Down in the Depths by Barbara Nadel

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You would think that somebody who has just fallen headlong into a cellar and broken their leg would be less than keen on the subterranean. I wish I could say that were true, (I am a clumsy type after all) but it just isn’t. Show me a mysterious grille in the middle of the pavement and I will break every nail I have as I attempt to lift it up. Many moons ago I was actually lowered into a Byzantine cistern by my wrists whilst holding a torch in my mouth. Then of course there was my attempted foray into a disused Victorian public toilet just off Great Portland Street. But let us draw a veil over that one. I like things ‘down there’ and so I was absolutely delighted when my latest book ‘Death by Design’, just ‘happened’ to include subterranean action underneath the streets of London.

As well as acting in a distinctly suspicious manner in underground railway stations and foot tunnels, I had to do a good deal of research for this book. It was during the course of researching and making useful contacts that I came upon an organisation called The Old London Underground Company. The brainchild of a charming man called Ajit Chambers, The Old London Underground Company (TOLUC) is opening up London’s neglected subterranean tunnels and disused underground stations. There are lots of them and they are fascinating. Back in the 1980’s my son and his classmates from his old school in the City of London visited the disused Mark Lane station on Byward Street. This was the forerunner to Tower Hill and its dimly lit platforms can still be seen from trains going from Tower Hill towards Monument. But that’s just catching a glimpse. Going down into the station, which is a time capsule from the late 1960s, is quite another matter. TOLUC wants to open up places like this for tourism for community and corporate meetings and events and just for the sheer joy that providing a window upon a very important aspect of London’s history will bring. These tunnels and stations represent some of the best examples of Victorian engineering anywhere in the country. The ingenuity employed to build these networks is truly staggering as is the part such underground workings have played in the overall history of London.

On a personal level I find all of this very exciting and I am pleased that the Company is attracting support even at this problematic time. But then recession or no recession, innovation must and should proceed. 2010 has not started at all well for me (old broken leg) but things like TOLUC make me feel optimistic and raise a smile. Pulling such an ambitious project off will be a huge coup and I for one can’t wait for those tunnels to open. For anyone else who is a bit of a subterranean freak more details about The Old London Underground Company can be requested from the website: www.theoldlondonundergroundcompany.com

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