Hot Best Seller

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

Availability: Ready to download

London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in da London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional -- rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. There is a bronze-age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Wren found Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul's, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery there was a hydraulic device to lower bodies into the catacombs below -- "Welcome to the lower depths". A door in the plinth of statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables -- gas, water, telephone. When the Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864 the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulphurous fumes, and called their engines by the names of tyrants -- Czar, Kaiser, Mogul -- and even Pluto, god of the underworld. Going under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world. "The vastness of the space, a second earth," writes Peter Ackroyd, "elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure."


Compare

London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in da London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much warmer than the surface and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional -- rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. There is a bronze-age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Wren found Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul's, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery there was a hydraulic device to lower bodies into the catacombs below -- "Welcome to the lower depths". A door in the plinth of statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables -- gas, water, telephone. When the Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864 the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulphurous fumes, and called their engines by the names of tyrants -- Czar, Kaiser, Mogul -- and even Pluto, god of the underworld. Going under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world. "The vastness of the space, a second earth," writes Peter Ackroyd, "elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure."

30 review for London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jayson

    (B-) 69% | Satisfactory Notes: An exercise in semiotics and lyrical prose, it's a découpage of gimcrack bric-à-brac that's prone to tilting at windmills. (B-) 69% | Satisfactory Notes: An exercise in semiotics and lyrical prose, it's a découpage of gimcrack bric-à-brac that's prone to tilting at windmills.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    I received this novel as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. I really, truly wanted to love this book. The subject is utterly fascinating: underground London, from Roman ruins to present-day tube stations, complete with crypts and buried temples and outlaw hideouts and a unique (and creepy) breed of mosquito. As much as I love the gothic in general, and British history in particular, this subject is made for me. Unfortunately, Peter Ackroyd's writing reads like a procrastinating student's I received this novel as part of the Goodreads First Reads program. I really, truly wanted to love this book. The subject is utterly fascinating: underground London, from Roman ruins to present-day tube stations, complete with crypts and buried temples and outlaw hideouts and a unique (and creepy) breed of mosquito. As much as I love the gothic in general, and British history in particular, this subject is made for me. Unfortunately, Peter Ackroyd's writing reads like a procrastinating student's first rough draft. Here are some of the problems I had with the text that prevented me from enjoying it: 1. Padding. This isn't book-length; it's essay-length. To make it book-length, fully 20-25% of the sentences are bloated, self-important, overreaching statements that say absolutely nothing (along the lines of "Every since the dawn of time, history has been happening"). Why? There's so much fat and very little meat. 2. Organization. Ackroyd flits from topic to topic, even within the same paragraph, apparently without any sense of obligation to tell the reader why. So underground London's a labyrinth. And in Greek mythology, there's a legend about a labyrinth. Okay, so what's the connection? Is there an urban legend about a Minotaur in underground London, or a street named Minotaur Lane? Or is Ackroyd saying London's labyrinths represent an intentional effort to mirror the legend? Or does the Greek legend represent some worldwide pattern in mythology about labyrinths that informs our experience of London? No, there's no connection at all. He just happened to know about the legend, seemingly, and so he included the tidbit to pad out the paragraph. This happens continually. Information isn't marshaled to make an argument: it's flung in all directions haphazardly. 3. Sources. I understand this isn't a scholarly tome, and therefore it shouldn't be packed with footnotes on every page. Nevertheless, the majority of direct quotes have no sources given at all, not even within the lines where they are featured. If a quote is worth producing, then its origin is worth knowing, to give it credibility and power. This not only makes his every assertion suspect, but it also makes it impossible for the interested reader to follow up on a specific point. Despite the writing, I did learn interesting things; this simply makes me want to find a well-organized, well-written book on the subject to read. That's a shame. This could've been that well-organized, well-written book. It's not.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Maren

    I'm the daughter of archaeologists, I love London, I enjoy history and I'm fascinated by catacombs, graveyards, caves, and all things underground. I secretly want Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" to be true. So this book should have been right up my alley. It was so dumb! I thought this would be the story of London, told from the unique perspective of things underground. What it turned out to be was a list of loosely grouped facts that Peter Ackroyd had apparently discovered while researching another I'm the daughter of archaeologists, I love London, I enjoy history and I'm fascinated by catacombs, graveyards, caves, and all things underground. I secretly want Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" to be true. So this book should have been right up my alley. It was so dumb! I thought this would be the story of London, told from the unique perspective of things underground. What it turned out to be was a list of loosely grouped facts that Peter Ackroyd had apparently discovered while researching another book about London. It reads like a teenager's school paper where the student has copied and pasted sentences from various websites and tried to tie them together. Let me paraphrase the book for you: The underground is creepy and mysterious. Here are some things that are underground in London. Here is a two sentence anecdote or quote from an old-timesy person. I will now provide you a description of the route of an underground river. Here is a list of the lines and stations of the Tube. Oooooo, how spooky. I will now tease you with the possibility of a ghost story but never actually tell one. Now back to some lists and random facts. I will close with reminding you that the underground is creepy and mysterious, despite my really boring book suggesting otherwise.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    Peter Ackroyd, author of many tomes on fascinating subjects deviates from his usual doorstop formula and presents a whistlestop tour of the modern history of stuff happening under the streets of the modern Babylon, London. To complain about the brevity and lack of academic referencing is to completely miss the point of this slight work, Ackroyd clearly loves his subject and manages to incite the same reaction in his reader thanks to some incredibly well chosen anecdotes. Example chapter titles inc Peter Ackroyd, author of many tomes on fascinating subjects deviates from his usual doorstop formula and presents a whistlestop tour of the modern history of stuff happening under the streets of the modern Babylon, London. To complain about the brevity and lack of academic referencing is to completely miss the point of this slight work, Ackroyd clearly loves his subject and manages to incite the same reaction in his reader thanks to some incredibly well chosen anecdotes. Example chapter titles include Holy Water, Forgotten Streams, Buried Secrets and The Heart of Darkness and every page contains at least one moment of wonder to those uneducated yet enthusiastic readers (which is exactly the target audience for this work) like myself. For a chapter or two I thought it was going to take me weeks to read due the sheer quantity of google and wiki searches I was performing to acquire further knowledge of a proffered fact whilst reading before readjusting my mindset to just let the author entertain me with his seemingly endless supply of poetic historical tales. I devoured this book, loved every moment and feel suitably primed to venture in to further study of the subject matter, surely there can be no higher praise for such a work?

  5. 5 out of 5

    K.C. Shaw

    The subject is fascinating, but the book itself is poorly written and doesn't go in-depth about the subject. It's all surface (ironically, considering the subject matter). Many quotes are unattributed and there is not a notes section in the back of the book. And the constant portentious statements hammering in the theme of "the underworld is primal!" detracted considerably from the various interesting facts. For example, here's a long paragraph from pp. 133-4 of my edition of the book, talking ab The subject is fascinating, but the book itself is poorly written and doesn't go in-depth about the subject. It's all surface (ironically, considering the subject matter). Many quotes are unattributed and there is not a notes section in the back of the book. And the constant portentious statements hammering in the theme of "the underworld is primal!" detracted considerably from the various interesting facts. For example, here's a long paragraph from pp. 133-4 of my edition of the book, talking about the London tube system: 'More serious objections were raised. It would become a haven for Fenians and other terrorists, who would explode barrels of dynamite and destroy parts of the city. Several such explosions did indeed take place. The first of them was carried out by the 'Dynamiters' in 1881, when a charge of nitro-glycerine blew up in the tunnel of the District Line between Charing Cross and Westminster stations. There have been other such events ever since, most notably on the morning of 7 July 2005 when within fifty seconds three bombs exploded on three underground trains. The perpetrators were young Muslim men, but the motives for creating subterranean terror belong to no one faith. The fear of the underground is still very real.It is associated with the terror of an inferno beneath the surface, congruent to hell itself. Many escalator fires have started, most notably that in King's Cross in 1987 where twenty-seven people were killed. It was argued by some at the time that 'fires were a part of the nature of the oldest, most extensive, underground railway in the world.'" In this one paragraph, you can see everything (in my opinion) that's wrong with the book. It glosses over a fascinating subject that could be a book in its own right, jumps from topic to topic without a lot of cohesion, asserts (portentiously, and bizarrely) that terrorism is caused by fear of the underground, and finishes with an unattributed quote. I was really disappointed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is not a work of history, though it relies on history. It is not scholarly, not footnoted to the point of immobility, skewering reality on a butterfly pin, so that what we see is a lifeless visage of something beautiful and great. No, it is a piece of poetry in prose form. And perhaps that was the only way to really write a book such as this and in some way capture the fascination that led to its creation. London Under is a panoramic look at what lies beneath the modern city of London. It l This is not a work of history, though it relies on history. It is not scholarly, not footnoted to the point of immobility, skewering reality on a butterfly pin, so that what we see is a lifeless visage of something beautiful and great. No, it is a piece of poetry in prose form. And perhaps that was the only way to really write a book such as this and in some way capture the fascination that led to its creation. London Under is a panoramic look at what lies beneath the modern city of London. It looks at the archaeological remains, the sewers, the rivers and springs, the tubes. And it does so in an almost stream of consciousness fashion, as Ackroyd covers the topic as it interests him, rather than pursuing any dry plan. This approach is definitely not to everyone's tastes, and, if you are looking for a exceedingly well-researched tome, avoid this. If you are looking for something that will haunt your dreams, that will give you a glimpse of the soul of one of the great cities of history, then this is a book for you. London is another of the cities that people speak of as a personality. And though I believe that all places where humans choose to live have a personality, rarely is it so loud and defined as it is in London. Recommended. with the above caveats.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    The London skyline is famous all round the world, but apart from the tube, beneath the streets very few people know what is there. Ackroyd's book really only scratches the surface, as it is fairly short, but he uncovers litte gems of information on the 2000 year old history of London. Every time anyone digs a hole there another nugget of history is revealed. There are chapters on the tube, the hidden rivers of London, and the Fleet, which was 60 feet wide at certain points has a whole chapter to The London skyline is famous all round the world, but apart from the tube, beneath the streets very few people know what is there. Ackroyd's book really only scratches the surface, as it is fairly short, but he uncovers litte gems of information on the 2000 year old history of London. Every time anyone digs a hole there another nugget of history is revealed. There are chapters on the tube, the hidden rivers of London, and the Fleet, which was 60 feet wide at certain points has a whole chapter to itself. There are sketchy details on the government tunnels, so of which are open to the public, and others that are still not. Some of the archeological details are fascinating, in particular the finds, and in some case still operational Roman water courses. Really enjoyed reading it, looking forward to some of his other books now.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    A mixed bag. Worth reading, for sure but, for me at least, the interest is tied to the specific subject being discussed. There are lots of details in this book but no depth to bring the details to life. I'd say that this book is more of an introduction to the world under London. In the end, I enjoyed the read but was left wanting somehow. The chapters with subjects that interested me, I found fascinating despite wanting to know more. Complete, ancient rooms found (some were, sadly, destroyed) an A mixed bag. Worth reading, for sure but, for me at least, the interest is tied to the specific subject being discussed. There are lots of details in this book but no depth to bring the details to life. I'd say that this book is more of an introduction to the world under London. In the end, I enjoyed the read but was left wanting somehow. The chapters with subjects that interested me, I found fascinating despite wanting to know more. Complete, ancient rooms found (some were, sadly, destroyed) and no mention of what was found in the ones not destroyed. The chapters with subjects that didn't interest me were okay and slow. For example, the chapter on the bunkers built to house thousands of people in times of disaster or the bunkers established for war communication during the war. Perhaps with some added depth, the subject would have drawn me in. The unique class of mosquito that has developed underground is a fascinating subject that got one sentence. The Underground is a fascinating place. This book is an introduction of how varied the Underground is and how it serves us throughout the ages. I will read more by this author; something that he talks about in more detail. The subjects here seemed to be rather skimmed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephen McQuiggan

    A story of the secret rivers, sewers, and subways, the government shelters, and people who dwell beneath London. A journey through time and legend, digging up ghosts and ghouls along with the past. Who can resist the idea of all those deserted stations underground, of hybrid mosquitoes and river gods and sacrifices, of pestilence following the forgotten streams, of people like 'Moleman' William Lyttle who tunneled beneath his council house in Hackney for over forty years? Not me. Loved Ackroyd's A story of the secret rivers, sewers, and subways, the government shelters, and people who dwell beneath London. A journey through time and legend, digging up ghosts and ghouls along with the past. Who can resist the idea of all those deserted stations underground, of hybrid mosquitoes and river gods and sacrifices, of pestilence following the forgotten streams, of people like 'Moleman' William Lyttle who tunneled beneath his council house in Hackney for over forty years? Not me. Loved Ackroyd's style - always adding a telling line, a profound counterpoint, or succinct observation. Jack the Ripper on the Tube? Marvelous.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cordelia

    excellent book, maybe a bit..sensationalised. doesn't cover as much archaeology as i thought it would. also covers London's rivers, the Tube, misc. peppered with accounts from roman, anglo-saxon to present day. excellent book, maybe a bit..sensationalised. doesn't cover as much archaeology as i thought it would. also covers London's rivers, the Tube, misc. peppered with accounts from roman, anglo-saxon to present day.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Denny

    The few chapters I really liked made this 4 stars. The mole men and also the war below.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    “Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts and sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day.... May this book be considered a votive offering to the gods who lie beneath London.” Tap the waterphone and strike a match! Peter Ackroyd’s London Under (2011) begs for a foggy night and flickering lights as it sets “Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts and sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day.... May this book be considered a votive offering to the gods who lie beneath London.” Tap the waterphone and strike a match! Peter Ackroyd’s London Under (2011) begs for a foggy night and flickering lights as it sets out to reveal secrets hidden beneath the city’s skin. London underground can be spooky. Anyone who has ever found himself alone on a Tube platform on a rainy evening has experienced an undeniable frisson. But Ackroyd plays up the underworld’s chill with such spongy logic and stagy language that you may read this small companion piece to his London The Biography and Thames Sacred River as an alluring but slightly cloying amuse bouche. The chapter titles - Darkness Visible, Old Man River, The Heart of Darkness, The Mole Men, and Deep Fantasies - hint that either Ackroyd’s Muse has dried up ... or he regards the book as a farce. It’s a pity he didn’t organize his material in terms of a dissection. In the first chapter you won’t have to listen hard to hear Ackroyd channeling the voice of Vincent Price to introduce this collection of essays on London’s nether regions. This tone makes parts of the book a pretty corny; Ackroyd’s overplayed the “psycho” in psychogeography. Horror, even campy horror, succeeds best when it slowly removes the familiar and pries open our grip on reality, replacing it with what was once not only unacceptable, but inconceivable. London Under does the exact opposite of this. From the beginning it’s rich with precise detail and tangible tidbits dredged up from the past. The past becomes present, a well-lit display inviting our inspection. Ackroyd’s reveling in well documented detail costs him his uncanny atmosphere. The lights go one in the middle of the seance, and we’re all left smirking at one another. Hundreds of books have told how Bazalgette’s sewers eradicated cholera. Thousands of people have inspected the altar of Mithras, Roman pavements, and dinosaur bones found under the city’s streets. And millions of commuters have shuttled through the dark under the Thames by foot or by rail. There’s nothing surprising or mysterious or even secret in this book for them. The book’s true worth is found as it uncovers a handful of odd men who have been forgotten to our myopic popular culture like William Lyttle of Hackney, who dug a network of tunnels, some over 60 feet long, radiating from his basement, or investigative reporter Duncan Campbell, who probed the city’s bowels on a bicycle 30 years ago, riding some 20 miles underground through secret government tunnels. I’d never read before that during the Blitz the Underground provided Londoners with 52 lending libraries to help pass the time as they waited for the all clear. Notes like these save this quick, one-day read. Ackroyd claims that the “whole history of the city is compressed to little less than 30 feet.” What he gives us is a slice of that, a little stale, but not too dense, and nicely seasoned with curious facts. There’s nothing groundbreaking, and his attempts to conjure up the occult conk out. Perhaps he should have packaged a DVD of Quartermass and the Pit with it. Still, London Under is a fun read. It takes the stance of pop history - rambling, flashy, fairly wobbly on its logical legs - and enriches it with the author’s extraordinary knowledge of the city and his exquisite verbal facility. To his everlasting credit, ancient aliens are never invoked as an explanation. Four stars for the bibliography, which will tempt you to undertake more serious research of life under London.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jaga

    It reads like a nineteenth century guidebook and anyone who's seen a nineteenth century guidebook will know what I mean. It reads like a nineteenth century guidebook and anyone who's seen a nineteenth century guidebook will know what I mean.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amy Durreson

    This has been sitting on my to-read pile for ages, and I finally picked it up yesterday. It's Ackroyd-lite--a charming mish-mash of whimsy, trivia, history, and occasional flashes of lyricism, but without the heft of his bigger tomes. I zoomed through it in an afternoon, picked up lots of little sparkles of interest which could decorate my current WIP, and looked a few places up on a map out of curiosity. A pleasant way to spend a winter's afternoon. This has been sitting on my to-read pile for ages, and I finally picked it up yesterday. It's Ackroyd-lite--a charming mish-mash of whimsy, trivia, history, and occasional flashes of lyricism, but without the heft of his bigger tomes. I zoomed through it in an afternoon, picked up lots of little sparkles of interest which could decorate my current WIP, and looked a few places up on a map out of curiosity. A pleasant way to spend a winter's afternoon.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ishmael

    The real life inspiration behind Neverwhere (Read this too!) and Rivers of London (Just read the blurb maybe). In this case, the truth is just as incredible as the fiction. As an irredeemable country-boy, I've always considered myself as perpetual visitor to the city (however, having lived here 5 years now, I claim the right to tut-tut at tourists standing on the left side of the escalators!). There's no doubt though that London has a certain scale and history that ranks it among the greatest ci The real life inspiration behind Neverwhere (Read this too!) and Rivers of London (Just read the blurb maybe). In this case, the truth is just as incredible as the fiction. As an irredeemable country-boy, I've always considered myself as perpetual visitor to the city (however, having lived here 5 years now, I claim the right to tut-tut at tourists standing on the left side of the escalators!). There's no doubt though that London has a certain scale and history that ranks it among the greatest cities in the world. Everyone knows London has at least one river right? But I found it fascinating to learn that there's another twelve still bubbling away, disciples of Father Thames, now for the most part buried beneath the streets. There's also a gloriously British hodge-podge excuse for an underground railway. Of course I refer to the now internationally famous product of engineering brilliance and bravery, and corporate short-sightedness and incompetence, the Tube. As an engineer I have to give a brief mention to a man who Londoners these days probably don't know too much about, but without whom would be living in a very, very smelly place. Joseph Bazalgette created the London sewerage system as we know and love it, among many other impressive engineering achievements. There's a plethora of delightfully slimy, sewer-based descriptions in this book. There's a great poetic style to the prose, but the author doesn't let that become overpowering. There's enough little-known and surprising stuff going on under London (Oh, now I get it...) to keep you reading anyway. However, I'd say this is better suited to an interested Londoner (or Northerners living in London), as there are a lot of place and street names that won't mean much unless you recognise them. To find out that there's things lurking below the streets you've been treading for years that you never even thought about is fascinating. Plus you get to bore everyone with your new-found local knowledge!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    A book that concisely synthesizes the history of an ancient and fascinating city with our attraction to getting into places we're not supposed to go. It should have been a slam dunk. It reads like a first-year college history paper thrown together at the last minute. The facts are there, and can sometimes make your eyes bulge with interest, but whenever he tries his hand at commentary, Oh Boy. Among the annoyances: 1. Trying to make things sound creepy or mysterious, that aren't 2. The comparisons A book that concisely synthesizes the history of an ancient and fascinating city with our attraction to getting into places we're not supposed to go. It should have been a slam dunk. It reads like a first-year college history paper thrown together at the last minute. The facts are there, and can sometimes make your eyes bulge with interest, but whenever he tries his hand at commentary, Oh Boy. Among the annoyances: 1. Trying to make things sound creepy or mysterious, that aren't 2. The comparisons between underground London and the underworlds of various mythologies get stale really, really fast, especially after the first twenty or so. 3. Attempts at punchy, grand sentences that are supposed to induce some sort of unease come off as corny ("It was the evil of the subterranean depths.") 4. Some sentences are just stupid ("Sewers can never wholly be trusted.") 5. I like the semicolon as much as the next guy, but not in every third sentence 6. Most irritating of all, the above qualities (minus the semicolon) often combine and show up as one rage-inducing sentence in the middle of a paragraph or--especially--at the end of a paragraph. It's as if a high school-aged editor with a sensationalist streak handed the author a list of such sentences--a hundred or so--with the instruction to "just put these in there. Anywhere in there is fine." It got to the point that I began dreading the end of a paragraph somewhere near the beginning of the paragraph. Bonus: 7. This book is best understood, I think, by lifelong London residents working in local cartography or in public transportation. No maps are included, and if they were, I don't see how they could begin to plot all of the points referred to in the text. Perhaps a native Londoner has the kind of command of place needed to follow along. Or perhaps I just didn't have the gumption or reason to consult a map (I will probably never travel to London to find the corner of X and Y and the secret door under the stairs, anyway). So this point is take-it-or-leave-it. The stars are for the content: it's fascinating stuff. People just have an urge to get to the top of things, or to get beneath them. Everyone has had a buried treasure fantasy. I learned plenty and was captivated by the subject. I loved reading the book, but hated reading the writing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This short and well written book is an annexe to Ackroyd’s ‘biography’ of London, a history of the city that treats it as if it has a personality. It is also part of the psycho-geographical cast of mind that now defines part of the modern London literary community. What does he cover? - archaeology, ancient springs, underground rivers, the Fleet, the water conduits, the sewers, the underground railways (at length), the wartime and cold war secret cities and the life of Londoners who went undergro This short and well written book is an annexe to Ackroyd’s ‘biography’ of London, a history of the city that treats it as if it has a personality. It is also part of the psycho-geographical cast of mind that now defines part of the modern London literary community. What does he cover? - archaeology, ancient springs, underground rivers, the Fleet, the water conduits, the sewers, the underground railways (at length), the wartime and cold war secret cities and the life of Londoners who went underground in times of danger. Older and older Londons lie beneath today’s London. We have dug tunnels through all of them. He writes with a fine sense of what it is to be grounded in the city and to partake of its literary and cultural heritage. My own test was whether he mentioned ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, the classic Hammer horror – he did. But there is not much to review here. It is 180 pages of ‘buried treasure’ and of further reading. I shall be returning to it for just that purpose. I am even considering a Subterranean Britain Facebook Group. One thought occurs, however. The underground has many symbolic meanings but Ackroyd perhaps does not emphasise one enough, perhaps because it is one for the future. It is a place of resistance as well as a place of secret control. There is a symbolic struggle under the streets. The organisation of East Enders in war time at 'Mickey's Shelter' by organised crime under a neglectful Government counters the State’s refusal to let any of us take Duncan Campbell’s illicit cycle ride across London through a 20 foot tunnel built for ‘their’ convenience and not ours. One popular cultural icon Ackroyd does not mention. He should have done so. Dr. Who. In the original ‘Dr Who and the Daleks’, the English resistance (a coded reference back to the sewers of Warsaw, with the Daleks as a remembrance of Nazi storm-troopers) takes place in the London Underground. Until this book, I had thought resistance underground was no more feasible than the existence of the Daleks. Now I know better. No wonder the State, having built or overseen this massive interconnected warren, is determined to seal off what it can against ‘terrorists’, perhaps against us one day.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mel

    Without a doubt this is the shortest Peter Ackroyd book I've read. It was also not one of the best. He really tried to make the London Underground seem mysterious and exciting, as if it was something people never think about, instead of something that millions of commuters use each year! While there are a lot of cities where no one things of what happens underground, London just really isn't one of them. The first and last chapters that tried to give off an atmosphere of danger and novelty just Without a doubt this is the shortest Peter Ackroyd book I've read. It was also not one of the best. He really tried to make the London Underground seem mysterious and exciting, as if it was something people never think about, instead of something that millions of commuters use each year! While there are a lot of cities where no one things of what happens underground, London just really isn't one of them. The first and last chapters that tried to give off an atmosphere of danger and novelty just kinda failed. The book was part geography, part history and part folklore. (And as a history it really wasn't very good, how can you mention the danger of using the tube stations for shelter in WWII and not mention the Bethnal Green tube disaster?) The book started with looking at some of the Roman ruins and burials that had been found under the city, which was quite interesting. The next chapters covered springs, wells, rivers and honestly I found them a little dull. There was then an ok history of the tube that lasted for three chapters, but as I've already said left out some important events. This felt like a Christmas book, nothing really solid just little tid bits of interesting information or stories you could read out to people to be amusing or shocking. I must admit that I was quite disappointed! That's two of his books I've read in a row that I've not enjoyed so I think I might not read any more of his books.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Peter Ackroyd's London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets takes us below the level of the pavement to a subterranean world of sewers, storage vaults, refuges from bombings, and subways. You might say that it's a below-the-ground companion to the same author's London: The Biography. At the end, the author summarizes:We have completed, under [the gods'] auspices, a long journey through the bowels of the London earth. We have come upon dreams and desires, fears and longings; there have be Peter Ackroyd's London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets takes us below the level of the pavement to a subterranean world of sewers, storage vaults, refuges from bombings, and subways. You might say that it's a below-the-ground companion to the same author's London: The Biography. At the end, the author summarizes:We have completed, under [the gods'] auspices, a long journey through the bowels of the London earth. We have come upon dreams and desires, fears and longings; there have been moments of wonder and moments of terror; the sacred and the profane have been found in close proximity. Dirt and squalor exist beside mystery and even beauty. It is the home of the devil and of holy water. The underworld moves the imagination to awe and to horror. It is in part a human world, made from the activities of many generations, but it is also primeval and inhuman. It repels clarity and thought. It may offer safety for some, but it does not offer solace. London is built upon darkness.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sophy H

    So this contained some interesting titbits about London's submerged world, the underground (Tube), the rivers of the capital, basements and cellars etc. There was nothing to blow me away I must say and the writing was very average, but it was a good way to spend a few hours reading about disused Tube stations, haunted underground locations and random building stats! I think this would be far more enjoyable if you loved in/had intimate knowledge of the parts of London that Ackroyd describes. So this contained some interesting titbits about London's submerged world, the underground (Tube), the rivers of the capital, basements and cellars etc. There was nothing to blow me away I must say and the writing was very average, but it was a good way to spend a few hours reading about disused Tube stations, haunted underground locations and random building stats! I think this would be far more enjoyable if you loved in/had intimate knowledge of the parts of London that Ackroyd describes.

  21. 5 out of 5

    ❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀

    4 Stars

  22. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I'd expected something in the more traditional vein of history, something exploring the history of London beneath the surface, the Underground, the sewers, the buried layers of prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, medieval relics. What it really is is a much more poetical exploration of how we respond to the concept of 'underground', the fears and horrors, the way we have both shunned and sought life beneath the surface. Ackroyd writes about the sewers of London This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I'd expected something in the more traditional vein of history, something exploring the history of London beneath the surface, the Underground, the sewers, the buried layers of prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, medieval relics. What it really is is a much more poetical exploration of how we respond to the concept of 'underground', the fears and horrors, the way we have both shunned and sought life beneath the surface. Ackroyd writes about the sewers of London, the first tunnels under the Thames, the founding of the Underground and its growth, the abandoned stations, the way the Underground was used for safety and security during the Blitz. He also writes about the way our history retreats underground, layer upon layer of buildings and architecture sinking beneath the surface. It must have been fascinating to work on the Underground in the early days, digging down through so many layers of history, so much artifacts coming to the surface as they went deeper. In a way London is just a vehicle for this kind of exploration: Ackroyd could have picked any city in the world, most of which now sprawl in all directions beneath the pavements and streets. But there's something about London particularly - perhaps because it's one of the biggest, one of the oldest, because Londoners were exploring underground long before many cities were even founded. This book has whetted my appetite, and I really felt it wasn't long enough. It's inspired me to go and find some more books on the world beneath London, that hopefully explore it all in a little more depth and detail.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Reader, I Read It

    Highly acclaimed historian and writer Peter Ackroyd delves into the depths of London in his latest exploration of what lies beneath one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The book gives an extraordinary insight into the history that has been discovered under the pavements we walk on every day. We aren’t talking about a few old coins and trinkets here but monasteries, plague pits, roman baths, pagan temples, wells and waterways long forgotten. It’s also easy to forget the labyrinth of t Highly acclaimed historian and writer Peter Ackroyd delves into the depths of London in his latest exploration of what lies beneath one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The book gives an extraordinary insight into the history that has been discovered under the pavements we walk on every day. We aren’t talking about a few old coins and trinkets here but monasteries, plague pits, roman baths, pagan temples, wells and waterways long forgotten. It’s also easy to forget the labyrinth of tunnels created in our more recent history moving thousands of people through the city every day. The majority of this book focuses on the waterways and tunnels including the Tube which opened in 1864. Ackroyd explores our perceptions of the underground as a place where we think demons and the un-dead belong but also as a place of escape and shelter which Londoners used during the Blitz. The book may be a bit thin compared to some of his other works and admittedly you could easily read more, but even if you do feel a little short changed, it is still a great introduction for further reading on the topic. One thing is for sure, it will leave you wondering what is under your feet every time you step onto a London Street and the stories of London Under will stay with you for a long time.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This is a wonderful companion book to Ackroyd's two other books, history books, focusing on Loncon (London: The Biography and The Thames: Sacred River). The book is short and can easily be read in one sitting. It also is a good companion to Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets. Ackroyd's book actually does follow a sense of the development of the underground moving from water to trains. It is a more of an overview than a in-depth history (the length of say two or three chapters in This is a wonderful companion book to Ackroyd's two other books, history books, focusing on Loncon (London: The Biography and The Thames: Sacred River). The book is short and can easily be read in one sitting. It also is a good companion to Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets. Ackroyd's book actually does follow a sense of the development of the underground moving from water to trains. It is a more of an overview than a in-depth history (the length of say two or three chapters in his other London history). What makes the book wonderful is Ackroyd's poetic way of writing and his wonder at how much history residents walk upon.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rena Sherwood

    Well, this was a disappointment. After reading Ackroyd's Blake I expected an in-depth, well-annotated and documented look at the history of London's sewers, underground rivers, whathaveyou. But this was like Ackroyd just phoned it in. I even checked Google to see if Ackroyd is still alive just in case he died before making a final draft. But no such luck. As of this writing (2/26/18) the man is still alive. This is a very short book that barely touches the surface of the subject. It also has a lot Well, this was a disappointment. After reading Ackroyd's Blake I expected an in-depth, well-annotated and documented look at the history of London's sewers, underground rivers, whathaveyou. But this was like Ackroyd just phoned it in. I even checked Google to see if Ackroyd is still alive just in case he died before making a final draft. But no such luck. As of this writing (2/26/18) the man is still alive. This is a very short book that barely touches the surface of the subject. It also has a lot of white space, blank pages and illustrations, which means the actual text takes up only half of an already absurdly little book. I'm glad I got this from the library and didn't pay any money for it or I would be seriously ticked off. I was hoping for a BOOK, not a casual conversation.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    London Under is a bite-sized collection of writings on what goes on below the streets of the metropolis. Sewers, rivers, wells, tunnels, the Tube, history - it's all covered, with some of Ackroyd's famed flair for teasing out psychogeographical interest. It's funny, I've had London: The Biography for a long time, and I've never been able to finish it. But I was grabbed by this: the cthonic concerns inside seem to convey a truer sense of London that what goes on above ground. If you've lived in Lo London Under is a bite-sized collection of writings on what goes on below the streets of the metropolis. Sewers, rivers, wells, tunnels, the Tube, history - it's all covered, with some of Ackroyd's famed flair for teasing out psychogeographical interest. It's funny, I've had London: The Biography for a long time, and I've never been able to finish it. But I was grabbed by this: the cthonic concerns inside seem to convey a truer sense of London that what goes on above ground. If you've lived in London or have even a passing interest in the city, you should read this. It took me back to the Bakerloo line in a snap, and is full of nothing if not love for the clay and shit upon which the great wen stands.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Ackroyd looks at the city of London below. Although this seems to be a collection of facts rather than a real 'story', it was good for dipping into during tea and lunch breaks at work. Some interesting titbits told in an easily accessible style. Ackroyd looks at the city of London below. Although this seems to be a collection of facts rather than a real 'story', it was good for dipping into during tea and lunch breaks at work. Some interesting titbits told in an easily accessible style.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    We are accustomed to knowing and experiencing what may be below our city streets be it just moving fresh water and sewage to people transportation and more. Ackroyd takes London and dissects various aspects of what can be found beneath the paved roads. Starting with ruins and artifacts from pre-historic tribes to the Romans through the centuries. Buildings have been built, lived in, demolished and something new built on the same land over and over so as new construction happens within the city li We are accustomed to knowing and experiencing what may be below our city streets be it just moving fresh water and sewage to people transportation and more. Ackroyd takes London and dissects various aspects of what can be found beneath the paved roads. Starting with ruins and artifacts from pre-historic tribes to the Romans through the centuries. Buildings have been built, lived in, demolished and something new built on the same land over and over so as new construction happens within the city limits, reminders of previous structures may provide a surprise. Perhaps some old jewelry. Perhaps a skeleton or two. Maybe just the remains of foundation walls because over the centuries, parts of London has dropped 36' so the second floor centuries ago may now be a step or two from 'ground level. In fact, millions of gallons of rising groundwater are daily being pumped out from the 'lower' levels. The author then goes into the fresh water wells that provided water for the town and city. The streams that eventually were turned into dumping grounds for all manner of waste from personal to butchers, to tanners and more. Those streams and rivers are still remembered in various street names like Fleet and Tyburn. The tunnels for the utilities or transport that eventually became the Underground or Tube. The stations that served as bomb shelters during both World Wars - the government didn't want them used that way but gave way when it became obvious that the populace would buy the cheapest ticket possible and ride the route over and over until the attacks or night was over. One must remember that the entrances to the underworld beneath London are carefully concealed in plain sight if one only knows what they are looking for or looking at. Of course, many of the abandoned tunnels beneath the city may not be as 'abandoned' as they are publicly designated. It's a fun look and fast read. Apparently, in a city as old as London, which has been inhabited for over two millenia, there is as much history under the ground as above. 2021-035

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    I really liked the topic of this book but on the whole, this was disappointing. This book explores everything underground London, from the natural rivers and waters, to the man-made tunnels and sewers, as well as how humans feel about the underground and what it means. I found the second half of the book (when it talked about the sewage system and workers, as well as the Tube and how it came to be) more interesting because the layout itself was better. The trouble was that the first half of the I really liked the topic of this book but on the whole, this was disappointing. This book explores everything underground London, from the natural rivers and waters, to the man-made tunnels and sewers, as well as how humans feel about the underground and what it means. I found the second half of the book (when it talked about the sewage system and workers, as well as the Tube and how it came to be) more interesting because the layout itself was better. The trouble was that the first half of the book, especially when talking about the underground rivers and waters, would just list where these streams and rivers were. I recognised the name but I had no reference as to what it meant when a river was listed from one place to the other. There was no map or discussion about what modern landscape it was travelling under, it was just telling me where they were. The second half of the book pulls on sources, much like the first half, but it gave a bit more about the people side of things, like the sewer workers and how people used the Underground to shelter from the Blitz. Sometimes it would skim over some parts which I found really interesting (like the people who lived and worked in the abandoned tunnel under the Thames back in the 19th/20th century). If this book had some maps of London, with the water system or the pipe system, as well as some better photos (most of them were small and dark, thanks to the book format), I think this could have been just a little easier to understand. But otherwise, though I liked this well enough, I would find it hard to recommend. 3 stars!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Darya Conmigo

    I read this as a companion to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and it was fun for that purpose. However, as many other reviewers pointed out, the book itself has a rather frail internal structure that crumbles onto itself and leaves you with little to no stories or data or connections. This book is a bit of everything: part phrases on how underground is “primordial darkness before birth” and how London is “built upon darkness”, part historical facts in a chaotic dance of epochs and centuries, part quotes I read this as a companion to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and it was fun for that purpose. However, as many other reviewers pointed out, the book itself has a rather frail internal structure that crumbles onto itself and leaves you with little to no stories or data or connections. This book is a bit of everything: part phrases on how underground is “primordial darkness before birth” and how London is “built upon darkness”, part historical facts in a chaotic dance of epochs and centuries, part quotes that sometimes do and sometimes do not illustrate the main point. This being said, the chapter on the Tube was interesting for someone who had no previous knowledge on the subject. I also imagine that for a Londoner who is familiar with all the toponymic details this might give much more information than to a person who has only fleeting memories of the city. All in all, I cannot say I recommend it to everyone. But I imagine that most people interested in the subject at all will find at least some parts amusing and/or informative.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...