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London Under by Peter Ackroyd

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Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 21 April 2011.

London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imaginative, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Tube stations.

If you like Peter Ackroyd you might also like to read books by Barry Unsworth, Andrew Miller and Julian Barnes.

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London Under by Peter Ackroyd

The depth below is hot, warmer than the surface, and tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional – rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. There is a Bronze Age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Anglo-Saxon graves were found under St Paul's, and the monastery of Whitefriars lies beneath Fleet Street. In Kensal Green cemetery a hydraulic device lowered bodies into the catacombs below – ‘Welcome to the lower depths’ – while a door in the plinth of the statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge leads to a huge tunnel, packed with cables for gas, water and telephone lines. When the Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864 the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulphurous fumes, and called their engines by the names of tyrants – Czar, Kaiser, Mogul – and even Pluto, god of the underworld. 'The vastness of the space, a second earth,’ writes Peter Ackroyd, ‘elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.’ Going under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world.

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About the Author

Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is of course a Cockney visionary himself. He has written and presented a 3-part TV series for the BBC on London and few of his prize-winning biographies and novels stray far from his London obsessions - Turner was one of the subjects of a lecture that Ackroyd gave at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1993 (also televised) entitled London Luminaries and Cockney Visionaries; and Turner was also central to his Times article on Reflections on British art. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers, Thames: Sacred River and London: The Biography. He holds a CBE for services to literature.

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


Peter Ackroyd

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