Subterranean London

Subterranean London

The metropolis of London has been occupied for millennia, and has over that time acquired a large number of subterranean structures.

These have served a number of purposes

Water and waste

Since its foundation, the Thames has been at the heart of London. Many tributaries flow into it and over time these have changed from sources of water to open sewers and sources of disease.

As the city developed from a cluster of villages, many of the existing rivers were buried or canalized: see subterranean rivers of London.

The rivers failed to carry the sewage of the growing metropolis. The resulting health crisis led to the creation in the late nineteenth century of the London sewerage system, designed by Joseph Bazalgette, one of the first sewer systems in the world.

The Thames Water Ring Main is a notable modern piece of large-scale water supply infrastructure, comprising 80km of wide-bore water-carrying tunnels.


The London Underground was the first underground railway in the world, and remains the most extensive.

Numerous tunnels underneath the River Thames have been created, ranging from foot-tunnels to road tunnels and the tunnels of the Underground. The first of these, the Thames Tunnel, designed by Marc Brunel, was the first tunnel known to have been successfully constructed underneath a navigable river.

Kingsway has an almost intact underground passageway for trams which is rarely open to the public. See Kingsway tramway subway


Many underground military citadels have been built under London. Few are acknowledged to exist and even fewer open to the public. One exception is the famous, and now very popular tourist destination, Cabinet War Rooms, used by Winston Churchill during World War II.

During World War II, parts of the Underground were converted into air-raid shelters known as the deep-level shelters. Some of these were converted for military and civil defence use, such as the now-defunct Kingsway telephone exchange.

Other civil defence centres in London are wholly or partly underground, mostly as a legacy of the Cold War. Many other subterranean facilities exist within the centre of government in Whitehall, many linked by underground tunnels. [cite book
last =Laurie
first = Peter
title =Beneath the City Streets
publisher = Panther
date = 1979
location =
pages =pages 183 — 211
isbn =978-0586050552
] Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, the Cabinet Office crisis management facility, is probably the best-known of these facilities.

Books written about these facilities, include "Beneath the City Streets" by Peter Laurie and "War Plan UK" by Duncan Campbell.


London, like most other major cities, also has extensive underground infrastructure for electricity distribution, natural gas supply, water supply, and telecommunications, including the BT copper local loops and optical fibre from numerous suppliers.


Underground structures continue to exist in London even though they are no longer in use

* The London Hydraulic Power Company, set up in 1883, installed a hydraulic power network of high-pressure cast iron water mains under London. These were bought by Mercury Communications for use as telecommunications ducts.
* An extensive private underground railway, the London Post Office Railway, was constructed by the Post Office, but is now no longer used.
* There are some closed London Underground stations which are no longer accessible to the public.

ee also

General topics:
* Closed London Underground stations
* Military citadels under London
* London deep-level shelters
* Tunnels underneath the River Thames
* London sewerage system
* Catacombs of London
* Subterranean rivers of London
* Neverwhere, a story set in a fantasy underground LondonIndividual sites of interest:
* Kingsway tramway subway
* Criterion Theatre
* Tower Subway
* King William Street tube station
* Holborn Viaduct Low Level Station
* Oxgate Admiralty Citadel
* Bishopsgate railway station
* Northern Outfall Sewer
* Southern Outfall Sewer
* Great Conduit


* Emmerson, A. and Beard, T. (2004) "London's Secret Tubes", Capital Transport Publishing, ISBN 1-85414-283-6
* Trench, R. and Hillman, E. (1993) "London Under London: A subterranean guide", second revised edition, London: John Murray, ISBN 0-7195-5288-5
* Campbell, Duncan (24 Nov 1983) "War Plan UK". Granada. UK. ISBN 0586084797 & ISBN 978-0586084793

External links

* [ Subterranea Britannica]
* [ Disused stations on the London underground]
* [ Subterranea Britannica research group book list]
* [ Photo gallery of disused tunnels at Euston tube Station]
* [ BLDGBLOG: "London Topological"]

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