Any city of eight million people is bound to be a very public place. But London also has its private side, a part that is deliberately kept covered up against prying eyes, or that is simply invisible because it is behind the scenes in some way. It’s this private, this secret, side of London that is explored in this book.
In a place as big, as old and as multifaceted as London there are naturally many things that can be described as secret in one way or another. On the one hand there are things that are purposefully concealed, such as the locations of defence installations or the identities of publicity-shy aristocratic landowners. On the other hand there are things that are secret simply because the vast majority of people do not know about them. Here one might mention the natural landscape buried beneath London’s streets and the true stories behind Dick Whittington and Marble Arch.
In uncovering these and other facets of secret London, my aim has been to penetrate as far as possible to the very heart of the city. One way I have tried to do this is by creating 20 miles of walks, revealing, among other things, the winding courses of three long-buried rivers. My other method has been to seek out new and unusual places to visit. Altogether, the book contains details of about 30 such places, including a roof garden in Kensington and a bell foundry in the East End.
In security-conscious Whitehall and Westminster I inevitably had less luck in pushing back the frontiers of public accessibility. However, I have at least been able to include in the book first-hand descriptions of some of the more historic government offices. I describe what goes on backstage in the Houses of Parliament and reveal how many people live there.
The one part of secret London I have not been able to explore is the extensive network of tunnels, sewers and abandoned tube stations that honeycombs the cold clay beneath the city’s streets. However, by combining other researchers’ findings with my own observations, I have been able to draw what I hope is a fairly complete outline of the subterranean city.
Any further light that readers can shed on this shadowy area and on any of the other aspects of secret London investigated in this book would be very welcome.