London's Hidden Places

Words by
Mark Daly

18th July 2022

Charting a wealth of hidden and unusual places to discover, London Explored shows the city as few have ever seen it. Over 60 intriguing places are featured in the book, from restorations and commercial spaces to rarely opened residences.

Crystal Palace Subway

London’s vast and intricate rail system has lost hardly any of its passenger-carrying tracks since the first lines opened in the 1830s. An ornate subway at Crystal Palace marks a rare exception: a beautiful, isolated relic of a vanished branch line and a reminder of the huge exhibition hall it once served.

The vaulted subway of octagonal columns provided a pedestrian link from a lost terminus station. It was intended to channel first-class passengers direct from the platforms to the main floor of the palace through a courtyard. The nearby Dulwich College estate exerted influence on the high-concept design of the subway and station, which became known as Crystal Palace High Level. The subway has fan vaults resembling church architecture. Patterns on the vaulting are picked out in red and cream bricks. On the ceiling circular roundels in stone enclose more decorative brickwork and iron gaslight fittings. The well-lit sunway was “designed to intrigue and excite”, in the words of conservators.


Crosby Moran Hall

A grand palace by the River Thames in Chelsea, Crosby Moran Hall has been described by English Heritage as “the most important surviving secular domestic medieval building in London”.

Its restoration is the 30-year achievement of businessman and philanthropist Dr Christopher Moran, who has made it his life’s work to put Crosby Moran Hall, London’s only domestic medieval building to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, back into its historical context in terms of architecture. He launched a project unlike any other restoration programme in London — the final aim being to reinstate the art and architecture of the Tudor, Elizabethan and early Stuart periods.

18 Stafford Terrace 

A truly historic meeting was held at 18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, on Guy Fawkes Night in 1957, hosted by Lady Anne Rosse and attended by the poet John Betjeman, artist John Piper and 30 others. That evening it was agreed to launch a society dedicated to the protection and appreciation of Victorian architecture and arts. The first meeting of the newly formed Victorian Society followed in 1858 in the same house. The house itself was a reflection of the movement and inspiration.

Greathead Shield

Marooned at Moorgate station for almost 120 years is a rare example of the Greathead Shield, the technology that dug tunnels for much of the London Underground system. While the earliest tunnels, for the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Inner Circle and District lines, were made by digging up streets, later routes were bored by the Greathead Shield at deeper levels.

The shield lying at Moorgate is unique. A route known as The Big Tube was planned for main-line suburban trains from the north right into the centre of the City, and a Greathead Shield was designed to bore twin tunnels for full-sized rolling stock.

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter, built for air-raid protection, has been repurposed several times in pursuit of the needs of a changing world.

The decision to construct it did not come until after the Blitz on London had started. Any use of Tube stations as shelters had at first been barred by the authorities, who were made to reconsider when thousands forced their way into Liverpool Street Underground Station during air raids in September 1940. Within days, many operational Tube stations were officially sanctioned as shelters and plans were issued for purpose-built deep shelters in in November that year. Eight locations were eventually worked below existing Tube stations, four of them to the north of the Thames and four to the south.

The design was for twin tunnels 100 ft below street level, each a quarter of a mile long with sleeping accomodation for 8,000 people.


London’s Smallest Police Station

A walk towards Trafalgar Square reveals a place bristling with strange features, such as official units of measurement set in stone and bronze; what was once London’s smallest police station converted from a lantern; and curious burn damage to the base of Nelson’s Column.

Foundling Museum 

There cannot be many charities that can boast Hogarth and Handel among their benefactors but the Foundling Hospital, established by philanthropist Thomas Coram in 1741, is one. The symbiotic relationship forged between the arts and the hospital was so successful that both prospered: the benefactors attracted funds and the hospital became a showcase for paintings before the idea of the art gallery had developed.

House Mill

House Mill at Bromley-by-Bow is the UK’s oldest and largest surviving tide mill. Designed to capture high water behind a sluice and then release it to drive mill wheels, tide mills represented state-of-the- art power generation before the steam age. House Mill lies on Three Mills Island, which is partially created by driven oak piles.

Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery

Sir John Soane is acclaimed as one of the greatest British architects, although his legacy in bricks and mortar is relatively meagre as many of his finest buildings have been lost. Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, once his country home, survived largely intact but forgotten for years under layers of paint and ugly Victorian additions. It served as a public library, museum and cultural centre until it reopened after restoration in 2019.