This is a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of verything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs. The depth below is hot, much 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, Wren found Anglo-Saxon graves under St Paul’s, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery there was a hydraulic device to lower bodies into the catacombs below — „Welcome to the lower depths“. A door in the plinth of statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables — gas, water, telephone. 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.

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

Peter Ackroyd (* 5. Oktober 1949 in London) ist ein britischer Schriftsteller, der bekannt ist für seine Romane und Biografien.
Peter Ackroyd wurde von seiner Mutter, die im Personalbüro einer Maschinenbaufirma arbeitete, alleine großgezogen. Sein Vater verließ die Familie, als Ackroyd noch ein Säugling war. Schon im Alter von fünf Jahren las der Junge Zeitungen, im Alter von neun Jahren schrieb er ein Stück über Guy Fawkes.

Ackroyd studierte Englisch am Clare College in Cambridge, wo er 1971 den Master of Arts machte, später an der Yale University.

Nach seinem Studium arbeitete Peter Ackroyd 1973 bis 1982 für die britische Zeitschrift The Spectator.[1] 1984[2] wurde er Mitglied der Royal Society.[3] Gegenwärtig ist er Chef-Literaturkritiker der Times und Radiomoderator.

Unterwelten sind faszinierend, selbst wenn es nur die Zwischenschächte zwischen U-Bahn und Gehweg in Frankfurt sind – auf mich übt so etwas eine fast magische Anziehungskraft aus. Entsprechend habe ich mich auf das Buch gefreut, welches sich leider auf reines Namedropping beschränkt und beschreibt, wo etwas ist und von dem man sich mangels Bildern keine Vorstellung machen kann. Das führte dazu, dass ich ständig zum Computer gelaufen bin, oft nur um festzustellen, dass die Krypta der Southwark Cathedral (wunderschöne Kirche, warum war ich dort noch nicht?) nicht auffindbar war, ähnlich verhielt es sich mit dem Keller eines Gasthauses.

Das war irgendwann ziemlich frustrierend, weswegen ich die Lektüre aufgab; im Mai kommt das Buch neu raus, evt gibt es dann mehr Fotos.
Letztendlich habe ich nur gelernt, dass London zu den Städten gehört, bei denen man bei jedem Spatenstrich auf historische Hinterlassenschaften stoßen kann, durch die Zerstörungen im 2. Weltkrieg viel freigelegt wurde und durch London 13 Flüsse verlaufen, u.a. der Fleet (womit ich weiß, woher die Fleet Street ihren Namen hat).

Fazit:

Die Idee zu dem Buch ist gut, die Umsetzung schlecht. Durch Cities of the Underworld – Londons Lost Cities lernt man mehr.

Gebundene Ausgabe: 192 Seiten
Verlag: Chatto & Windus (2. Mai 2011)
Sprache: Englisch
ISBN-10: 0701169915
ISBN-13: 978-0701169916
Größe und/oder Gewicht: 14 x 1,9 x 20,3 cm


‚Plate 69: Adelphi Arches‘, Survey of London: volume 18: St Martin-in-the-Fields II: The Strand (1937), pp. 69. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=68357 Date accessed: 09 February 2012.

Many novelists, philanthropists, and newspaper writers have dwelt much upon the horrible character of a series of subterranean chambers or vaults in the vicinity of the Strand, called the Adelphi Arches. It is by no means even now understood that these arches are the most innocent and harmless places in London, whatever they might once have been. A policeman is on duty there at night, expressly to prevent persons who have no right or business there from descending into their recesses.

They were probably erected in order to form a foundation for the Adelphi Terrace. Let us suppose there were then no wharves, and no embankments, consequently the tide must have ascended and gone inland some distance, rendering the ground marshy, swampy, and next to useless. The main arch is a very fine pile of masonry, something like the Box tunnel on a small scale, while the other, running here and there like the intricacies of catacombs, looks extremely ghostly and suggestive of Jack Sheppards, Blueskins, Jonathan Wilds, and others of the same kind, notwithstanding they are so well lighted with gas. There is a doorway at the end of a vault leading up towards the Strand, that has a peculiar tradition attached to it. Not so very many years ago this door was a back exit from a notorious coffee and gambling house, where parties were decoyed by thieves, blacklegs, or prostitutes, and swindled, then drugged, and subsequently thrown from this door into the darkness of what must have seemed to them another world, and were left, when they came to themselves, to find their way out as best they could.

Text: London Labour and the London Poor

From a viewing platform, one can see the gravelled surface of the Roman road that ran from the bridgehead across the Cathedral site to meet the riverbank opposite the House of Parliament, and the Saxon foundations of the early church.

Archaelogical Chamber

To the east of the medieval remains are the brick arches of a 17th century pottery kiln. It was in 1614 that an application was made to make pottery ‚after the manner of Fiansa‘ (Florence). Part of the old ‚fratree‘ of the monastery was used as a pot house and colour house. The kilns were uncomfortably close to the church and a small fire in the 18th century ensured that the pottery was finally closed.

 

Southwark Cathedral timeline.pdf


‚Plate 34: St. Pancras Wells. The long room‘, Survey of London: volume 19: The parish of St Pancras part 2: Old St Pancras and Kentish Town (1938), pp. 34. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=64913 Date accessed: 09 February 2012