Underground London by Stephen Smith

A quick rundown… What’s under London’s streets? Quite a lot it seems, from secret tunnels to bunkers.

Strengths: Well researched and very interesting.

Weaknesses: Some topics I was interested in more than others.

Why I read it: Interested in what happens in London underground – from tubes to tunnels.

Pages: 393

Published: 2004

Publisher: Abacus

Setting: London

Rating: 8 out of 10


Even though I’m Australian, I’ve always been fascinated by London. When I was on holiday this year, I saw some fantastic books about London’s varied history (from fashion to the Tube) but stupidly didn’t buy them. Later on, I spied this book and immediately had to have it. This is a book not just looking at London’s history, but the history of London beneath the streets. You may think this is primarily about the Tube. There is a chapter about the Tube, but other chapters discuss such varied topics as Churchill’s secret bunkers, sewers and Henry VIII’s tennis courts.

Each chapter covers a different topic and time period of London. There’s in depth information on such wide ranging topics as rats in the sewers to exhuming bodies from a Blitz-bombed church. Smith should be commended on the depth of his research, as he demonstrates detailed knowledge of the underground feature and the history surrounding it. It’s strange to think of part of an underground car park containing part of a Roman wall, or mail rapidly dispersed across the city by a tiny train. But it’s all true and just exemplifies how much history is contained in everyday London. Who knew that new building sites were regularly checked by archaeologists?

I found Smith’s writing style easy to follow and clearly understood. He covered the various underground features in enough detail so that I didn’t feel cheated out of a thorough explanation. (I would still have liked to know more about Churchill’s bunkers and the Tube though). For the topics I wasn’t so interested in, the narrative didn’t last so long that I felt bored. There’s also a long bibliography at the back of the book should you feel inclined to research further on your own.

A different view of history with some interesting and quirky facts. Worth a read.


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