When you think about being underground while you’re in London you may be thinking about what the locals call “The Tube”, the busy maze of underground tunnels that take millions of people around London by train every year, however, there’s a lot more to explore underground than the Tube.
Whether you’ve already booked your London vacation rentals or you’ve just decided to head to the city for your vacation, you may want to make the most of your time in the UK’s capital city, and you can do this by spending some of it below the surface.
The Postal Railway
Travel back to Victorian London, and to a time when the Post Office was receiving a lot more mail than it could cope with. With millions of letters to deliver every single day, the Post Office started to struggle with the load and sending their workers through the ever-busy streets was proving difficult. So, a solution was born, and this solution involved blasting mail cars through underground tunnels using air so that the mail could be sent to various parts of the city.
The Postal Railway was deemed a success, so much so that the operators of the railway had to politely decline the requests of members of the public who wanted to ride the cars so they could reach their destination a little quicker!
These days passengers are allowed on board, and you can travel on the Mail Rail for 15 minutes on miniature trains and explore the underground. More than 100 years old and still working well, as you move along the tracks you will hear and see the people who worked on the Postal Railway, and learn a little bit about what life was like underground, and how the mail kept moving for 22 hours a day, every day.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
London may be full of foot and tram tunnels and most of them are either being used by trains or they’re simply been closed down. However, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is still open, and it’s still well worth a visit. Running right underneath the Thames and next to the famous ship the Cutty Sark, the foot tunnel was built back in 1902 and was made so people could walk to the London Docklands where they worked.
Running for 370 metres and open to those who wish to walk or cycle through the tunnel the structure itself was made from cast iron and concrete and is home to 100 steps that you’ll need to descend and then climb at the other end. If you don’t fancy climbing all of those steps you could always take the lift instead.
If you are a fan of the London Underground, chances are you may wish to explore some of the abandoned underground stations that are no longer in use. Known as ‘Ghost stations’ they were once used by trains and people every day, but they now sit silent and often keep their history to themselves unless a visitor or two should appear.
One of the best ways for you to see one of the many ghost stations is to take part in one of the London Transport Museums hidden tours, where you will have the opportunity to see as many ghost stations as you please. Led by experienced guides who are eager to tell you some little-known and slightly spine-tingling stories, the tours take you not only to disused stations but a variety of secret sites that are dotted across London.
Some of the destinations include Winston Churchill’s Mayfair bunker, Highgate, and Clapham South. If a ghost station is somewhere you definitely want to visit you should sign up for the Transport Museums newsletter and you’ll be informed about upcoming tours.
Catacombs and the Magnificent Seven
In Victorian London, the streets were crowded with many people, and unfortunately so were the graveyards. A solution was needed as the local churches were no longer able to cope so seven cemeteries were built between 1832 and 1841 and each of them contain approximately 250,000 people.
Known affectionately as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ the cemeteries are all very atmospheric and need to be seen to be believed. Karl Marx and George Eliot’s graves can be found at Highgate cemetery, which is always worth a visit, especially if you do not want to venture underground. If you love nothing more than to visit somewhere slightly spooky, you may want to head to West Norwood, Kensal Green, or Brompton. If you would like to see wooden coffins that have started to crumble and floral tributes that were left there in the 1800’s, you need to head to Brompton. Movie lovers may be particularly interested in the iron doors as they were used in Guy Ritchie’s movie ‘Sherlock Holmes’.
There is simply so much to do in London, but many visitors and locals alike do not know that there’s a whole world beneath their feet just waiting to be explored. Ride on the Mail Rail and experience what life was like for those who worked below the surface. Make your way through Greenwich Foot Tunnel and use the lift or the stairs, visit catacombs and feel a slight unease as the air becomes colder and the light starts to fade. Visit ghost stations and learn about historic bunkers, what they were used for, and why. There is so much going on in London beneath the surface, isn’t it time you visited and got a real taste of what hidden London was like many years ago?