Secret London takes many forms, from mysterious buildings to quiet green spaces. Follow our guide to find ten of the city’s best hidden gems
Dennis Severs’ House
One of the most enigmatic alternative London days out lies behind the firmly-closed doors of 18, Folgate Street, just minutes from Liverpool Street station.
When American Dennis Severs bought a town house in then run-down Spitalfields he invented a family of Huguenot silk merchants that might have lived there and proceeded to decorate it for them, using the antique markets and junk stalls of 1960s and 70s East London.
Today the house is a cryptic, secretive game played between house and visitor, to be wandered round in silence whilst breathing in the sights, sounds, smells and feel of 18th Century London.
Dennis Severs’ House, 18, Folgate Street, E1 6BX
The Hawksmoor Pyramid, St Annes, Limehouse
All kinds of myths and legends surround London, some of which are relatively recent. The mysterious pyramid standing quietly in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church in Limehouse generates all manner of internet rumours, mainly surrounding the church’s architect, Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Who is buried there? What does it symbolise? How did it get there? The truth is revealed in the original drawings – it’s a piece of ornamentation that should have gone on the roof but got left behind – but the effect is so striking and the church so lovely it’s worth the short walk from Limehouse station to see it anyway.
St Anne’s Church, 5 Newell Street London E14 7HP
At 101 years old, Hoxton Music Hall is both secret and surprising. Unknown even to some locals this intimate, dainty theatre is once again in wonderful condition.
In its heyday its tiny gallery and even tinier stage saw jugglers, trapeze acts and performing dogs before becoming a Quaker mission, and having some very dark days at the end of the last century. But local regeneration has seen this wonderful hidden gem lovingly restored and it now hosts a wide range of exciting events, concerts and plays.
Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton St, London N1 6SH
Whitechapel Bell Foundry
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been part of the history of London for more than five hundred years and is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company still in continuous business. Its most famous offspring is none other than Big Ben, and the mould used for the great bell at Westminster still hangs on the wall of the foundry today.
The dainty little building’s shop front in Whitechapel Road, a short walk from Fenchurch Street Station, is open to visitors but if you fancy a tour of the foundry itself you’ll need to book in advance.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-344 Whitechapel Road E1 1DY
Spitalfields Charnel House
As you walk into the trendy new entrance way to Old Spitalfields Market, look beneath your feet. Little glass slots allow a glimpse into the murky remains of a medieval charnel house.
St Mary Spital church’s crypt was used for 200 years as a repository for bones before becoming lost, seemingly forever. When the new development began, archaeologists had twelve months to excavate the remains of over 8,600 bodies and they’re still working on the findings. As part of an agreement with the developers, panels in the pavement create a window into a very murky underworld…
Spitalfields Charnel House, Outside 1, Bishops Square, London E1 6AD
The Masonic Temple, Former Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street Station
The extraordinary Great Eastern Hotel inside Liverpool Street station was one of the great buildings of the steam age. Built to last in red brick and British pride, it epitomised Victorian London at its peak. But few knew of another secret deep within its very walls.
It was only recently builders discovered an astonishing Masonic temple built of twelve types of Italian marble, complete with wood panelling, gilded ceiling and gigantic mahogany throne.
It’s now part of the Andaz Hotel and used for functions, but is open on appointment or once a year at London Open House Weekend
Andaz Hotel, 40 Liverpool Street, London, EC2M 7QN
Wapping Old Stairs
For 400 years pirates were hanged at Execution Dock on the foreshore at Wapping, their bodies left to dangle through three high tides before the ‘best examples’, such as Captain Kidd, were tarred and gibbeted as a little aide-memoire to other would be buccaneers.
No one knows exactly where the gallows were, but a walk from Fenchurch Street station to Wapping Old Stairs will lead you down to the waters. Then take your pick of riverside pubs – The Prospect of Whitby, the Captain Kidd and the Town of Ramsgate to ponder the fates of the corsairs of Old London Town.
Wapping Old Stairs, down an alley next to the Town of Ramsgate Pub, 62 Wapping High Street, London, E1W 2PN
Guildhall Art Gallery
Located in the heart of the City is the Guildhall Art Gallery, which holds “a collection of art treasures worthy of the capital city.” See works dating from 1670 to the present, including seventeenth century portraits, Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces and a fascinating range of paintings documenting London’s dramatic history.
The original Victorian Gallery became a victim of the capital’s dramatic history. On May 10, 1941, the gallery was almost entirely destroyed by fire during an air raid in the Second World War. Luckily large parts of the collection had been removed to underground storage in Wiltshire, but 164 paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints and 20 sculptures were lost.
Guildhall Yard, (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE
Several stories below street level, underneath the Guildhall Art Gallery, lies some of Roman London’s quietest remains, though in its day the Amphitheatre would have been the noisiest place in town.
When rebuilding the gallery, work was held up while archaeologists excavated the ancient stadium, whose shape is marked in the paving of the yard outside. Descend into the bowels of the building and see hi-tech projections whilst standing in the ruins themselves. Wrap up warm, though, it’s cold down there.
Roman Amphitheatre, Guildhall Yard, (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE
The secret behind this beautiful, thin line of green linking Hackney Wick and Beckton Park is not what it is – an almost flat walkway for ramblers – but is what is inside it.
Under your feet lies the Northern Outfall from London’s Victorian sewer system, carrying effluent from the city through to the magnificent Abbey Mills pumping station at West Ham.
It’s been a walker’s paradise for years, but languished under the unpleasant name of Sewerbank. Now it’s the Greenway, part of the Capital Ring Walk and suddenly much more popular.
The Greenway – linking many parts of East London