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Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets [Paperback]

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

3 Feb 2005

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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Frequently Bought Together

Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets + Do Not Alight Here: Walking London's Lost Underground and Railway Stations + Under London (Regional London)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (3 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115658
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Brilliant... so much more than just another city ramble. (MAIL ON SUNDAY)

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

A notable portrait of London... By becoming a proper witness to the unseen, covert and little-known, [Smith] rescues reportage and makes of it a kind of poetry (Iain Sinclair, EVENING STANDARD)

Smith's cast of fluffers (Tube cleaners), flushers (sewermen) and toshers (scavengers) make engaging company (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

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.

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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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13 of 14 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining anecdotes 7 Jan 2010
I noticed from other reviews that this book by Stephen Smith has been rated anything from one to five. The clue to the content of this book is in its' subtitle 'TRAVELS BENEATH THE CITY STREETS'. This is more of a collection of anecdotes about the author's quest to gain a better understanding of London by looking under the city streets rather than an attempt to provide comprehensive archeological and historical details of what is under there. Thus, its not a traditional book on history as such. However, there are plenty of interesting facts. For example, I was intrigued to find out that the reason Muswell Hill does not have a tube station is because a plague pit was found during tunnelling.

The book is divided into chronological chapters, from Roman into modern times, with two introductory chapters at the beginning, explaining why the author became interested in this subject and how he commenced his search (the sewers). The over-riding theme is to show how much London is a city literally built on history, and how the old intertwines with the new. For example Smith descibes a Roman wall that has been integrated into a car park, and a door located under a subway in Merton, leading to the ruins of an abbey.

Smith's dry sense of humour permeates the book throughout, and several times I found myself chortling out loud. The chapter on Saxon London was somewhat weak, but overall I found it entertaining enough to keep turning the pages, and there was enough information to increase my understanding and knowledge of London. However, those who prefer a more traditional approach to history may not get so much out of it.
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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 6 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 7 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 7 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 8 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 8 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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