London's Rumoured Secret Tunnels

M@
By M@ Last edited 37 months ago
London's Rumoured Secret Tunnels

We're all familiar (and fascinated) with the subterranean London of sewers, abandoned tube stations and lost rivers. All that stuff is generously documented across the web, as well as in numerous books. But what about the other tunnels? Rumoured tunnels. The escape routes of Dick Turpin, the covert corridors of spies and monarchs. The tunnels of pub legend that may or may not have some basis in fact.

We've started a map to collect together these putative passages. Please do feed us with information about other rumours and legends in the comments below. And if you happen to work at one of the places listed, we'd be especially interested to hear from you.

Argyll Arms to the Palladium

The nearest pub to Oxford Circus has a splendid Victorian interior, but the building dates back further, to 1742. According to the pub's website, a tunnel used to run from here to the Duke of Argyll's home, where the Palladium now stands.

Does it exist? We have no evidence for this, beyond the assertion on the pub's website.

Berry Brothers to St James's Palace

Berry Brothers and Rudd is a posh wine merchant on St James's Street. It's been there centuries, and its vast basement is even older. Rumour has it that a passage runs from the shop to the palace on t'other side of Pall Mall. It supposedly dates from the Stuart era, when Merry Monarch Charles II would use it to slip across the road unnoticed into a high-class brothel.

Does it exist? We've seen this one. Sort of. The basement definitely contains a bricked up archway pointing in the direction of the Palace. The staff at the time of our visit did not know what was behind the sealed portal, nor when it was bricked up.

Black Lion to Old Spotted Dog

Two very old east London pubs, the former in Plaistow, the latter (sadly long-closed) in Forest Gate. An old smugglers' tunnel is said to link them together, and possibly run further into the area. It's said to date from a time when all this was marshland, and smugglers could steer their boats far inland before taking to the tunnel. Naturally enough, it is often associated with Dick Turpin.

Does it exist? No. Look at the length of it on the map. Despite being a master of the underground, Dick Turpin didn't have access to tunnel-boring machines.

Buckingham Palace to the Tube

One of London's most famous secret tunnel suggestions posits an emergency escape route for the Monarchy. Various proposals have been suggested, including a tunnel from Buckingham Palace to Green Park tube station or (marginally more plausibly), direct access to the Victoria Line, which runs beneath the Palace. In one version of the story, the Queen has her own private tube train that could slip in-between services. Mind one's gap.

Does it exist? Highly doubtful. If there is a regal escape route, it is more likely to be a conventional tunnel connecting up to the government complex beneath the Admiralty and Whitehall, which certainly exist.

George and Dragon, Acton

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One of our favourite pubs, now also trading as the Dragonfly Brewery, is rumoured to have a passage in its basement leading across the High Street to where the Oaks shopping centre now stands.

Does it exist? Workers restoring the Globe Cinema in 1938 discovered an ancient tunnel 12 feet below the building, pointing in the direction of the George. So, quite possibly, yes.

Leicester Arms to the Glassblower

Two Taylor Walker pubs near Piccadilly Circus. According to the Leicester's website, "The site on which the pub sits was previously a children’s work house in the Victorian era. It is rumoured that tunnels still remain underground, linking to one of our sister pubs, the Glassblower." Further info on the Glassblower's website: "The site was originally a Victorian workhouse. It was separated into two buildings that were connected via a large underground tunnel."

Does it exist? The idea of a workhouse split in two, connected by a tunnel, sounds plausible. However, we can't find any evidence of a workhouse on this site in either the newspaper archives or on old maps. We welcome any information.

MI6 Headquarters to Whitehall

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There are many rumours of tunnels connecting government buildings. Certainly, there is an extensive network beneath Westminster, known as Q-Whitehall. But how extensive is this network? One suggestion, based on hidden accountancy, reckons there's a connection between Whitehall and MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross. Perhaps this is the facility visited by James Bond in Die Another Day.

Does it exist? Who can say? Anyone involved with construction of government tunnels would have signed a pretty severe version of the Official Secrets Act. It's a long way to tunnel without anyone noticing, however.

Old Bailey to St Sepulchre

The Old Bailey famously stands on the site of Newgate Prison, for centuries the chief holding place for condemned criminals. Nearby stands the church of St Sepulchre. It's often stated that a tunnel led from church to prison so that clergymen and bell-men could easily reach the condemned, thus bypassing the crowds who would gather above to watch the execution, or the beginning of the journey to Tyburn gallows.

Does it exist? The tunnel is mentioned frequently in articles about the prison. However, we've never seen a primary source or any photographic evidence of its existence. The basement of the Old Bailey is fascinating in its own right, however, with fragments of the Roman wall and the dead-man's walk — a narrow passage that led to the internal gallows.

Roman wall, not secret passage.

Oliver's Island to the Bull's Head

One of the small aits in the Thames at Chiswick, Oliver's Island is (probably spuriously) said to be a location where Oliver Cromwell took refuge during the Civil War. Local legend has a tunnel running from the island to the nearby Bull's Head pub.

Does it exist? No sign of the tunnel has ever been found.

St Ermine's Hotel to Westminster

The Striking St Ermine's Hotel near St James's tube station was home to both MI6 and the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. Wherever you find spooks, you will find rumours of secret passages. The hotel itself speaks of 'rumours' of a tunnel under its grand staircase, leading to Westminster. Guys... just go and check.

Does it exist? No idea. Anyone from St Ermine's reading and want to take us on an investigative site visit?

Theatre Royal to Nell of Old Drury

A short tunnel, this, supposedly connecting one of London's principal theatres to a nearby drinking hole. Its purpose? Same as the Berry Brothers tunnel... for Charles II to pay a sly visit to his mistress and dedicatee of the pub, Nell Gwynn.

Does it exist? The pub says it does, but we've yet to see firm evidence.

Ye Olde King's Head, Chigwell

This former pub turned Turkish restaurant has Tudor origins. According to local lore, the building was used as a meeting place for Roundheads in the Civil War. A tunnel under the road leads to Chigwell School, which also dates from this period. Dick Turpin supposedly drank here (and everywhere), using the tunnel to make a swift exit.

Does it exist? Restaurant manager Colin Hunt confirms the tunnel's existence in this here local news article. Of course, he might just be attempting to build mystique around his business. Mr Hunt... if you're reading, we'd love to inspect your tunnel.

Any other properly mysterious tunnels to declare? Let us know in the comments.

Last Updated 01 August 2015