If you’re sightseeing in London, the idea of visiting a dark, disused tunnel probably isn’t going to be top of your bucket list. There is one such place in London however that’s certainly worth checking out: Leake Street (aka the Leake Street Arches).
A little history
Located just moments away from the London Eye, it runs through a long tunnel hidden beneath Waterloo station. It’s named after Dr. John Leake; an 18th century physician whose pioneering General Lying-In Hospital (one of Britain’s first maternity hospitals) once stood nearby.
For many years, the arches tucked away along the street were popular with wine merchants and other purveyors of alcohol. In 1962, £7000 worth of whiskey (an awful lot of money back then) was stolen from a Leake Street distillery…the culprits having knocked a hole through the adjoining wall in order to pinch the booze!
Today, the arches are most notable for being a legalised graffiti area, open to anyone who wishes to grab a can and show off their artistic skills. The entire tunnel is adorned in colourful murals which delight, inspire and provoke in equal measure.
Due to the nature of graffiti, the designs change on a regular basis so repeat visits are always rewarded.
The transformation of Leake Street into a vast urban gallery dates back to 2008 when the ultra-secretive street artist, Banksy used the tunnel to host The Cans Festival; an innovative exhibition which invited artists from across the globe to create murals and display art installations. In Banksy’s own words, it was his desire to “transform a dark, forgotten filth pit into an oasis of beautiful art.”
Eating and drinking
Leake Street is also home to a theatre and arts space called The Vaults which hosts plays, jazz nights and even immersive dinner experiences.
How to get there
Entry to the graffiti tunnel is free and it can be accessed via both York Road and Westminster Bridge Road (next to the Park Plaza County Hall hotel).
The nearest station is Waterloo (for both tube and mainline railway). The area is served by bus routes 59, 188 and RV1
Check out more amazing places in London to visit.