It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hubbub of everything that is going on above ground in London: so many skyscrapers to crane your neck up at, so many pigeons flying overhead… But it wasn’t until we read this fascinating article by Heritage Daily that we realised that there are many hidden wonders to behold right underneath the very ground we walk on. Some of these historical sites date back to Roman times! Get your geek on – this is seriously exciting stuff.
1. Crystal Grotto in Painshill Park
Frequently touted by us as one of the most magical places in London, the Crystal Grotto in Painshill Park was designed and created between 1738 and 1773 by Charles Hamilton (MP). Located in South West London, it is one of many beautiful follies in the park and is a grade listed monument.
2. Pennington Street Vaults
Is this the best wine cellar ever? Quite possibly. Pennington Street Vaults are situated to the east of St Katharine Docks and date back to the early 19th Century, when they were used to store wine and imported goods. The interconnecting cellar space covers an area of over 20 acres, which should be just enough to stock our weekend supply…
3. West Norwood Catacombs
The perfect setting for a ghost story, the catacombs of West Norwood Cemetery lie beneath the former site of the Episcopal Chapel, which was demolished in 1955 due to bomb damage. The cemetery was founded by its own Act of Parliament of 1836 and consecrated for its first burials in 1837. The site is generally not open to the public but if you become a Friend of Norwood Cemetery (what a name), you’ll be notified of any open days.
4. Guildhall East Crypt
We’re speechless. The East Crypt, located underneath Grade I-listed building Guildhall, dates all the way back to Edward the Confessor (1042) and is considered to be one of the earliest and finest examples of its kind in England. Guildhall has been used as a town hall for several hundred years and the administrative and ceremonial centre of the City of London and its corporation.
Shhh.. this one’s a secret. Paddock is the codename for a back-up secret cabinet war room bunker built during WW2 should Whitehall be no longer viable. The bunker complex was constructed under wraps in 1939 in Dollish Hill, underneath part of the Post Office Research Station site. Paddock is designed to be a virtually bomb proof bunker, built on two floors and containing forty rooms to house all branches of the military and primary assets of the government.
6. Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse
The Billingsgate Roman bath house dates back to – yeah, you guessed it – the 2nd-3rd century AD and was first discovered in 1848 during construction of the London Coal Exchange. In the late 1960’s archaeologists dug deeper and explored the ruins; unfortunately, the ruins aren’t open to the public except on Open House day. The site was to become the first designated protected heritage site in London, forming part of the first Ancient Monuments Act of 1882.
7. Whitehall Palace Undercroft Cellar
The Palace of Whitehall was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698 when all except Inigo Jones’s 1622 Banqueting House was destroyed by fire. Before the fire, it had grown to be the largest palace in Europe with over 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican and Versailles! An undercroft from Wolsey’s Great Chamber, now known as Henry VIII’s Wine Cellar survives underneath the Ministry of Defence building, and it’s pretty stunning.
Discover more at Heritage Daily!