You’ll probably see many beautiful buildings, stunning statues, and picture-perfect parks from the window of your Gatwick airport taxi as it makes its way into the heart of London. But, what about the city’s more hidden treasures? Hidden, not because they lie undiscovered by visitors, but rather in the more literal sense of the word: buried underneath the pavements, the charming cobbled streets, the railway tracks and towering buildings.
London is a city with centuries of history. From its beginnings as a sleepy medieval town, it has experienced a striking transformation into the bustling, cosmopolitan capital it is today. Along the way, however, many bits and bobs of history have been buried or simply forgotten.
If you’re a history buff, a London lover, or just someone with an eye for the extraordinary, here are some just-beneath-the-surface places that are well worth a visit.
Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter: The Worst-Case Scenario
At the start of the Second World War, in 1939, air raid shelters in London comprised mostly of trench systems, building basements, and underground stations. In October 1940, however, as London was relentlessly bombed, the government decided to make safer deep-level shelters a reality. Clapham South was one of them, and its entrance can be found in Clapham Common.
A double spiral of stairs designed to speed entry and descent into the shelter’s main body runs 30 metres deep. At the bottom of the stairs, a number of cross passages can be found. These provide access to the main shelters and consist of two tunnels, each divided into upper and lower levels.
Once you’ve made your way into any of the shelters, you’ll see the bunks’ original frames. Some rooms even have original fittings and objects such as suitcases and board games scattered around, depicting how the shelter would have looked when it was being used. This helps to make the reality of war in the now-splendid city of London much more present than any visitor would think whilst looking at it for the first time through the windows of a Gatwick airport taxi.
You will also discover a host of interesting tidbits of history whilst inside: for example, the shelter’s canteen actually served items such as meat pies and sausage rolls—a remarkable fact if we keep in mind the rigorous rationing controls in place at the time. Head underground and you’ll discover even more mind-boggling facts about WWII.
Charing Cross Underground Station: The Hidden Tunnels
If, instead of booking a Gatwick airport taxi to your accommodation you’ve decided to brave London’s complex public transport system, and loved every minute of it, you might be interested to know that some old, abandoned stations are open to the public.
One London gem that’s buried deep underground is the unused Jubilee Line platforms in Charing Cross, along with the tunnels used to build the station—some of which run underneath Trafalgar Square. When, in 1971, building works started on a brand new underground line (then called the Fleet Line), plans indicated it would run from Stanmore to Charing Cross, and eventually into the City. Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, however, led to a change to the new line’s name, and in 1979, the Jubilee Line finally opened.
Soon after, however, major redevelopment works in London’s docklands area meant that the Jubilee Line was redirected from Green Park towards Westminster and Canary Wharf, terminating at Stratford. This completely bypassed Charing Cross, and the Jubilee platforms closed in 1999.
Nowadays, the platforms, tunnels, and escalators are in excellent condition and are often used as sets for movies and TV shows, including the Bond film Skyfall (2012).
An In-Depth Understanding of London
Whether you’re a screen enthusiast on the lookout for the filming sets of your favorite films and series or a history enthusiast in search for a more in-depth understanding of London and its evolution, the city’s underground wonders should not be missed.