Please note: This article was first published on The Vegan Tourist and last updated May 14, 2012.
I picked up this book at Foyles during my trip to London in December (2011), and spent the last few months reading it – slowly.
Secret London was written by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, who describe approximately 270 little known London sights, most of which are not included in the more mainstream tourist guides. Each description is accompanied by a full-page photograph, and the authors have included tips for many additional attractions.
I was already familiar with some of the highlights described in the book, like Sir John Soane’s Museum, the London Wall, Kensal Green Catacombs (a favourite), or the Arab Hall of Leighton House, and they’re all well worth a visit.
But I was unfamiliar with the majority of the sights described in this book, even though I lived in London for several years in the late nineties.
I’d never noticed Britain’s Smallest Police Station at Trafalgar Square, and wasn’t aware of the Imperial Standards – several plaques that mark the imperial measures (inch, foot, yard) at the foot of the steps of the National Gallery. I’d passed the Centre of London – located at the corner of the Strand and Charing Cross Road – many times without being aware of the location’s significance.
I’m going to keep my eyes open for John Snow’s Cholera Pump on Broadwick Street next time I’m in Soho, and plan to visit Watt’s Memorial, a wall full of plaques which “memorialise acts of fatal heroism by anonymous Londoners.”
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry – another gem described in the book – is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570, and they offer guided tours of their bell factory (still going strong after 442 years, apparently). There’s also a museum and a gift shop.
I plan to visit the Thames River Police Museum, which is dedicated to the world’s first police force. The museum is housed within the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Marine Police Unit – a working police station – so visits must be arranged by prior appointment (check their website).
The authors describe so many interesting and downright fascinating sights, it’ll be the only guidebook I bring on my next trip. If you’ve never been to London, by all means go and watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace or visit the Tower; but if you’ve been to London before and want to get to know the city a little better, this book is for you.