Thursday, 5 July 2012

Guest Post: Hidden London by Allan Jones (author of Codename Quicksilver)

Today is the release date for the first two books in a new series of action adventure stories for the 9+ boys by author Allan Jones. The Codename Quicksilver books follow the adventures of Zak Archer as he finds himself drawn into a world of government secrets, enemy spies and teen undercover agents. As many of you will already know, I love London and think it makes a great setting for stories for children, so I am really chuffed that today we are joined by Allan who has very kindly written a guest post about Hidden London.

Hidden London by Allan Jones

When I was 11 years old, I was a huge fan of the James Bond movies and spy series on TV such as The Man From UNCLE, not to mention super-sci-fi spy comics like Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD (you may know him from the recent Marvel superhero movies like The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America).

I came up with a spy organization of my own. SWORD: Supreme World Organization For Retaliation and Defence. Their headquarters was in a big underground bunker on wasteland at the bottom of my garden. The agents each had a small remote device that they clicked so that a hatch in the ground disguised as a lump of grass would rise up on a hinge. A stairway would take them down to the high-tech SWORD bunker.

What I didn’t know at the time was that bunkers exactly like that actually existed under the streets of London. Most of them were dug out during World War Two so that the war effort could carry on even during the worst of the Blitz – the bombing of London that went on for 57 nights in a row between September 1940 and May 1941.

The entrance to the Cabinet war rooms

A small part of this vast underground complex has been opened to the public. If you go to Clive Steps off Horse Guards Road in Whitehall, you can take a tour of the offices from which Winston Churchill’s Government worked. They have been reconstructed to look exactly as they would have done during the war with dormitories for staff, private bedrooms and offices for typists and switchboard operators. There is even a small room that houses the Transatlantic Telephone, where the British Prime Minister could make encrypted phone calls to the President of the United States of America. To make these rooms extra-safe from bombs, they were roofed over with a 1.5 metre thick layer of concrete known as ‘the slab’.

Inside the Cabinet War Rooms

But the Cabinet War Rooms are just a few of the over 200 rooms and offices that honeycomb the clay underneath London – and they all still exist. It wasn’t much of a leap for me to imagine that British Intelligence would make use of this hidden city.

Apart from the offices under Clive Steps, there were four other large complexes. One is called Bastion and lies under Covent Garden. Another is known as Citadel and was dug out under St Paul’s Cathedral. The third is known as Rampart and lies deep under Waterloo Station. The fourth is named Fortress and is beneath Moorgate Station in the City of London.

These complexes are all linked together by an elaborate network of tunnels. One of these aims for the Duke of York’s Steps. If you go there, you will see a small dark doorway with a doorbell. Unless you know the secrets of this bell, you will not get a response when you ring it – but if you have the codes, the door will open and let you into this whole hidden complex.

Door at the Duke of York’s Steps

As soon as I started writing the first Codename Quicksilver book I knew that I wanted the specialist department of British Intelligence to have its headquarters in Fortress. So, I imagined the old World War Two rooms being updated to include the most modern high-tech facilities in the world.

From Fortress tunnels spread out to every corner of London: the young agents of Project 17 come and go covertly across the entire city and no one realizes when they see an ordinary teenager appearing suddenly from an alley that they are looking at one of Colonel Hunter’s highly-trained secret agents.

Boudicca statue at Westminster Bridge

Speaking of tunnels, there is an impressive statue at the north end of Westminster Bridge. It depicts Boudicca and her daughters in a chariot drawn by horses. But few people notice as they pass this statue that there is a small door in the stone plinth. The door is locked, but if you could get through it, you’d find a stairway that would lead you down to a long tunnel. The tunnel travels east along the Embankment of the River Thames until it comes up, a mile away in Threadneedle Street – home of the Bank of England. In olden days, ships loaded with gold would dock at Westminster and the gold would be taken secretly to the Bank through this tunnel. Nowadays, the Agents of Project 17 use this same tunnel to move secretly beneath the streets.

Door in the Boudicca plinth

But a word of warning – it would be illegal and dangerous for anyone to investigate these entrances into the world under London. Do not try to get in there – these hatches are protected by the latest high-tech surveillance systems and you will be caught and prosecuted, no matter what age you are!

Fortress entrance with sensor and electronic surveillance box

Here’s some other underground facts you may not know…

  • More tunnels have been dug under the Thames than under any other river in the world.
  • In the 18th Century, seventeen small rivers flowed through London and into the Thames. Some have famous streets or areas names after them. Fleet Street, for instance, named after the River Fleet. And Tyburn – a place made infamous for public hangings – is named after Tyburn Brook. These rivers were all paved over and many now form part of the elaborate London Sewage System.
  • There are 14 unused tube stations under London, and the existence of these can sometimes be shown at street level. For instance Down Street Station can be glimpsed from its red-tiled fa├žade. Maroon tiled entrances reveal the location of Brompton Road Station near Cottage Place.
So the next time you’re in your nearest city, take a look around. There could be more to it than meets the eye…

Codename Quicksilver: In the Zone and The Tyrant King by Allan Jones are out on 5 July 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Look at the city london, however many people never get to look at the sewage system and how its developing horrible stinks. everybody needs to see this video...