Tim Pendry's Reviews > London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

London Under by Peter Ackroyd
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This short and well written book is an annexe to Ackroyd’s ‘biography’ of London, a history of the city that treats it as if it has a personality. It is also part of the psycho-geographical cast of mind that now defines part of the modern London literary community.

What does he cover? - archaeology, ancient springs, underground rivers, the Fleet, the water conduits, the sewers, the underground railways (at length), the wartime and cold war secret cities and the life of Londoners who went underground in times of danger.

Older and older Londons lie beneath today’s London. We have dug tunnels through all of them. He writes with a fine sense of what it is to be grounded in the city and to partake of its literary and cultural heritage.

My own test was whether he mentioned ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, the classic Hammer horror – he did. But there is not much to review here. It is 180 pages of ‘buried treasure’ and of further reading. I shall be returning to it for just that purpose. I am even considering a Subterranean Britain Facebook Group.

One thought occurs, however. The underground has many symbolic meanings but Ackroyd perhaps does not emphasise one enough, perhaps because it is one for the future. It is a place of resistance as well as a place of secret control. There is a symbolic struggle under the streets.

The organisation of East Enders in war time at 'Mickey's Shelter' by organised crime under a neglectful Government counters the State’s refusal to let any of us take Duncan Campbell’s illicit cycle ride across London through a 20 foot tunnel built for ‘their’ convenience and not ours.

One popular cultural icon Ackroyd does not mention. He should have done so. Dr. Who. In the original ‘Dr Who and the Daleks’, the English resistance (a coded reference back to the sewers of Warsaw, with the Daleks as a remembrance of Nazi storm-troopers) takes place in the London Underground.

Until this book, I had thought resistance underground was no more feasible than the existence of the Daleks. Now I know better. No wonder the State, having built or overseen this massive interconnected warren, is determined to seal off what it can against ‘terrorists’, perhaps against us one day.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 15, 2011 – Shelved
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: five-star
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: british
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: cultural-studies
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: eighteenth-century
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: history
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: london-guides
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: medieval
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: nineteenth-century
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: twentieth-century

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Chris He does mention a Dr. Who episode "The Mysterious Planet"

message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Pendry Thanks for that correction, Chris ... though my comment otherwise stands. I did, indeed, create that Facebook Group - https://www.facebook.com/groups/16100...

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