I’m all for esoteric knowledge. I have books on the history of facial hair, smiles, and colors (and I may review them). That being said, when I saw a mention of this book I was immediately interested, and very happy when it appeared under my Christmas tree (Thanks, Mom!). For some reason my dog ALSO was quite happy, and as a consequence my copy is slightly battered.
I expected something from this book: an indepth sort of travel guide to the areas below London. I was not disappointed, but I got something different. Ackroyd’s writing style is somewhat more formal than I anticipated, a stately discussion as opposed to chatty information. It did take some getting used to but once I was it proved to be a good investment.
The first and (to me) most interesting connection that Mr. Ackroyd makes is the connection between the underground and a sense of both the holy and profane. The devil comes from below, but we bury people in the earth as well. People have looked to the underground for safety in the form of bomb shelters for years, and he includes some harrowing tales of the Blitz.
The ground holds historical discoveries as well; the massive undertaking of the Tube and other construction revealed amazing archaeological treasures, many sadly discarded in the march of progress. The supernatural is also touched upon, such as the mention of a possibly haunted tunnel at Lower Robert Street, the home of a murdered prostitute named Poor Jenny.
Of course, one common idea that is brought up when we say “tunnels” is “secrets” and Mr. Ackroyd does not disappoint. He details several innocuous-looking entrances throughout London, and the number of them and their proximity to governmental buildings is tantalizing. All in all he gives a complete and informative account of the unseen areas below England’s capital, something Americans can only envy in our own cities.