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Secret London : An Unusual Guide

Secret London

by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash

Mingle with the most extravagant handlebar moustaches in the country, pay your respects at the dog's cemetery in Hyde Park, visit a masonic temple, go to the circus take trapeze lessons in a former power station, pray in a floating church, sail on a disused reservoir, discover the stone from which Arthur was able to draw his sword Excalibur, transfix yourself in front of admire the sacred penis of a pharaoh, have a game on the City's last bowling green, examine a rare cucumber straightener, or remarkable private collections where you can see a stuffed mermaid or a cow's heart, go stargazing at Greenwich Observatory. Far from the crowds and the usual clichés, London still reserves any number of hidden treasures for those who know how to wander off the beaten track. An indispensable guide for those who thought they knew London well, or who would like to discover the hidden face of the city.
Extracts From The Book
Secret London: The Grant Museum of Zoology Secret London: The Masonic Temple at Andaz HotelSecret London: The Handlebar ClubSecret London: Hyde Park Pet CemeterySecret London: The Old Operating TheatreSecret London: Traffic Light Tree
The Grant Museum of Zoology

Secret London: The Grant Museum of Zoology One of the oldest – and oddest – natural history museums in Britain, this peculiar collection is buried in the labyrinthine campus of University College London. Navigate a course through the parked bicycles and security gates, and you find yourself in a bizarre shrine to animal anatomy. The cluttered gallery is like a cross between the Victorian attic of a compulsive collector and the studio of Damien Hirst. Musty cases are stuffed full of monkey skeletons, pickled toads, jars of worms, and giant elephant skulls. The collection contains around 62,000 specimens, covering the whole animal kingdom. Some of the exhibits are truly terrifying, such as the curling skeleton of a 250-kilo anaconda, or the bisected head of a wallaby preserved in formaldehyde. Others, like the elephant heart or the hellbender – a bloated amphibian with sagging flesh – are simply gruesome. There are obscure species, like the three-toothed puffer fish, and extinct ones, like the quagga, a type of zebra. There is even a box of dodo bones.
The Masonic Temple at Andaz Hotel

Secret London: The Masonic Temple at Andaz Hotel With its distinctive red-brick facade, the former Great Eastern Hotel is an impressive Victorian landmark beside Liverpool Street station. Built for the Great Eastern Railway Company, the hotel was designed by Charles and Edward Barry, whose father, another Charles Barry, built the Houses of Parliament. When it opened in 1884, the Great Eastern Hotel had its own tracks into the station for the delivery of provisions, including seawater for the hotel's salt-water baths. Despite this swanky heritage, the hotel gradually fell into disrepair until restaurateur Terence Conran snapped it up in the late 1990s and embarked on an extravagant makeover. During the renovation, concealed behind a false wall, the builders were surprised to discover a wood-panelled ante chamber leading to an intact Masonic temple. Decked in twelve types of Italian marble, with a blue and gold ceiling decorated with the signs of the zodiac and a mahogany throne at either end, this Gothic show stopper was built in 1912 for £50,000, the equivalent of around £4 million today.
The Handlebar Club

Secret London: The Handlebar Club Scratch the surface, and London is full of odd members’ clubs such as the Veteran-Cycle Club, the Time Travel Club, or the newly reformed Eccentric Club. Perhaps the oddest of them all is the Handlebar Club of Great Britain. It was founded in 1947 by Jimmy Edwards, a popular post-war comedian, who once sang: "Every girl loves a fella with a bush upon hismush!" The Handlebar Club originally had ten members; today, it has around 100 acolytes from all over the world. The club's mission was and remains "to bring together moustache wearers socially for sport and general conviviality". The criterion for membership is simple: prospective members must have "a hirsute appendage of the upper lip, with graspable extremities". Beards are banned. The other essential qualification is "to be able to drink plenty of beer" at the club's monthly get-togethers at the Windsor Castle pub, just off Edgware Road. Naturally, the pub landlord, Michael Tierney, is a club member with impressive "lip foliage"
Hyde Park Pet Cemetery

Secret London: Hyde Park Pet Cemetery Mad dogs and Englishmen have always been inseparable. The members of the Victorian upper crust were so obsessed with their pets that they buried them in special cemeteries. Barely visible behind the railings of Hyde Park, on the corner of Bayswater Road and Victoria Gate, hundreds of miniature, mildewed gravestones stand testament to this morbid tradition. This particular pet cemetery was founded in 1880 by George, Duke of Cambridge, who had flouted royal convention by marrying anactress, Louisa Fairbrother. When his distraught wife's favourite dog, Prince, was run over, the Duke - who doubled as Chief Ranger of Hyde Park - asked the gate-keeper, Mr.Windbridge, to give the poor creature a proper burial in the back garden of his lodge. By 1915, the graves in Mr.Windbridge's garden were so tightly packed that the cemetery was closed. Over 300 animals are laid to rest here - dogs, cats, birds, and even a monkey. Drowned, poisoned, or run over, Flo, Carlo, and YumYum’s miniature gravestones bear epitaphs that range from the
touching to the maudlin.
The Old Operating Theatre

Secret London: The Old Operating Theatre This little oddity was rediscovered by chance in 1957, during repairs in the eaves of St Thomas' Church in Southwark, on the original site of St Thomas' Hospital. This is the oldest surviving operating theatre in the country, and was used in the days before anaesthetics and antiseptic surgery. The garret also served to store the hospital apothecary’s medicinal herbs, and the museum that stands there now displays a collection of terrifyingly primitive medical tools, including instruments for cupping, bleeding and trepanning, a hair-raising practice of perforating the skull to ‘alleviate pain’. The operating theatre was built in 1822, after the 1815 Apothecary's Act, which required apprentice apothecaries to watch operations at public hospitals. Prior to this, operations took place in the patient’s bed right on the ward, which must have been a blood-curdling ordeal–all that blood and bellowing in such a confined space. The operating theatre was annexed to the women’s surgical ward, so patients could be carried straight in via what is now the fire escape.
Traffic Light Tree

Secret London: Traffic Light Tree As you exit Canary Wharf tube, the shiny high-rise office blocks crowned with the neon logos of investment banks create a disorienting impression of a very different London – a futuristic economic powerhouse, quite unlike the rest of the rough-and-ready city seeped in history. Walk down Heron Quay towards the Isle of Dogs and you might spot a distant glow of lights, flashing green, red and amber among the grey steel and polished glass. In the middle of an otherwise nondescript roundabout, at the junction of Heron Quay Bank, Marsh Wall and Westferry Road, stands a 26-foot tangle of 75 traffic lights that flash on and off at random. Installed in 1998, French artist Pierre Vivant´s Traffic Light Tree replaced one of three plane trees on the roundabout that was being choked to death by the constant flow of traffic. Vivant’s sculpture is shaped like a tree, its branches a blur of blinking lights.

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Customer Reviews (1)

“The best guide to alternative London ever”
By: The Londonist

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