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

Stephen Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 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:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,325 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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25 of 25 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Title is misleading February 8, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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. Could have used a little more editing as well.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice surprise June 12, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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" would have sufficed. I felt that he was trying much to hard to impress some high-falutin' journalistic or literary crowd; I consider myself very well educated, with an extensive vocabulary, but I hate when people use big words unnecessarily.

But, once I got past the first chapter or so, I felt the author pulled back enough for me to realize he wasn't writing that way to be pretentious - that's just his style. And I came to enjoy his style, for the most part. His underground journeys were fascinating and informative (for instance, his description of the technological wonder that is the Thames Barrier was enlightening). He describes some of his more unsavory trips under the ground in ways that cause the reader to (mentally) feel every squishy, claustrophobic moment.

To readers: I must warn that this book is really for the advanced student of London. A general familiarity with the city's history and geography (I assume Smith intended this book for a British audience) will enhance enjoyment. And the Britishisms? I am fairly familiar with British slang and usage and I found myself going "what does that mean?" quite often...

Overall, a good read.
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