Our Top 10 Underground London Places
Londoners are pretty used to being underground – with millions travelling by tube each day, miles of underpasses and acres of basement office space. So its not surprising that there are lots of interesting things to see underneath London. The Footprints of London team have picked ten of their favourites, most of which are open to the public. You can find out more about London’s underground rivers in our River Walks Festival – starting on April 16th. You can get a season ticket for all 40 walks for £35 1 London’s Roman amphitheatre
Tina Baxter chose the Roman Amphitheatre in the basement of Guildhall Art Gallery. An amazing find in the City of London it was discovered by archaeologists in 1988 and the Guildhall Art Gallery has been specially engineered to allow visitors to see this centrepiece of Roman London. Originally used for theatre, fights with wild animals and gladiatorial combat, Footprints of London have used it for poetry readings during our Literary Footprints Festival. Walking into the amphitheatre is a real hairs on the back of the neck moment, especially with the audio effect of a roaring crowd added. Tina will be teaming up with Thames Discovery archaeologist Nathalie Cohen to look at the Thames foreshore around Queenhithe as part of our River Walks Festival. 2 Kingsway Tram Tunnel Jen Pedler chose Kingsway Tram Tunnel; a hidden remnant of London’s transport history. “I had always been fascinated by the tracks running down over the cobbles behind the locked iron gates at the top of Kingsway; the entrance to the Kingsway tram tunnel that took trams between Kingsway and Aldwych between 1906 and 1952 when trams ceased operation in London. There were originally two tram stations in the tunnel – Holborn and Aldwych. The Holborn one is still there – ghostly and abandoned – although the Aldwych station was lost when part of the southern section of the tunnel was used to construct the Strand road underpass in 1964. The tunnel is rarely open to the public although I was lucky enough to get a look inside when it was opened for an art exhibition in 2009, Chord by Conrad Shawcross – a giant mechanical installation with two machines moving away from each other along the tracks, weaving a hawser made from spools of coloured string, creaking away mysteriously in the darkened tunnel. Recently the tunnel has been used by Crossrail to build a grout shaft to pump concrete into the ground to firm it and protect the surrounding buildings from ground movement during the boring of the tunnel. Crossrail have agreed to restore the tunnel, including re-instating the tram rails and the cobbles once the work has been completed. If there’s a chance to visit following that, I highly recommend it.” Jen is looking at the history of the Thames embankments on her walk the River in Chains 3 St Bride’s church crypt Rob Smith chose the crypt of St Brides Church. “There are so many interesting church crypts in London, but I really love visiting the museum in the crypt of St Brides. There are many interesting objects – I like the coffins with security features to deter grave robbers. However my favourite thing is the section of Roman pavement on display, its buried beneath the remains of a Saxon building, which is beneath a Norman building, which is beneath a Medieval building, which is beneath the Christopher Wren designed church. Standing there you really start to get the idea how London developed.” Rob will be talking about 17th century engineering marvel The New River as part of the River Walks Festival 4 Nannies Tunnel Regents Park Dave Brown chose the Nannies Tunnel underneath Marylebone Road. It is known as the Nannies Tunnel as it was used by nannies pushing children in prams so they could safely cross between Regent’s Park and the gardens in Park Crescent and it dates back to John Nash’s original scheme for Regent’s Park in the 1820’s, making it almost certainly the oldest underpass in the world. 5 Grand Entrance Hall to the Thames tunnel at the Brunel Museum
Rob Smith nominated the entrance to the Thames Tunnel at the Brunel Museum “Marc Brunel’s tunnel underneath the Thames really started the Londoner’s experience of underground spaces. Built between 1825 and 1843, it was the world’s first tunnel underneath a river and seen as an eighth wonder of the world when built. Thousands flocked to the tunnel – visitors descending staircases in drum shaped caissons. The tunnel is still used to carry London Overground trains under the Thames and at Wapping station it is well worth descending using the stairs to get a view of the modified caisson entrance. On the south side the entrance caisson is even more interesting, it has been reopened by the Brunel Museum to make a really unusual space for events and exhibitions – an odd place to visit – with the Thames just feet away and London Overground trains running beneath your feet. Rob will be looking at the Maritime History of the Blackwall area as part of the River Walks Festival 6 Wine Cellar under the Ministry of Defence
Dave Brown nominated the Henry VIII’s wine cellars underneath the Ministry of Defence. While the spectacular Rubens ceiling at the Banqueting House might be the most eye catching survivor of the palace of Whitehall, another part remains – the wine cellars. It’s remarkable they have survived at all – building the Ministry of Defence in 1938 should have seen them destroyed, but instead they were encased in concrete and lowered into a new position beneath the building. They are occasionaly open to group tours by organisations like London Historians 7 Pipe carrying the Tyburn at Baker Street Dave Brown nominated the pipe that carries the River Tyburn through Baker Street underground station. London’s hidden rivers and the London underground subsurface lines are competitors for space. The pipe carrying the River Westbourne through Sloane Square is quite easy to spot but you have to look a bit harder to find the pipe that carries the Tyburn through Baker Street. You can find it if you go to the far West end of the Eastbound Hammersmith and City Line platform. A nice but slightly less authentic Tyburn experience can be found in the basement of Grays Antiques near Oxford Street, which has an ornamental stream which has been claimed to be part of the Tyburn. Its a nice idea sipping tea on the banks of the Tyburn but if it were real Tyburn water it would make the antiques centre rather smelly Dave and Jenni have two walks following the hidden river Tyburn as part of the River Walks Festival 8 Greathead shield at Bank station Stephen Benton nominated the Greathead Shield in Bank Station
9 Catacombs at Kensal Green cemetery Rob Smith chose the catacombs at Kensal Green Cemetary. “The catacombs are one of the creepiest places in London, part of George Frederick Carden’s scheme to create exclusive, secure burial grounds for London’s well to do. Having ones body stored in a triple lead sealed coffin in the catacombs was the most exclusive form of burial of all. The largest of the three catacombs has room for 4000 coffins. Among those buried there are Jane Franklin, the woman explorer who travelled the coast of Tasmania 10 Bowes Park Observer Corps post
Jen Pedler nominated the Observer Corps Post near Alexandra Palace. One of many examples of Britains world war two defence infrastructure, underneath the entrance on the surface is a room containing shelves, desks and chairs from when the post was abandoned in 1989. It’s not currently open to the public but who knows, might make an interesting World War Two or Cold War museum one day.