London is the intelligence and espionage capital of the world. Sex, intrigue, scandal, conspiracy, betrayal, are all evident.
It was a rather typical Sunday in London… but without rain or the wet snow that plagues the city in the spring. Instead of wandering around yet another museum, haunted pub, or crowded tourist destination I chose to meander the Intelligence Tail (a walking spy tour of London). The tours runs on weekends and begins at the Royal Marines Memorial, which is tucked away from the tourist crowds and slightly difficult to find (refer to the map).
This tour offers everything it promises, and so much more. I meet few people who have a heady thirst for geeky historical details — and the guide, Mr. X, has been added to that list of people. It’s not just any details, but relevant ones. This is what makes the tour special, coupled with a continuous inter weaving of stories, intrigue, international plots, and red herrings.
The tour focuses mostly around the World Wars and Cold War era. I won’t give away too many details from the tour (spoilers!), however, will mention a few of the sites from the London Intelligence scene.
Old Admiralty Building
In the photo below, immediately to the right of the Admiralty Arch is the Old Admiralty Building, in which Ian Fleming worked (Room 39).
Known for his James Bond novels, the details that Commander Ian Lancaster Fleming put into his books are *perhaps* peppered with a few details from the real world of espionage.
Fleming was the naval intelligence officer responsible for Operation Mincemeat (World War II) and the UK’s Operation Goldeneye (sound familiar). He was also heavily involved in the planning for UK special forces during World War II.
Before it was a luxury hotel, the Royal Horseguards was known as Whitehall Court, a grouping of high-class apartments dating to the Victorian era.
The building was taken over by the Secret Service during World War I and by the government during World War II. There’s a set of well known escape tunnels that run between the hotel and parliament from this era.
Cabinet War Rooms
Not far from Royal Horseguards is King Charles Street and the Cabinet War Rooms, the hub of Churchill’s military operations during World War II.
While many knew of, or had at least heard rumours of an underground city build by Churchill during World War II, it wasn’t fully confirmed until 1981 when Margaret Thatcher declared the area a historical site and authorized restorations. The Cabinet War Rooms became publicly available in 1984.
Jolly St Ermin’s Hotel
A frequent watering hole for members of parliament, a bell installed on the foyer to alert people that parliament session was about to begin. Members would then proceed to a door (above) and secret passageway that leads back to the parliament buildings.
Q Whitehall and the Secret Underground
James Bond: I’ve heard of this place. I never thought I’d find myself here.
M: Some things are best kept underground.
James Bond: An abandoned station for abandoned agents.
— Die Another Day
Whether or not there are abandoned tube stations and train lines used by parliament, the royal family and even MI6 is highly speculated — and further stoked by the fictitious Vauxhall Cross station shown in Die Another Day.
Given the number of abandoned stations in London’s underground, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine one or two being used by the secret service. Even the London Post Office has it’s own railway system.