Finding an interesting location to add to the Atlas is one of the most exciting parts of traveling as an Atlas Obscura Field Agent. One some trips you meet a local history nerd who knows all the obscure historically significant places in their towns and other times you find nothing.
On this trip to London, I was lucky enough to meet up with Ruth Shlovsky from Context Travel and we took her Hidden London Tour. I don’t consider myself an expert on London, but I did think that our collection of locations throughout London was moving towards comprehensive - so I was beyond excited when I was introduced to four intriguing places that I did not know existed.
While excavating for the beautiful Guildhall Art Gallery (which in itself is a well kept secret of London) stones dating back to the Roman period were found. At first this was not especially significant, but when more rocks where found with rounded edges it became apparent that what the contractors had found was an amphitheater. Construction came to a screeching halt and a team of Archeologists where brought in to excavate and study the ruins. After five years construction started again, but now with a new archeological twist: the building had to be built around the ruins of the amphitheater so they could be displayed for the public. Today you can see the remains of the amphitheater including its sewage system in the bottom of the gallery.
Ye Olde Cock-Fight Joint
This pub stands on the site where one of William Shakespeare’s theaters once stood and, until it was banned in the 19th century, was home to a favorite pass time of London - cock fighting. Today you can still see the balcony where lords would watch the fights, the ring where the cocks would battle to the death, and the area where commoners would stand to watch and bet. Though you can’t watch a fight there anymore you can get a pint.
St. Mary Aldermanbury is not in actually in London… anymore. It is now in Fulton, Missouri. So why did I learn about it on my Hidden London tour? Because, as it turns out, this church, destroyed in both the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of 1940, was given to Westminster College in in Fulton in 1966, where it was rebuilt stone by stone as a memorial to Winston Churchill who delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speach at the university in 1946.
Bits of Roman London in the Modern City
There is a large chunk of the Roman wall that surrounded Roman city of Londinium hidden between two ultra modern buildings in what is now the financial district. It was uncovered during the Blitz and identified as the Roman wall by its distinctive red Roman tiles and the lookout towers.
EXPLORE HIDDEN LONDON
GUILDHALL’S UNDERGROUND AMPITHEATER
THE COCKPIT PUB
A friendly pub with a sordid past in cock fighting
ST. MARY’S ALDERMANBURY
This church was moved and reassembled over 4,000 miles away in what the London Times called “perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture”
Scattered throughout London are ancient remnants of the city’s former bounding wall
DO IT YOURSELF
You can Take Context Travel’s “Hidden London” walking tour as part of this year’s Obscura Day celebrations: Hidden London