London Under

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9780099287377: London Under

From the author of the bestselling London: The Biography, a poetic and powerful urban history of life and legend beneath London.

This is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of verything 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."
From the Hardcover edition.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

PETER ACKROYD is an award-winning novelist, as well as a broadcaster, biographer, poet and historian. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers, Thames: Sacred River and London: The Biography. He holds a CBE for services to literature.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

1. DARKNESS VISIBLE

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.

A vast concourse of people, buried deep within the clay of the Eocene period, move beneath your feet in underground trains. Rooms and corridors have been created for the settlement of thousands of people in the event of calamity. You are also treading on the city of the past, all of its history from the prehistoric settlers to the present day packed within 24 feet of earthen fabric. The past is beneath us. It exists still as the companion of the present city. It is crowded. It has its own heat. A hundred feet beneath the ground the temperature hovers at 19° Celsius or 65° Fahrenheit. It was once a little cooler, but the heat of the electric trains has quickened it. The clay surrounding the tunnels has absorbed the warmth.

In a previous book I have explored the city above the surface; now I wish to descend and explore its depths, which are no less bewildering and no less exhilarating. Like the nerves within the human body, the underworld controls the life of the surface. Our activities are governed and sustained by materials and signals that emanate from beneath the ground; a pulse, an ebb, a flow, a signal, a light, or a run of water, will affect us. It is a shadow or replica of the city; like London itself it has developed organically with its own laws of growth and change. It was said of the Victorian Londoner, wrapped in fog and darkness, that he or she would not know the difference between the two worlds. The underworld is haphazard and wayward, with many abandoned passages and vast tunnels of brick leading nowhere. Beneath Piccadilly Circus is another great circus of myriad ways. The roads that converge on the Angel, Islington, have their counterparts beneath the surface.

It is an unknown world. It is not mapped in its entirety. It cannot be seen clearly or as a whole. There are maps of gas facilities, of telecommunications, of cables and of sewers; but they are not available for public perusal. The dangers of sabotage are considered to be too great. So the underworld is doubly unknowable. It is a sequestered and forbidden zone. It must be said, too, that there is little interest in this vast underworld. To fear is added indifference. What is not seen is not respected. The majority of pedestrians do not know or care that vast caverns exist beneath their feet; as long as they can see the sky, they are content.

Yet there may be monsters. The lower depths have been the object of superstition and of legend as long as there have been men and women to wonder. The minotaur, half man and half bull, lived in a labyrinth buried beneath the palace at Knossos in Crete. A dog with three heads, Cerberus, guarded the gates of the underworld in classical myth. The Egyptian god of the underworld, Anubis, was a man with the head of a jackal. The journey under ground prompted strange transformations. Anubis was also known as "the lord of the sacred land," with the world beneath the ground creating a spiritual as much as a material presence. The great writers of antiquity-Plato and Homer, Pliny and Herodotus-have described the underground worlds as places of dream and hallucination. Most of the great religions have created temples and shrines beneath the surface of the earth. Terror lingers in caverns and caves, where there may be subterranean rivers and fires. Sixteen thousand years ago the wandering people of Europe lived in or beside the entrances to caves; but they painted frescoes in the deeper and darker spaces of the caverns. The further downward you travel, the closer you come to the power.

Good and evil can be found side by side; enchantment and terror mingle. If the underworld can be understood as a place of fear and of danger, it can also be regarded as a place of safety. A subterranean space may be the object of attraction as well as of fear. Healing wells and places of worship lie beneath the streets. Like a mother, the lower deep may have a warm embrace. It is a haven from the outside world. It is a refuge from attack. In the darkness you cannot be seen. In the world wars of the last century it became a shelter for many thousands of people. The catacombs of Rome protected the early Christians. We can repeat the words of Mr. Mole to Mr. Badger from The Wind in the Willows (1908): "Once well underground, you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you." "That's exactly what I say," Mr. Badger replies. "There's no security, or peace and tranquillity, except underground." There has always been a London world beneath London. The author of Unknown London (1919), Walter George Bell, remarked that "I have climbed down more ladders to explore the buried town than I have toiled up City staircases." There is more below than there is above. It is stated in one London guidebook, "certain it is that none who knows London would deny that its treasures must be sought in its depths."

Yet malefactors of the past were also consigned beneath the surface. The medieval prison, or compter, was essentially a hole or pit in the ground. The deeper the prisoner was taken in the Tower of London, the more vile the durance. One of the least desirable places in London is the underground prison beside Clerkenwell Green known as the House of Detention. It consists of a dank and cold series of tunnels, with small cells and other rooms ranged alongside them; the structure is cruciform in shape, and was once the basement of a larger building. Much of its brickwork dates from the late eighteenth century, and it is imbued with generations of suffering. Its arches, leading to covered chambers, are of the same date. It was used as a gaol for more than 250 years, and did not finally close until 1877. It is believed by many people to be malignant and is popularly supposed to be haunted. It is appropriate, perhaps, that the shades of the dead should still wander beneath the earth. The river Styx, moving underground between the living and the dead, still flows.

The subterranean world can be a place of fantasy, therefore, where the ordinary conditions of living are turned upside down. In the nineteenth century it was seen as a sanctuary for criminals, for smugglers, and for what were known as "night wanderers"; the cellars and tunnels beneath the ground were described as "hidden haunts of vice" populated by "the wild tribes of London" or the "City Arabs." They were supposed to harbour a criminal "underworld" that emerged only at night. According to John Hollingshead, the author of Underground London (1862), the tunnels were "black and dangerous labyrinths for the innocent stranger."

But the underworld can also become a place of romance, where the childhood impulse to hide can be indulged to the wildest extent. The idea of secret passages, of mysterious entrances and exits, of retreat and concealment, possesses an incurable charm. Yet if we are not found, in the game of hide-and-seek, what then? What if we were left alone in the darkness, our companions gone into the light?

Underground chambers and tunnels have been formed, and found, over the centuries. There are extensive catacombs in Camden Town, beneath Camden Market, and prehistoric tunnels are to be found under Greenwich Park. A German traveller of the eighteenth century noted that "one third of the inhabitants of London live under ground"; by which he meant that the poor dwelled in the curious basements or "cellar dwellings" that were once so common in the city. They were entered by steps leading down from the street to a well "which was supposed to be closed at nightfall by a flap." The poor were thus consigned to the lowest level. The vagrants of London often lived under bridges and under arches, replicating the conditions beneath the ground.

The Adelphi arches, just south of the Strand, once offered a glimpse of an old underworld. The Adelphi itself was built in the 1770s upon a series of vaults and arches that were described as "a reminder of the Etruscan cloaca of old Rome." In the nineteenth century these became a haven for criminals and beggars. It was reported in the public prints that assassins were concealed "in the dark arches," such as those that make up Lower Robert Street, exploiting the passageways, tunnels, precipitous steps, sudden turnings and high- arched doorways. Horses did not like to venture through them. Stalactites hung from their roofs. Cows were stabled there, and passed their lives in darkness.

Lower Robert Street is still forbidding; it is one of the few underground streets in London, and of course has the reputation of being haunted by a murdered prostitute. In his Picturesque Sketches of London (1852) Thomas Miller described the region of shadows lying between the Strand and the Thames with "the black-browed arches that span right and left, before and behind, covering many a rood of ground on which the rain never beats, nor the sunbeams sleep, and at the entrance of which the wind only seems to howl and whine, as if afraid of venturing further into the darkness." They were another reminder of the London depths.
The geology of London is a clue to the labyrinth beneath. The city sits upon a bed of sand, gravel, clay and chalk that make up the London Basin. Deep beneath them are the rocks of the Palaeozoic period shaped hundreds of millions of years before; no one has reached them yet. Above them lie levels of ancient materials that are known as Gault clay and upper greensand. In turn they support broad bands of chalk laid down when the site of London lay below a vast sea. Upon the chalk rests the clay. London clay is thick, viscous, and malleable; it is a greenish blue colour, but in its upper reaches it is reddish brown. It was formed more than fifty million years ago. This is the material in which the underworld of London sits. It is the material ...

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. London Under is an atmospheric, imaginative introduction to everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Underground stations. This book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, both real and fictional, that dwell in the darkness - rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. From the Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul s, to the hydraulic device in Kensal Green cemetery which lowered bodies into the catacombs below, to the fossils uncovered when the Victoria Line was built and the gold bars within the Bank of England s vaults, London Under takes you into a hidden world, beneath our feet. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780099287377

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Descripción Vintage Publishing, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. London Under is an atmospheric, imaginative introduction to everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Underground stations. This book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, both real and fictional, that dwell in the darkness - rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. From the Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul s, to the hydraulic device in Kensal Green cemetery which lowered bodies into the catacombs below, to the fossils uncovered when the Victoria Line was built and the gold bars within the Bank of England s vaults, London Under takes you into a hidden world, beneath our feet. Nº de ref. de la librería AAZ9780099287377

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Descripción Vintage, 2012. Estado de conservación: New. 2012. Paperback. From original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Underground stations, this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, both real and fictional, that dwell in the darkness of London - rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. Num Pages: 208 pages, Illustrations, maps, ports. BIC Classification: 1DBKESL; HBJD1. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 130 x 16. Weight in Grams: 200. . . . . . . Nº de ref. de la librería V9780099287377

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Descripción Vintage. Estado de conservación: New. 2012. Paperback. From original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Underground stations, this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, both real and fictional, that dwell in the darkness of London - rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. Num Pages: 208 pages, Illustrations, maps, ports. BIC Classification: 1DBKESL; HBJD1. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 130 x 16. Weight in Grams: 200. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Nº de ref. de la librería V9780099287377

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