Top-secret bunkers, abandoned Tube stations and London’s first skyscraper: Kohinoor Sahota discovers hidden locations across the capital
Take a tour of secret places, from disused Underground stations to subterranean bunkers.
Keeping a secret in London is difficult. So much can easily be discovered, from where the Queen buys her handbags to the curry house loved by the former Prime Minister David Cameron. When something tries to remain hush-hush, it often gains more attention, such as speakeasystyle bars behind unassuming doors and the immersive Secret Cinema, which often gives you clues to work out what films are being screened.
The London Transport Museum – filled with old and new vehicles, including the world’s first Underground steam train – has created tours across locations that are not normally open to the public. There are four tours: London’s first skyscraper at 55 Broadway, once London Underground’s headquarters; Euston Station’s tunnels that are no longer used; Clapham South’s subterranean shelter; and Churchill’s secret Tube station at Down Street in Mayfair (pictured). These tours require a lot of walking, so wear your most sturdy shoes – if you have heels or opentoe shoes on, you may be refused entry.
During World War II, Clapham South’s subterranean shelter and Down Street were both used as a place of refuge. Clapham South’s shelter, which is 180 steps below the ground, protected Londoners during the Blitz and housed Caribbean migrants before they found jobs and accommodation. Down Street, meanwhile – a short-lived station that was open between 1907 and 1932 – was a bomb-proof bunker for Sir Winston Churchill.
For the Down Street tour, the Transport Museum has teamed up with the recently refurbished Athenaeum Hotel and Residences to create an enhanced experience for visitors. Jeremy Hopkins, general manager of the hotel, says: ‘Our apartments were built in 1890 so Down Street would have been the closest Tube station. We look forward to welcoming guests so they can experience London’s history as well as our own.’ The bunkers may be gloomy, but you can add some glamour to the proceedings with an afternoon tea. In Galvin at the Athenaeum, the new restaurant created by Michelin-starred brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, the tea is themed around London’s hidden locations and is served in a room overlooking Green Park. In 2012, the Tea Guild gave it the ‘Best Afternoon Tea in London’ award, so you know that this will certainly be a high tea. And, if you are wondering where those handbags come from and what curry house it is – it’s Launer and Khas Tandoori in Kensal Rise respectively. Just don’t tell anyone… Check for dates. T: 020-7565 7298. www.ltmuseum.co.uk
DOWN STREET STATION WAS A BOMB-PROOF BUNKER FOR SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL”
Visit secret spaces, from the hospital that performed the world’ s first successful Caesarean to the city’ s only Roman baths
During a royal coronation, wedding or funeral, you will often see a procession pass under Admiralty Arch. The Grade I-listed building, completed in 1912, is at the opposite end of Buckingham Palace. Look closely at the inside of the northernmost arch and you will see a curious thing: a nose poking out of the wall. Rumour had it that it was put there in honour of the Duke of Wellington, who was known to have a large nose. In fact, it was created by artist Rick Buckley to complain about the country becoming a nosy, CCTV-reliant society. The Mall, SW1A 2WH
‘NAZI DOG’ BURIAL PLACE
There is only one memorial to a Nazi in the country: Giro the dog’s grave. German ambassador Leopold von Hoesch lived in Carlton House, just off The Mall. In 1934, his dog, an Alsatian, was accidentally electrocuted. Hoesch buried his beloved pet in the back garden, and the grave can be peered at by visitors. The epitaph reads: ‘A faithful companion.’ Carlton House Terrace, St James’s, SW1Y 5AH
A SPEAKEASY BAR
Once you have found the discreet door, you descend down some dark stairs into what appears to be a 1920s office before being interrogated by a detective. He finally pulls a lever, a bookcase rotates and a bar is revealed. Welcome to Evans & Peel Detective Agency, part of the speakeasy trend that has gripped the capital. In this haunt, savvy visitors can discover the illicit thrill of Prohibition bars – without the risk of being raided by police. 310c Earl’s Court Rd, SW5 9BA
Central London is full of still, small oases of calm, if you know where to look. Visit the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, which boasts a waterfall, koi carp, a stone bridge and roaming peacocks. The garden was donated by the Chamber of Commerce of Kyoto in 1991, and is a much-loved gem. 112-114 Holland Park Avenue,
OLD OPERATING THEATRE MUSEUM & HERB GARRET
Climb a winding staircase into the Old Operating Theatre, which was built in 1822 as part of St Thomas’ Hospital as a surgery for women. The theatre was a gruesome place to visit: students would watch procedures taking place where no anaesthesia or antiseptic were used. They included amputations that would be over in a minute, and one of the world’s first Caesarean sections in which the mother and child survived. The latter was performed by Dr James Barry, a woman who hid her gender in order to work. When you visit, you’ll find instruments used to carry out operations, such as an amputation set with a saw. It is not for the faint-hearted! 9a St Thomas St, SE1 9RY
The Savoy, which opened in 1889, is one of London’s most luxurious hotels – and you don’t even have to stay here for a glimpse of its fascinating history. Loved by actors, inside you will see the guest cards of Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Charlie Chaplin. Marlene Dietrich’s guest card reveals her request for 12 pink roses and a bottle of Dom Pérignon. There is also Noël Coward’s lighter and cigarette, and the first bottle of Champagne the hotel poured when it opened. Strand, WC2R 0EU
VIKTOR WYND MUSEUM OF CURIOSITIES, FINE ART & NATURAL HISTORY
Extinct bird feathers, a giant anteater’s skeleton and dodo bones – this little shop of horrors is one of the most unusual museums you’ll find in London. This tiny space in Hackney holds exhibitions and talks, from a petting zoo evening where you can get close to pythons, frogs and tarantulas, to taxidermy classes. It was founded by artist Viktor Wynd, who also runs fairytale-like balls which involve dressing up in masks and dancing the Charleston. 11 Mare St, E8 4RP
ANCIENT ROMAN BATHS
London’s only Roman baths, which appear to be a plunge pool, are close to Embankment Station. The baths were first written about in 1784 by John Pinkerton as a ‘fine antique bath’, and in Charles Dickens’ DavidCopperfield, the protagonist uses the old Roman Bath ‘at the bottom of one of the streets out of the Strand’. The baths are free to visit on Wednesday afternoons, but you must book ahead. 5 Strand Lane, WC2R
Old Operating Theatre Museum; Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities; Kyoto Garden