More than most popular cities in the world, London is known for its history. Sites like Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London speak...
Hidden Histories Of London
More than most popular cities in the world, London is known for its history. Sites like Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London speak to various eras of the past and are all among the very most popular tourist stops in a town that’s absolutely full of them. One can spend days touring the British capital and still not see all of the highlight historical attractions.
In the shadows of these highlight attractions though, there are also some hidden historical corners of London that are absolutely fascinating for those who like to really dig into a destination. If you love to get a genuine sense of the past, and get to know the soul of a city, it’s sometimes these slightly less heralded spots – a few of which we’re describing below – that make the bigger impact.
Old Red Lion
If you look up the oldest pubs in London, you’ll find about a dozen places, minimum, that are making the claim to being the very oldest. The Old Red Lion (which doubles as a theater) may or may not be that, but it did celebrate a 600th anniversary in 2015, and it’s provably older than some of its counterparts in this category. Just think about that for a moment. People were having drinks at this very establishment before Columbus sailed to the Americas, and before the famous Aztec leader Montezuma II was even born. These are incredible thoughts, and while the pub has of course been maintained and updated over the years, you can still feel a strong sense of history within its walls .
Kensal Green Cemetery
A city as old and important as London is bound to have some famous burial sites, but for whatever reason they don’t get too much publicity, outside of Westminster Abbey, which does in fact double as the resting place for numerous famous figures. The Kensal Green Cemetery makes for a more peaceful and arguably more interesting visit, however. Established in the 1830s and now home to more than 60,000 graves, it’s a sprawling burial ground as pretty as a city park, and filled with everything from unassuming stones to mausoleums and small chapels. Among the notable figures laid to rest at Kensal Green are the author Wilkie Collins, Prince George (grandson of King George III), Princess Sophia (the same’s daughter), and the intellectual Charles Babbage.
All Hallows by the Tower
For all the chapels and churches of London that get quite a bit of attention, All Hallows somehow blends in, despite being about as interesting as all the rest combined. It’s one of the oldest of the bunch, a striking, beautiful building, and a place where all sorts of history has occurred. John Quincy Adams, who would become one of the first presidents of the United States, was married at All Hallows; William Penn, another major figure in early American history, was baptized there. Most incredible of all though is the history that lies in the crypts beneath All Hallows. The story goes that this chapel has been in place long enough that the remains of those buried beneath it include those of Roman occupiers and the Saxons who once ruled much of Britain. It’s an incredible thought as you explore the church.
The Hippodrome is a fun option because it’s something of a historical attraction hiding in plain site. Nowadays it’s primarily a casino, and not low-key, fancy, old-fashioned one. You’ll find opulent rooms full of table games, but also rows of slots and arcades similar to the games you’ll find online from UK operators. Basically, it’s a gaming center first, though it also has various performances in house as well as some nice bars and restaurants. The Hippodrome is also a fascinating piece of London history though when you consider its origins. When this place first opened it was a sort of theater/circus venue, showcasing everyone and everything from Charlie Chaplin to performing elephants and polar bears, and complete with a 100,000-gallon water tank. It’s hard to even imagine such a place today.
Sometimes referred to as a floating museum, the HMS Belfast is not exactly a “hidden” piece of history. However, it still rarely makes lists of historical attractions to see in London despite its fascinating past, and how unique it is to take a tour on board. Docked in the Thames – presumably permanently – this is a light cruiser that was used in various naval missions throughout the middle of the 20th century. It was part of a blockade against the Germans in World War II, was hit by a German mine, supported the famous landings on the beaches of Normandy, sunk a German warship, and later ventured all the way to the Pacific during the Korean War. In a way, it’s a sort of living exhibition of a century of British wartime history.