The tube is the one place where you’re guaranteed anonymity; any Londoner knows that. So too did the Soviets, which is why they used several stations for shady meet-ups with agents in the field. Mornington Crescent – where KGB handlers identified themselves by asking for directions to the non-existent 'Harvard Square' – was an early choice, as was Belsize Park. Most notable though was Kew Gardens station, where former Manhattan-Project scientist Klaus Fuchs divulged top-secret nuclear data, the result of which enabled the USSR to build their first H-bomb.
Artillery Mansions, Victoria Street
In the 1950s and ’60s, Artillery Mansions was home to M16’s ‘Secret Information Service’; a team of real-life Qs tasked with producing gadgets for spies operating behind the Iron Curtain. So hush-hush was the SIS that its existence was not admitted until 1994.
Dead letter boxes
When unable to meet face-to-face, spies would exchange packages and info via a system of ‘dead-letter boxes’; nifty cubby-holes dotted around the city. One such DLB was inside Brompton Oratory where spooks would squirrel away material in a nook between two pillars. Other drops included Audley Square where the service hatch on a lamp post was utilised and Coram Fields where one agent was once instructed to collect a false rock stashed with several thousand pounds in cash.
Northern line bunker, Hampstead Way
In 1903, tunnelling commenced on ‘North End’ tube (aka the ‘Bull and Bush', named after a nearby pub). The station was intended to sit between Golders Green and Hampstead. But after various concerns it was never completed, leaving behind a cavernous space which happens to be the deepest point on the whole network. In the 1950s, the abandoned site was converted into a nerve centre from which the tube’s numerous floodgates could be operated in the event of an atomic attack. No doubt services would’ve been subject to severe delays had the bomb ever dropped.
Spies in suburbia, Cranley Drive
To their neighbours on Cranley Drive, Peter and Helen Kroger came across as an affable Canadian couple. How wrong they were. The pair were actually American husband-and-wife team Morris and Lona Cohen, both of whom were members of the ‘Portland spy ring’; a group dedicated to providing the Soviets with sensitive info on Britain’s naval programme. When police raided the Cohens' bungalow in 1961 they found it chock-full of spy gear including hidden film equipment, micro-dots and code-pads for interpreting cryptic short-wave radio broadcasts. Some of these intriguing items are currently on display in the Museum of London’s ‘Crime Uncovered’ exhibition.
The BT Tower
It may sound barmy now, but when the BT Tower (originally called the Post Office Tower) opened in 1965 – complete with revolving restaurant – it was deemed an official secret and didn't appear on any map until well into the ’90s. Hiding in plain sight, the tower was in fact intended to be part of a communications network dubbed ‘Backbone’, which would’ve played a vital role in the event of WWIII. This explains why the tower's architects opted for a rounded shape – curved structures are apparently more resistant to nuclear blast waves.
Daquise, Thurloe Street
Serving South Kensington since 1947, Daquise is London’s oldest Polish restaurant and was a popular choice for hungry KGB agents during the Cold War. It was here, too, in the early ’60s that model Christine Keeler would rendezvous with her lover Yevgeny Ivanov – who also happened to be a spy. Considering Christine was also seeing UK defence minister John Profumo, this led to more than a few red faces.
Stompie, Mandela Way/Pages Walk
Named in honour of Stompie Moeketsi (a young South African murdered in 1988), this Soviet T-34 battle tank originally rolled out to confront protestors in the 1968 Prague Spring. It arrived in the UK in 1995 for use as a prop in a film adaptation of ‘Richard III’ before falling into the hands of Russell Gray who, following a planning dispute with Southwark Council, plonked the war machine on its present spot. Now a Bermondsey stalwart, Stompie is popular with street-artists who ensure the tank's always decked out in eye-catching designs.
The Umbrella Assassin, Waterloo Bridge
On September 7 1978, writer and defector Georgi Markov left his home in Clapham for his regular commute to Aldwych where he worked at ‘Radio Free Europe’, broadcasting programmes critical of the Communist regime in his native Bulgaria. As he crossed Waterloo bridge that afternoon, Georgi felt a sudden sting in his leg and turned to see an umbrella-clutching stranger hop into an awaiting taxi. The umbrella was, in fact, a malicious weapon; a dart gun that had shot a tiny, ricin-loaded pellet into his calf. Georgi quickly fell ill and died four days later, the victim of an audacious hit ordered by Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov.
Air-raid siren, Waterloo Road
Had a nuclear attack been launched against Britain, an army of sirens would've kicked into life, their eerie banshee howl warning the hapless populace that they had mere minutes to find a hidey-spot before being vapourised. Although the network was dismantled in 1992, one such siren can still be glimpsed holding fort over Waterloo Road, right beside the tracks linking Charing Cross and Waterloo East. Rather worryingly, this harbinger of doom still appears to be plugged in.
Pear Tree HouseRobert Lordan
Pear Tree House, Gipsy Hill
Pear Tree House, on the corner of Gipsy Hill’s Lunham Road and Hawke Road, looks like any other 1960s apartment block – that is until you clock the sturdy nuclear bunker which squats below. Had WWIII erupted, it was from here that the civil defence for Lambeth, Southwark and Camberwell would’ve been overseen – although it goes without saying that residents in the flats above were certainly not on the shelter’s guest list.
Wormwood Scrubs, Du Cane Road
When double agent George Blake was found guilty of spy crimes in 1961, the Old Bailey sentenced him to an unprecedented 42 years in the cooler. No surprise then that he was keen to bust out of his Wormwood Scrubs cell, a ruse he pulled off in October 1966 with the aid of two anti-nuclear protestors. While prisoners and guards were occupied with a weekly film screening, Blake snuck off, squeezed through a window and scaled the prison wall using a makeshift ladder, the rungs of which were cobbled together with knitting needles. Once out, he hot-footed it to Russia where he remains to this day.
Why all the fuss over Heathrow's third runway? London’s had a spare one for decades… possibly. In the 1950s a large number of trees bordering Kensington Gardens’ pedestrian Broad Walk were mysteriously removed, a cull rumoured to have taken place in order to make the strip suitable for landing and taking off a small aircraft. In other words, a handy way out of dodge for Her Maj in the event of a Soviet attack.
Had nuclear war ever erupted, it was intended that control of London be handed over to staff in a bunker deep beneath the Essex village of Kelvedon Hatch. Craftily concealed beneath a mock bungalow, the large complex was designed to hold 600 personnel and came complete with a BBC studio (not that many people would’ve been around to hear the grim broadcasts). The commissioner in charge of the facility would’ve been granted full powers of government and then some – including the right to execute looters. Now open to the public, the bunker is a good place to visit if you’re after a dose of nightmare fuel – thanks mainly to its bizarre collection of mannequins.
If an international crisis looked set to boil over, plans were in place to evacuate several hundred lucky office bods from Whitehall. The designated muster point for this bureaucratic exodus was to be Kensington Olympia station, where the chosen few would catch a specially commissioned train (most likely the last to ever leave the capital) to Warminster in Wiltshire. From there they’d board army lorries for a bumpy ride to the government’s main bunker; a vast complex near Bath code-named ‘Burlington’. Once hunkered down, the homesick Londoners would’ve discovered an unusual piece of the capital inside the Burlington facility – namely an old tube escalator, originally earmarked for Holborn station.