Under London

Alan Brooke, David Brandon, Pitkin 2010, £4.99

Pitkin aren’t known for their in-depth analyses of any subject, but that’s not what you buy ‘em for.  They’re cheap and cheerful introductions to a place you visit on a day trip, with just enough info to entertain the casual visitor and pique the curiosity of the relatively few who decide to go further.

Having said that I have a Pitkin Guide to the Cutty Sark from the 1960s positively crammed with information – far too much for the MTV generation of today (admittedly including me)  brought up on soundbites and sidebars. Grainy black and white photographs and large blocks of text don’t look particularly inviting, but they’re certainly substantial, and if memory of my parents grumbling serves, they were comparitively pricey back then.

I’m not aware that I have ever noticed Pitkin for years – certainly I haven’t bought anything (new, obviously – obscure second-hand volumes about weird things still make my spectral fingers itch) but my eye was drawn by Under London in Waterstones the other day.

Pitkin has hipped-up. Admittedly the subject matter was the thing that grabbed me about Under London but when I flicked through I was seduced by the glossy pages, the full colour illustrations – and yes, okay, by the fact that I needed something to read in the coffee shop and I could do this one cover to cover in the time it took to slurp a cappuccino. Oh – and the price. £4.99. You can’t really knock that…

What is it about things that are either very high up or buried beneath your feet? I guess it’s the lure of the unknown but it always seems to be the towers or the tunnels that sell out on Open City (this year on the weekend of the 18th/19th September – put it in your diaries now if you haven’t already…)

London seems to have as much underneath her as on top, and that’s where a guide of this size starts to run out of puff. It’s a really good looking book – lots of shiny photographs (I love George Formby singing about his little stick of Blackpool rock to sheltering Blitz Londoners) and quirky snippets, loosely gathered into themes – cemeteries, underground stations, murder, ghosts, plumbing and sewers – and there are things obscure enough to entertain an Underground London fan, but at 48 pages, this can only ever be a brief overview.

Greenwich, sadly, hardly comes into the picture at all – a fleeting mention of the Foot Tunnel, but nothing about the Swiss cheese that the town becomes further up the hill. I guess that’s forgivable since it’s a London-wide book, and it necessarily has to concentrate on the centre.

So. A handsome paperback, well-priced and with fun, funky facts and a breezy style. It’s not going to replace Antony Clayton’s Subterranean City(which itself could do with a bit of an update) and there is still a big yawning gap for a specifically Underground Greenwich book, but as a shiny intro to the delights under your feet in the City and beyond, it’s an entertaining light read.

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2 Comments to “Under London”

  1. Wiz says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but can you expand on the “nothing about the Swiss cheese that the town becomes further up the hill.” comment.

    I know nothing about underground Greenwich other than the foot tunnel and the DLR…..

  2. Wiz – if you check the ‘Underground greenwich’ category on the sidebar you can see just a few of the marvels underneath our feet that most people don’t know about.