Bill Nash, Secret London

Secret London – An Unusual Guide (third edition) – Jonglez Publishing

28th November 2019

Secret London – An Unusual Guide, written by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, is the third edition of this quirky guide to our amazing capital city, from the ever inspiring Jonglez Publishing.

We hope that through its guidance you will, like us, continue to discover unusual, hidden or little-known aspects of the city. Some entries are accompanied by historical asides or anecdotes as an aid to understanding the city in all its complexity. The guide also draws attention to the multitude of details found in places that we may pass every day without noticing. We invite you to look more closely at the urban landscape and to see your own city with the curiosity and attention that we often display while travelling elsewhere…

At a launch party at Waterstones in Covent Garden, Bill Nash explained how they aim to add 15-20 new entries to every updated edition of the guide. But the challenge remains to uncover and write about secret and unusual places in the city, rather than predictable tourist magnets like the Tower of London or the Cutty Sark.

Bill read us excerpts from a few new entries in the guide, to give a tantalising flavour of what has made the cut this time around…

The Musical Museum – Brentford High Street

‘Music is something we take for granted these days; the stuff pours out of headphones, video games, restaurant toilets and lifts. This purpose-built museum is full of the baroque miracles that got us here. Founded by Frank Holland in 1963, this is one of the world’s foremost collections of automated music systems. This means machines you might be familar with – musical boxes, pianolos, iPods – and machines you might not. The Hupfield Phonoslizst-Violina, anyone?’

‘Working highlights include a rudimentary German jukebox the size of a Transit van, a coin-operated violin player and king-sized gramophones. And an orchestrion, designed to replicate the sound of a small orchestra using actual instruments, and sounding like twenty musicians trapped in a box.’

Richard Burton’s Mausoleum – North Worple Way, Mortlake

‘Richard Burton is buried in a tent in East Sheen. No, not that Richard Burton – the film star is still buried in Switzerland. This is the far more interesting, far stranger Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, diplomat and reputed speaker of at least 29 languages.’

‘The design of his Mausoleum is supposed to reflect Burton’s deep ties with the Arab world. It is (very) loosely modelled on a Bedouin tent, and is decorated with a frieze of Islamic stars and crescents, as well as a crucifix and Star of David.’

Crossness Pumping Station – Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood

‘There aren’t many opportunities to make to make a trip to a sewage farm, but Crossness Pumping Station – opened in 1856 by Edward, Prince of Wales – offers the chance.’

‘The Pumping Station was part of legendary engineer Joseph Bazalgette’s innovative sewage system for London. By the mid-19th century, London’s exploding population meant the Thames had effectively become an open sewer. The contaminated water caused cholera outbreaks that killed over 30,000 Londoners.’

‘Crossness Pumping Station is an incredible place. The Beam Engine House, home to four steam-driven pumping engines, contains some of the most spectacular ornamental ironwork in the capital. At the heart of the building is the Octagon, an exuberant framework for the engines, made of brightly coloured iron columns and screens. This is characteristic of the Victorians’ love of Gothic adornment in the unlikeliest places.’

There are more than 200 entries in this engaging guide, split into nine separate geographic areas:

  • Westminster to Camden
  • Temple to Angel
  • Tower Bridge to Shoreditch
  • Marylebone to Shepherd’s Bush
  • Westminster to Hammersmith
  • South Bank to Brixton
  • Whitechapel to Woolwich
  • Greater London (North)
  • Greater London (South)

How does something qualify for entry into ‘Secret London – An Unusual Guide’? ‘See something differently.’ It might be a small detail somewhere well known, like the Triforium at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a weird space that offers an insight into Wren’s construction and where you’ll find a floating staircase used in one of the Harry Potter films. Or how about the Antique Breadboard Museum in Putney, where one room in Madeleine Neave’s home has been devoted to lovingly made wooden breadboards. Entrance to this, erm, fascinating micro-museum includes a cream tea!

You get the idea. The latest edition of ‘Secret London – An Unusual Guide’ will help you see aspects of the city that you never knew existed, all written in an entertaining and educational style. ‘Hidden treasures for those who know how to wander off the beaten track.’ And how much more will a date respect you for taking them to a sewage farm than the Tate Modern!

Andrew for the TripFiction team

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Read about Secret London – unusual bars and restaurants in this TripFiction post.

Check out this TripFiction post on the recently published Secret Liverpool guide.

Look out for new Secret Edinburgh and Secret Glasgow guides in 2020.

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Secret London – An Unusual Guide (third edition) – Jonglez Publishing