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Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets [Kindle Edition]

Stephen Smith
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

What is visible to the naked eye has been exhaustively raked over; in UNDERGROUND LONDON, acclaimed travel writer Stephen Smith provides an alternative guide and history of the capital. It's a journey through the passages and tunnels of the city, the bunkers and tunnels, crypts and shadows. As well as being a contemporary tour of underground London, it's also an exploration through time: Queen Boudicca lies beneath Platform 10 at King's Cross (legend has it); Dick Turpin fled the Bow Street Runners along secret passages leading from the cellar of the Spaniards pub in North London; the remains of a pre-Christian Mithraic temple have been found near the Bank of England; on the platforms of the now defunct King William Street Underground, posters still warn that 'Careless talk costs lives'.
Stephen Smith uncovers the secrets of the city by walking through sewers, tunnels under such places as Hampton Court, ghost tube stations, and long lost rivers such as the Fleet and the Tyburn. This is 'alternative' history at its best.

Editorial Reviews


“A treat for rabid Anglophiles with a taste for the offbeat and off–the–beaten–path.” -- Kirkus Reviews

“Highly entertaining tour of British civilization, viewed from below ground level.” -- Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Stephen Smith works for Channel 4 news and writes regularly for the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS

Product Details

  • File Size: 987 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group; New Ed edition (December 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,902 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind the plague pit! September 11, 2004
News reporter and author Stephen Smith goes below pavement level in London, allowing the reader to vicariously explore burial crypts, dug-up plague pits, sewers, excavated Roman walls, remnants of Henry VIII's tennis courts, poncy wine cellars, secret government bunkers, the bowels of Parliament, and forgotten corners of the Tube.

For me, the the most intriguing chapter dealt with that subterranean environment most obviously accessible to the tourist, the London Underground ("Mind the Gap!"). Did you know that the most prevalent litter in the system, cleaned up during routine housekeeping between 1:00 and 5:00 AM, is human hair blown from the heads of thousands and thousands of train riders every day? Then, there are all those wallets plundered and discarded by pickpockets. And, though it won't be on my Must-Do short list for my next visit to the city, Smith's slog down the northern outflow sewer was gratifyingly informative.

However, UNDERGROUND LONDON is an uneven read. In the chapter dedicated to Anglo-Saxon artifacts, the author first describes a modern day ceremonial ritual involving holding a small schoolboy by his heels over the Thames while he beats the water's surface with a stick, and then goes on to describe the confiscated oddities to be found in the cellars of Her Majesty's Custom House. The connection between these and Anglo-Saxon period seemed forced. And the chapter in which Smith visits an underground vault of safe deposit boxes could just as well have been penned in the above-ground strong room at my local bank. No revelations there.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glorious foundations... October 17, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is somewhat hard to see London as the 'flower of cities all' from dozens of feet beneath the surface. However, some of the most intriguing bits of London fall well below the surface on which most people live. London is in many ways like a Middle Eastern tell - hills that contain the ruins of cities, built up in multiple layers over time, such that the stratification can be seen and identified in ever-increasing age the deeper one goes. London isn't quite so evenly distributed, but the idea is still much the same - there are layers of the city from Roman times to the present, and the more one digs, the more one finds.

This can sometimes cause havoc in a city like London, which has a concern both for the success of present-day business and the preservation and study of its often-glorious past. When construction workers and miners find something of archaeological and historical interest, often work stops for time, and particularly in the city of London, time is money. Author Stephen Smith begins his survey of the history of London underground with a vignette about miners - these may well be Welsh and North England coal miners, but here in London they dig for space below the city, space that can be used for utility conduits and that most massive of subterranean projects, the London Underground.

With regard to the London Underground, again the truth is far more fascinating than at first glance. Smith talks about Beck's map of the Underground (a rather ubiquitous sight in London, and a popular tourist item of memorabilia in its own right), and the way in which it gives just a surface glimpse (if you'll permit the expression) of what is down below.
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The "Underground" in the title covers a lot of stuff, Smith brings you to underground rivers, graves, bunkers, sewers, and everything in between. The first bit of the book is slow going and I remember thinking, "Boy, if it's all like this, I don't think I can finish." But I hung in there, and the book gets more and more interesting. I love the historical information and Smith's interest in trying just about everything. The clue to a lot of this, of course, is that London is an ancient city. Roman constructions are sought out - and the Romans left the British Isles in 400 a.d. Victorians were master engineers, and that era ended almost 150 years ago.

The chapter on Tudor London starts with this evocative paragraph: "We hobbled through the dark bent double, with the water rushing beneath our feet. It was cold, and the brick walls and brick ceiling were wet when you brushed against them. Not damp, not clammy, but wringing, squelching wet, as wet as bog. In fairness to the brickies who had done the job, their sopping handiwork was five hundred years old. It was wearing pretty well, all things considered.... A school of eels was twisting in the watercourse. The pipe through which we staggered had once been an enlightened feat of engineering, with few equals in all of Europe. It was also said to have been used as a secret passageway by mistresses who had hitched up their skirts and trotted to assignations in a sovereign's bedchamber. It was an extraordinary feature of one of the most popular tourist attractions in London, yet it was unvisited, unknown, overlooked. Of course, I can see that hunchbacking it through the sewers of Hampton Court is not everyone's idea of a fun day out, but I must say that I've never had a better time at a royal palace.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars As above, not so below
Smith's style is sometimes a bit murky, self-indulgent, and over-adjectivized, but his literary stroll through London underground is also full of curious lore and tactile... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Marie Prudence Gagne
3.0 out of 5 stars Title is misleading
There is less underground London than I expected in this book through there certainly are some interesting stories. Think more Hunter S. Thompson when considering this book. Read more
Published on February 8, 2010 by Mr. Ken C. Fenske
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice surprise
This book started out dull, but turned into a good surprise. My initial impression was mostly based upon the author's excessive use of "two-dollar words" where "five cent words"... Read more
Published on June 12, 2009 by T. Owens
2.0 out of 5 stars Fair but lacking
I was excited to read this volume in preparation for a more research oriented reference work on underground passages in the UK and continental Europe, however the strength in this... Read more
Published on April 15, 2007 by Michael Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and wonderful
A detailed examination of what lies underneath London, from treks down sewerage drains to bits of Rome dug up when the tube was being put in, to disused war bunkers. Read more
Published on May 24, 2006 by Jeremy Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature Instructor
Delicious! I am using this book for research for a course I am teaching that culminates with a trip to London. Read more
Published on January 21, 2006 by Ml C
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