It’s always fascinated me what’s going on underneath our feet that we can’t see and will never normally know about. London is a busy city, and like many capitals every available space is used to its greatest capacity, building taller and taller skyscrapers, but also digging deeper below ground level. In The New Savants I used an existing but abandoned underground station as the headquarters for my secret society, but there are many other amazing places beneath the streets of London.
There is more to London than meets the eye and the lower you go the more you might see. These 5 underground places will take you back to previous decades, or even centuries, as they remain hidden from the public’s regular view.
Victorian Catacombs, West Norwood
Under Norwood Cemetery there is a series of manmade passageways that house 95 vaults, with approximately 2500 ancient coffins. Their outwards appearances are all different, but each coffin is lined with lead and a layer of elm. This design would have been created to make them waterproof as well as limit the spread of disease to those that maintained the vaults. The coffins’ occupants are believed to have died in the Victorian age when there were many contagious illnesses. There are guided tours conducted once a month to this underground burial site.
- Bootstrap Company Bunker
During WWII people had to find shelter underground, and this bunker was able to provide refuge for many of the capital’s citizens. Located directly behind The Print House in Hackney, the bunker contains 5 large rooms which remain unchanged. All of them are available to rent and a variety of events take place here, which range from office parties to art exhibitions.
- Churchill’s Secret War Rooms and the Paddock Bunker
Located just four miles from Parliament, this underground Cabinet Room served as the place where the Prime Minister discussed war strategies which would have affected the entire world, with his staff. Every leader has to have a back-up plan, however, and Churchill ordered the Paddock to be built under a Post Office Research Station in North London. Constructed 40 feet underground, this shelter had 50 bomb proof bunkers where all the members of Parliament and their advisors could convene when necessary.
- Chislehurst Caves
Located on the outskirts of London, these manmade caves were dug over a period of 8000 years. The 22 miles of tunnels used as chalk and flint mines were eventually abandoned. Guided tours of the caves started in 1830 and continue to this day, where the visitors are taken to the tunnels’ centre and the lanterns extinguished to show the darkness experienced at these depths. During the Second World War they also housed over 15000 people and the caves were equipped with electricity, medical needs and even a church while the war raged above ground. In later decades they became a popular venue for concerts held by many famous singers including Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and The Rolling Stones.
- St. Bride’s Church
The location of St. Bride’s, in the City of London, has seen the rise and fall of at least eight churches. A bombing during WWII revealed a giant crypt under the church. After the war ended, archaeological digging on the site uncovered over 1000 years of otherwise unknown history. Visitors can now take one of the church’s weekly tours, which show the 200 bodies found within, as well as the layers of the walls which are used to date the crypt and the meaning of the markings found within.