London Under

Peter Ackroyd
London Under

‘If future archaeologists dig this book up from the pressing London clay, they will find a gem of tightly compacted scholarship.’ The Evening Standard

‘Peter Ackroyd illuminates the shadow world within us all.’ The Spectator

London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imaginative, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern tube stations. The depth below is hot, 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, Anglo-Saxon graves were found under St Paul’s, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery a hydraulic device lowered bodies into the catacombs below – ‘Welcome to the lower depths’ – while a door in the plinth of the statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables for gas, water and telephone lines. 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.

“The vastness of space, a second earth”, writes Peter Ackroyd, “elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.” Going under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world.

‘His chapter on the London Underground is fascinating, if strange. The acrid, faintly singed smell down there apparently ‘resembles the smell of hair cut with electric blades’. The fatty smell of McDonalds and KFC may be more familiar to passengers. But Ackroyd’s is a poetic pen. The cylindrical design of the Arnos Grove tube station wins his approval, as does the amazing statue of the archer atop the East Finchley tube.’ The Spectator

‘From lost rivers to Roman baths, Peter Ackroyd’s fascinating new history of the capital reveals how the city’s lifeblood pumps beneath the streets.’ The West End Extra: The Independent London Newspaper


  • Chatto & Windus UK
  • Nan A Talese USA
  • Neri Pozza Italy
  • Edhasa World Spanish
  • Olga Morozova Russia
  • Zysk Poland

Material: finished copies (182pp)