Underground London

As someone whose spent most of her working life in and around Central London I found this a fascinating account of the various bits of subterranean London, with various historical asides. Smith spends a night with the night workers on the tube – I really don’t want to be a patrolman working alone at night ‘pacing out the deserted tunnels with his lamp and his walkie talkie and his large box-spanner’ – and one who may or may not have had a ghostly encounter in a Jubilee line tunnel.

He also meets, the men disinterring remains from St Andrew’s crypt – Smith needed to immunised against smallpox and be cleared by a home office pathologist before joining them – its a full crypt dating back to before the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed half the population of fourteenth century England. I love how Smith describes their respectful professionalism, even those the inhabitants have been dead for centuries, ‘They’ve all got descendants…. ‘You’d expect it too, if it was your own family.’

Smith describes the subterranean diverted rivers and culverts of London – the Fleet is probably the most famous – the buried tram lines, the dead tube stations, the mothballed Royal Mail underground railway and tries to discover the miles of tunnels that the MoD have, allegedly, sunk under the capital. All in all its amazing that we don’t have more landslips in London.

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