In new Travel Channel show Secrets & Mysteries London (starting 9pm, October 2), presenter Rob Bell gets special access to London’s underground sites. We pick out five secret spots in the nation’s capital that you can also visit…
1. Victorian Catacombs, West Norwood
Underneath Norwood Cemetery hides a series of human-made subterranean passageways, and 95 vaults filled with around 1500 coffins. Each coffin in the Catacombs is different and lined with lead and a layer of elm to keep it watertight and stop the spread of disease. People buried here could have died from a number of grizzly Victorian ailments – the elm would protect the undertakers. Guided tours to this eerie spot happen the first Sunday of every month.
Address: Norwood Rd, West Norwood, London SE27 9JU
Closest train station: West Norwood
2. Churchill’s Secret War Rooms and Paddock Bunker, west and north London
Churchill’s Secret War Rooms is the wartime bunker that sheltered the prime minister and his important people during the Blitz. Here they discussed secret war strategies in The War Cabinet Room, just four miles from Parliament. Wandering around, you can just sense the stress people working underground would have been under – every decision made could have had severe consequences for the nation, and indeed the world. However, in north London, the construction of a back-up shelter (codenamed Paddock) was ordered, located 40 feet below ground level, under a Post Office Research Station it contains 50 room gas and bomb proof bunkers, contact Stadium Housing Association for special access.
Address: Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ and Brook Road, Dollis Hill, NW2 7BJ
Nearest Tube: Westminster and Brent Cross
3. Aldwych Station, Aldwych
Opened in 1907, this ghost tube station was closed after suffering from low passenger numbers (something we can hardly fathom these days). Now these eerie tunnels sit beneath the streets, mostly unused, except for a few special visits and film shoots. Scenes from Woman in Black II, Creep, The Prodigy’s Firestarter music video, Sherlock, 28 Weeks Later, Mr Selfridge and The Krays were filmed here, among others. In WWII, these tunnels doubled as air raid shelters for the public. Families would sleep in between the tracks in hammocks and bed down on the platforms to avoid the blitz. However, it’s not known whether the station would sustain a bomb, as none were ever dropped directly above it.
Access is given to the public a few times a year (keep an eye on the TFL events here) and the space can be hired for special events. Alternatively, the entrance can be seen anytime.
Address: Surrey Street, WC2R 2NS
Closest (working) Tube station: Embankment
4. St Bride’s Church, City of London
There’s been a church in this very spot for more than 2000 years. The current church is the eighth reincarnation of the building. In WWII the Blitz flattened the church, leaving an interesting discovery – a giant crypt below the ground floor. Archaeologists did some digging and found another 1000 years of history. During a tour of the crypt, visitors can see the different layers in the walls, dating back centuries, and view an exhibition about the remains of 200 bodies found in this creepy spot. The church is open seven days a week, and tours run every Tuesday afternoon.
Address: Fleet St, EC4Y 8AU
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars
5. Chislehurst Caves, Chislehurst
Just outside London, under street level, sits 22 miles of manmade foot tunnels, which were dug over a period of 8000 years. Originally used as chalk and flint mines, people worked in these dark passageways from the 1830s, and still work in them (doing guided tours rather than mining). In WWII, this network of passageways became a city of 15,000 people. They had electric lighting, a chapel and a hospital down here during the Blitz. Later, in the ’60s, the caves we used as a music venue by David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. Doctor Who episode The Mutants (1972) was also filmed here, as was an episode of ghost series Most Haunted. During a lantern-lit tour, guides will take you deep into the belly of the cave and then turn out the lights, so you can see how dark it is. Trust us, you wouldn’t want to be down here on your own, you may never find your way out.
Address: Caveside Close Chislehurst, BR7 5NL
Nearest train station: Chislehurst Railway Station