London Under

London Under

Book - 2011
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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."
Publisher: London : Chatto & Windus, 2011
ISBN: 9780701169916
Branch Call Number: 942.1 ACK 2011
Characteristics: 202 p


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Mar 12, 2018

This is an interesting book. As someone else pointed out, it's more poetic than instructional. I was, however, able to get out my mini London A-Z (a gold-standard roadmap) and follow some of the above-ground trails, because he gets *very* specific about locations.

I agree with another reviewer, that I would have liked a few more details amongst the poetry, but the book is almost a surrealist painting, creating a gloomy, dreamy state of almost stagnation feeling the warmth and dark of the astonishing preponderance of underground tunnels. It's worth a read.

Jun 11, 2017

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. For example, the unique class of mosquito that has developed underground is a fascinating subject that got just a mere mention. I wanted to hear more about these.
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.

Apr 02, 2016

I've always been ghoulishly interested in "the hidden" -- hidden histories, hidden doorways, hidden stairwells, hidden tunnels. If it's hidden, I'm curious.

A co-worker who shares this interest recommended Peter Ackroyd's book, and while it's not the hefty, footnote-filled tome I was hoping for, it skims the surface well enough to lead me to more detailed reading.

Overall, I enjoyed this easy, engaging glimpse into London's "under."

ColemanRidge Dec 05, 2011

I've read a few books and articles describing hidden parts of big cities, and likely so have you. This one is different in a couple of respects: the writing is quite good, and London was already old when the Romans got there. London is built on sand and clay, so that buildings would sink into the soil. First floors became basements. When buildings collapsed and were built over, as happened repeatedly, they were pressed down till they hit clay too dense to penetrate further, and then crushed. So, as well as walking over underground rivers, forgotten cellars, vaults, catacombs, tunnels, bomb shelters, and switchrooms, Londoners walk over flattened earlier versions of the city. Some of those earlier cities belong underground. They were very much like Hell.

jayblock Nov 16, 2011

I wonderful read for the strong and adventurous stomach. An indepth journey and exploration of the London underground in its many permutations. The author has a great tour guide voice and clearly a love and fascination with the myth, magic and triumphs of the hidden burrows beneath our feet.

Sep 08, 2011

A subtle and poetic book.

Jun 25, 2011

‘London Under’ reads like a collection of short, factual stories about the world beneath the streets of London. From crypts and prayer rooms to the famous London Underground and bomb shelters, Peter Ackroyd gives the history of how and why these things were built, how they were lost and rediscovered, and their evolving functions to meet the needs of the citizens of London. A neat read for history buffs.

May 25, 2011

Fragmentary, his usual collection of facts, but lacking any real cohesion

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