Two Roman roads ran out of the City in this direction – High Holborn was the northern route. Evidence of Roman material has been found at the northern end of Kingsway.
The area bounded by Trafalgar Square to the west, the Strand and the Thames on the south, and Oxford Street-High Holborn on the north has been identified as the site of a Saxon trading settlement known as Lundenwic. Dated between the 7th and 9th century the settlement was over 60 hectares in size. Archaeological excavations since 1984 have revealed important evidence of the town and evaluations by Museum of London Archaeological Service (MoLAS) in Kingsway and Covent Garden have produced substantial evidence of Middle Saxon occupation. The eastern boundary seems to lie in the area of Kingsway. Lundenwic was abandoned at the end of the 9th century, probably because of its lack of defences, and the old Roman walled city of Londinium was re-occupied.
The road layout was built around the historic streets of Drury Lane, Lincoln’s Inn and Holborn. Great Queen Street formed a continuation of the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and was a road by the 13th century. The area was known as Purse Field and was largely unbuilt until the 17th century. Great Queen Street became a developed street in the first half of the 17th century developed by the speculator William Newton with the adjacent Lincoln’s Inn Fields. During the 19th century overcrowding, poverty, ill-health, and crime were dominant in the terraced streets. The London County Council, created in 1889, started to redevelop terraced streets in the adjacent area in 1890 with Parker Street and Macklin Street providing new purpose built flats and lodging houses.
In 1898 the LCC agreed a scheme for the development of a road linking Vernon Place in the north to the Aldwych in the south. This scheme completely altered the character and appearance of the area. The new road resulted in the demolition of the medieval street layout around the Aldwych as well as a complex 17th century street layout to the east of Drury Lane to create a north/south access route.
The scheme meant the demolition of a very densely populated area, 3,700 residents were displaced from their homes. They were largely rehoused on the Bourne Estate and in Herbrand Street, as required by an Act of Parliament.
Kingsway was possibly the first attempt in London to deal with traffic problems in a co-ordinated manner by incorporating a tramway line beneath the road and linking the tramway systems of north and south London. It is the only underpass in London built specifically for trams.