Reigate Tunnel

You might not have been to Reigate. I certainly hadn't, but that changed when I heard that it was home to a quite extraordinary piece of road history. Reigate, the small Surrey town between London and Gatwick Airport, is home to the world's first road tunnel.

It was paid for and built by Earl Sommers, who lived in the splendid house on a hilltop by the town centre. His estate stood between the town and the road north to London, meaning traffic had to divert around the outside. He built a tunnel through his grounds, so his estate remained peaceful and the locals could get directly to the London road. It opened in 1823, and until 1856 a toll was levied, from ½d for a horse up to 6d for a coach and four. Pedestrians could use it free.

The narrow brick tunnel remained in use as part of the A217 until the early 1970s, when it was closed to traffic and replaced with a one-way system around the hill — back, in fact, to the way traffic had gone before the tunnel was built. You can see the change in the Ordnance Survey map extracts below, one from 1970 and the other from 1973.

Reigate's tunnel in 1970 (left) and 1973 (right)
Reigate's tunnel in 1970 (left) and 1973 (right)
Routes

With thanks to Ian for information on this page.

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