast-iron arches with brick relieving arches above them.

History

The area of Regent’s Park (originally known as Marylebone Park) had been a Crown estate since 1539 and by the end of the C18 was largely farmland. However, from 1811 to 1828 a landscaped park was laid out to the designs of the architect John Nash as a setting for villa residences and subsequently, from 1835 onwards, was gradually opened up to public use. It was associated with the Prince Regent’s new street; Regent’s Street, linking the park and the city, which was built in 1814 to 1819. Park Square and Park Crescent formed a magnificent terminus to Portland Place as well as a grand entrance at the south-east corner of the royal park; the point where a circular tour of the picturesque landscape could begin. The central areas of Park Crescent and Park Square were laid out as private pleasure grounds with trees and shrubs massed round the edges, perimeter gravel walks and serpentine walks within.

A pedestrian tunnel was conceived at an early stage in the development of Regent’s Park. The New Road (now Marylebone Road) was a busy thoroughfare which was hazardous for pedestrians wishing to cross from the south in 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 the 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 serpentine paths leading to ramps flanked by stone drainage channels and brick retaining walls with undulating parapets. At each end the tunnel was faced in stucco embellished with fluted Doric columns flanking arched entrances with a simple iron railing above. The controlled approaches, along the serpentine paths, meant that these portals were appreciated to full architectural effect at the final moment of entry into the tunnel. Internally, the tunnel was probably lit with oil lamps. Later it acquired the name the ‘Nursemaids’ Tunnel’ when it became an important link in a popular promenade for women walking their children around the gardens, within the safety of the railed enclosure.

Just over 30 years after its completion, proposals were advanced for the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first passenger-carrying designated underground railway, between Paddington and King’s Cross. This took the form of a cut-and-cover construction involving deep excavation in stages 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 necessitated 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. During the Second World War, when the area was heavily bombed, the tunnel was used as an air raid shelter. It remains in use to those visiting the gardens today (2019).

Reasons for Listing

The Nursemaids' Tunnel, built in about 1821 during the laying out of Regent’s Park (then Marylebone Park), London, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* 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.

Historic interest:

* 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 C19.

Group value:

* 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.

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