Spies, lascivious monarchs, condemned criminals set to hang and highway men… London certainly has its unsavoury, nefarious historical side. And it’s a side to the UK capital that appeals to many a visitor – they’re fascinated by the city’s dark, malicious and Machiavellian rumours and realities.
One of the most popular aspects of London’s shadiness is speculation of secret subterranean tunnels to be found beneath its surface. London’s full of tunnels, as anyone who knows anything about the city knows, but here’s a selection of possible underground paths that, while they’ve been heavily mooted, their existence has never been proven – perhaps on your trip to the city you might find one…?
Buckingham Palace to the London Underground
Is there an escape route beneath the Palace to the Tube for times of emergency? It’s been proposed a tunnel from Buckingham Palace to Green Park station exists, although– perhaps more likely – it’s also been suggested another one may connect the building above directly with the Victoria Line beneath. The likelihood of either of these suggested tunnels existing is flimsy; it would be more plausible that, given the need for the monarch’s presence among Whitehall mandarins during both WWI and WWII, that there’d be one – and an escape route at that – linking the Palaceto the government complex known to exist beneath the Admiralty (at the other end of The Mall) and Whitehall. Anyway, something to muse on should you choose to stay at the nearby exquisite The Marble Arch by Montcalm London hotel.
MI6 Headquarters, Vauxhall Cross, to Whitehall
The public has known for many years there’s an extensive network of tunnels beneath Whitehall (and used quite a bit by Churchill and co. during the Second World War). However, what other tunnels, if any, are connected to this network and lead elsewhere? A popular notion is that Whitehall is linked to the modern, sleek MI6 HQ at Vauxhall Cross (on the southern embankment of the Thames). Obviously, as such a tunnel would be the ultimate secret tunnel in London, nobody knows for sure – but could the fact James Bond appeared to use similar looking tunnels in the movie Die Another Day suggest there’s some validity to the idea?
St. Ermin’s Hotel, Caxton Street, to Westminster
Long before it relocated to Vauxhall Cross, MI6 – and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) – was based during the Second World War in the elegantly grand St. Ermin’s Hotel in the St. James’s area. A rumour that the hotel of today has done little to quell – indeed it’s only too happy to talk it up, actually (presumably seeing it as some sort of unique selling point) – is there’s a tunnel that starts under its major staircase and stretches to one of the government buildings in Westminster. Presumably any tunnel would have dated back to wartime and been used frequently by those of an espionage persuasion. Perhaps owing to the fact the passage is supposed to lead directly to somewhere near – or in the heart – of British power, its existence has certainly never been verified.
Berry Bros. & Rudd, St. James’s Street, to St. James’s Palace
Another rumour has it that one of the London secret tunnels leads from the posh Berry Bros. & Rudd,a wine shop on St James’s Street, across the Pall Mall and to the palace on the other side. But why would it? An extra quick route for Royals when they have a hankering to visit an off-licence? Not exactly. The notion is that the tunnel has existed for centuries and was originally built so that the charming and, er, very loving Merrie Monarch himself, Charles II, could get to a high-class brothel that once stood on the shop’s site from the Palace, and vice versa, without anyone noticing. And, actually, there seems to be something in this rumour, as the basement of the wine shop apparently features a bricked-up archway pointing in the direction of the Palace.
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to Nell of Old Drury pub
Should this one exist, it would only be a short hop from the world famous stage venue to the pub located in the same street. But what’s the thinking behind the rumour? It’s down to old Charles II again – he’s supposed to have used the tunnel on occasions when he had to get unseen between the theatre and the watering hole, which were both often frequented by the most celebrated of his numerous mistresses, Nell Gwynne. If nothing else, the pub certainly likes to proclaim that the story isn’t the stuff of theatrical fiction.
The Old Baileyto St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate church, Holborn Viaduct
A rather morbid one. The thinking behind this subterranean suggestion is that, as the present day Central Criminal Court of England and Wales stands on the site of Newgate Prison (demolished in 1902), it allowed for members of the clergy to shuffle between the church across the street and the jail in order to visit criminals condemned to death, thus avoiding the baying crowds who’d loiter above, eager to watch a good old-fashioned hanging – or for the start of a procession of ill-fated villains to Tyburn gallows. Although often mentioned in print, there doesn’t appear to be any genuine evidence of such a tunnel ever existing, although the basement of The Old Bailey does hold one particular delight to this day – part of the remains of London’s Roman wall, which is around 1,800 years old.
Sheesh Restaurant, High Street, Chigwell to Chigwell School
Strictly speaking, this candidate isn’t in London, but in the Epping Forest district of Essex, just outside the East End. Now a Turkish restaurant, the one-time Ye Olde King’s Headpub has a rich history as a traditional inn that dates back centuries – apparently it was both a meeting place for the Royalist Roundheads during the Civil War (in the mid-17th Century) and was a favoured haunt of legendary highway man Dick Turpin (whom lived in the early 18th Century). Its proposed tunnel is said to run underground to nearby Chigwell School, supposedly often used as an escape route by Turpin (presumably from the authorities). Nowadays, the sort of standing and delivering on the site is by waiters of, one assumes, fine Turkish cuisine.