What’s Under London? Discover London’s Forbidden Underworld

When the words Lon­don and under­ground come togeth­er, the first thing that comes to most of our minds, nat­u­ral­ly, is the Lon­don Under­ground. But though it may enjoy the hon­or­able dis­tinc­tion of the world’s first rail­way to run below the streets, the stal­wart Tube is hard­ly the only thing buried below the city — and far indeed from the old­est. The video above makes a jour­ney through var­i­ous sub­ter­ranean stra­ta, start­ing with the paving stone and con­tin­u­ing through the soil, elec­tric cables, and gas pipelines beneath. From there, things get Roman.

First comes the Billings­gate Roman House and Baths and the Roman amphithe­ater, two pre­served places from what was once called Lon­dini­um. Below that lev­el run sev­er­al now-under­ground rivers, just above the depth of Win­ston Churchill’s pri­vate bunker, which is now main­tained as a muse­um.

Far­ther down, at a depth of 66 feet, we find the remains of Lon­don’s tube sys­tem — not the Tube, but the pneu­mat­ic tube, a nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry tech­nol­o­gy that could fire encap­su­lat­ed let­ters from one part of the city to anoth­er. More effec­tive and longer lived was the lat­er, more deeply installed Lon­don Post Office Rail­way, which was used to make deliv­er­ies until 2003.

At 79 feet under­ground, we final­ly meet with the Under­ground — or at least the first and shal­low­est of its eleven lines. The Tube has long become an essen­tial part of the lives of most Lon­don­ers, but around the same depth exists anoth­er facil­i­ty known to rel­a­tive­ly few: the Cam­den cat­a­combs, a sys­tem of under­ground pas­sages once used to sta­ble the hors­es who worked on the rail­ways. Fur­ther down are the net­work of World War II-era “deep shel­ters,” one of which host­ed the plan­ning of D‑Day; below them is a still-func­tion­al facil­i­ty instru­men­tal to the defeat of dif­fer­ent ene­mies, typhus and cholera. That would be Lon­don’s sew­er sys­tem, for which we should spare a thought if we’ve ever walked along the Thames and appre­ci­at­ed the fact that it no longer stinks.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Lon­dini­um Became Lon­don, Lute­tia Became Paris, and Oth­er Roman Cities Got Their Mod­ern Names

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

“The Won­der­ground Map of Lon­don Town,” the Icon­ic 1914 Map That Saved the World’s First Sub­way Sys­tem

Under­ci­ty: Explor­ing the Under­bel­ly of New York City

The Genius of Har­ry Beck’s 1933 Lon­don Tube Map–and How It Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Sub­way Map Design Every­where

Paris Under­ground

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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