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Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets [Hardcover]

Stephen Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 Mar 2004
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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company; Reprint edition (11 Mar 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316861340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316861342
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 275,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'(Smith) offers an enjoyable guide to the subterranean parts of a great city...his sense of the enveloping mysterious is spot-on.' -- Observer

'A fascinating examination of the capital's nether regions.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Brilliant... so much more than just another city ramble.' -- Mail On Sunday

'By becoming a witness to the unseen and little-known... [Smith] rescues reportage and makes of it a kind of poetry' -- Iain Sinclair, Evening Standard

'Full of revelations.' -- New Statesman

'Many have tried to write this book before and Smith is to be congratulated for turning up the real thing.' -- Conde Nast Traveller

'The Sheer range of the information (Smith) digs up is startling.' -- Will Self, The Independent

'This is a benchmark in London books: elegant, illuminating and often very funny, a great guide to the dark side.' -- Independent on Sunday

Book Description

* Fresh, funny and impeccably researched, UNDERGROUND LONDON is 'alternative' history at its best - an illuminating glimpse into the hidden world beneath our feet. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Layers of London 12 Mar 2004
By Helen
This is the first book for a very long time that I simply haven't been able to put down. This should be compulsive reading for every Londoner! Stephen Smith has managed to bring to vibrant life the world beneath our concrete and glass city. History has never been so vivid with the sights and sounds of London gone by echoing in every page. The only down side is that it has made me aware of a whole world I am not allowed to be part of existing just a few metres beneath my feet (that and peering into every little door and window on the tube).
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A wordy book on London 6 Jan 2005
By David
It is a very wordy book, each chapter is an essay. The type of articles you get by a broad sheet journalist who is not limited by space and not in a hurry to tell the facts. It is a different perspective. Concentrating on trips he has made to the various subjects; down the sewers, bits of Roman wall under buildings. etc.
What it does not have is any photos or maps. The lack of any maps especially I found annoying. They would have helped illustrate the articles and for the reader to find them himself.
The author must have put a lot of time into researching his data, I just found the style annoying to read.
This is a view of London you will either like or dislike.
I edged towards the latter.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind the plague pit! 13 Feb 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very uneven and mostly thin 4 Feb 2009
This is not a serious book about Subterranean London. If that's your bag try Richard Tench and Ellis Hillman's book. This is a more light-hearted, journalistic piece, which wouldn't be fine if the author had a sharp eye for telling detail and the wit of a Bill Bryson. Unfortunately he is equipped with neither.

Some chapters are better than others (was I alone in wondering what the beating of the bounds - including regatta ceremony on the Thames - had to do with underground London?).

All in all it was a struggle to find enough enthusiasm to finish it. Given the errors pointed to by other readers I wonder how much garbage I assimilated in having done so.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A wasted opportunity 12 Aug 2004
I was very disappointed by this book. The secret world under London's streets is a potentially fascinating topic but this book contains little of that fascination. Most of it consists of chatty descriptions of guided tours taken by the author, right down to the inconsequential conversations he has with the guides. It reads like an overextended piece for a colour supplement, with very little in the way of interesting information and an awful lot of filler. If you're interested in London, there are many better books to spend your money on.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Highly Enjoyable 14 Feb 2007
I picked this book up on the spur of the moment, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found to be a fascinating and highly enjoyable tour around some of the capital's unheralded subterranean features. Smith is an interesting and likeable guide, treating the subject with a deft, personal touch that makes the book stand out from drier 'straight' histories. This, combined with the diversity of the information he provides, makes this an excellent and accessible overview for general readers, and one that I'd highly recommend to anyone with an interest in London and its history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought 4 April 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is fascinating but it is not an easy read. Lots of interesting tidbits, but I found myself having to re-read several bits as I stopped really paying attention. Best if you are in a mood to really think, not light enough if you are not willing to concentrate.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Lindsay
As an enthusiast for all things London and Subterranean, I was pleased to pick up this book as it promised an insight into areas I myself had not entered. I could not have been more dissapointed.
The prose style does nothing but irritate, and it is abundantly clear the occupation of the author is journalist. This minor niggle would have been fine were it not for the fact that all of the actual information presented by this book, ie the hard facts about dates, historical figures, and even quotes, are seemingly taken en masse from a single publication, that being the excellent "london Under Londer" by Hillman and Trench. How the book passes as original work astounds me, because being familiar with the other book I compared the two and noticed vast swathes were copied almost verbatim in lieu of proper research. And only one reference to the work in the entire text makes for a poor recognition of what must have been a vast input into Smith's work.
The bibliography itself is pretty shameful - listing a vast number of fictional works and very little meat for those wishing to read further details on the topics covered.
This book then mainly comprises of the author smugly entering the world beneath and systematically mocking those who aided him to do so. In one word: Avoid.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Used book classification
Used book was classified as 'very good'... I would hate to see what average or poor looked like. Otherwise, nice book
Published 2 months ago by msa
3.0 out of 5 stars An OK read
Lots of good information in this book but the writng style hardly grabs you, There are better books on this subject.
Published 4 months ago by Mr. J. S. Dare
5.0 out of 5 stars Under London
This entertaining volume is about the diverse subterranean goings on through the stratus of history that is London, it's style is jaunty and entertaining and at the same time... Read more
Published 4 months ago by S M DIX
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping reading!
Read the original book several times, liked it so much I gave it to a friend and bought another copy!.
Published 4 months ago by Johnners
5.0 out of 5 stars Book for educational purposes.
This book is required for a present for my son, who teaches in London.I am sure the children will find it very interesting.
Published 4 months ago by Mrs Kay Cozens
4.0 out of 5 stars London revealed
As a Londoner I found the under-belly revealed in this book utterly fascinating. I turned my pages wanting to learn more and more. Read more
Published on 27 Jun 2012 by Trot
1.0 out of 5 stars Not as engaging as I thought!
Wanting to know more about London, and it's underground, not just the Tube, I picked this up from the local library. Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2012 by Louise Roberts
1.0 out of 5 stars I do not understand how this could be any worse
I am fascinated about subterranean London and this book caught my eye, and it lead to an impulse buy. Read more
Published on 24 Jan 2012 by Mr. H. Lam
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting book
I first saw this book in a catalogue that arrived unsolicited in the post. I thought I would look it up on line and see if I could find it anywhere else at a cheaper price. Read more
Published on 4 Dec 2011 by M. Messett
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming.
An interesting book about below ground London but the subject has been approached many times before and this book does not stand out. Read more
Published on 2 Nov 2011 by bookcrazy
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