Number four on my list is The City of London, below ground. Similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, London has many secrets that brim beneath the streets, not just the Vampire Bar in Garlic & Shots, or the London Dungeon. The best place to see the real and authentic London Below is in the historic City of London. Having long become known as London’s business heart, we forget the square mile marks out the original centre of London, itself centring on the original Roman foundations of the city, which tells me the best place to start any quest for London Below is at the heart of the original Roman city.
In the sub basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery you can witness through the darkness the actual remains of Londinium’s amphitheatre. Similar to the coliseum in Roman, this once great site was the heart of Roman society in the ancient city, and yet almost no one now remembers it exists. The ruins were rediscovered when excavating to build the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The Guildhall Art Gallery also houses some of my favourite paintings in its basement, including the terrifyingly beautiful portrait of Clytemnestra, bloodied axe in hand, having freshly murdered her husband Agamemnon after his return from the conquest of Troy (his crime was bringing home the Trojan princess, Cassandra, as a spoil of war).
From the Guildhall it is easy to dip in and out of subterranean vaults all over the city. St Brides church, off Fleet Street, houses an iron coffin to prevent grave robbers and a blackened church altar, the sole surivivor of the great fire in 1666.
St Dunstans-in-the-East near the Tower of London was partially destroyed in the war but remains as a gothic fairytale like Garden that always inspires me when I walk between its crumbling walls.
Back up on the hill above the Tower of London you’ll find All Hallows’ by the Tower, a quaint little church where the vault beneath the ground has become a funerary chapel where you can shuffle down high stacked and closely packed avenues of cremation caskets which seem haphazardly stacked with little plan.
There are a myriad of little gothic secrets below and above ground in the City, but I would personally recommend you top it off by popping into a pub with a delightfully sexy name like The Hung, Drawn and Quartered across the road from All Hallows, or the restaurant in the vaults beneath St. Mary-le-Bow, or perhaps even Dirty Dick’s, a pub across the road from Liverpool Station with a mummified cats in the basement and a sad tale behind the amusing name (just ask someone behind the bar when you visit), or the London Stone, a basement pub on Canon Street running a Gothic theme complete with Gargoyles, a creative shots menu, and toilets accessible through a secret passage behind a bookcase.
In short (or perhaps long because I clearly got carried away) the City of London is always overlooked but should never be underestimated…
“Young man,” he said, “understand this: there are two Londons. There’s London Above―that’s where you lived―and then there’s London Below―the Underside―inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them. Good night.”
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere.