I’ve always been inclined to poke my nose (followed swiftly thereafter by the rest of my person) into places it’s not generally advisable to do so. Growing up in the 1980s with an industrial metropolis as a playground nurtured an inquisitive nature in myself and my peers. Amongst streets where cotton mills, cobbles and concrete wastelands were the norm everything was an adventure and every dark corner extended an invite. When we had exhausted all apparent avenues of diversion we took up torches and headed underground, where our true adventures began!
Exploring underground drains (primarily stream and river culverts) gripped our intrepid group of neighbourhood friends for years, some of us more so than others. Later, life intervened and split our sub-urban faction. Teen years rolled into twenties and drains became a thing of childhood abandon. Then, some hundred miles removed from those cotton mills, nostalgia set in and I took up a torch once more. Accompanied by my audacious friend of many years, st00p, we unexpectedly re-kindled a dormant desire for adventure and renewed a quashed curious nature.
As an adult the experience was, and is, still as intriguing as I recalled it to be. Yet now the intrigue is greater, through an appreciation for the whole picture and the development of a genuine interest in the narrative and circumstances that surround what were once simply cool tunnels. For sure these are not glamorous locations, their appeal may not be apparent to most, but they are significant in that they have governed lives, shaped cities, built fortunes and wreaked chaos. These places captured my imagination as a young boy and now years later they hold it still.
Since venturing back underground we have travelled around the country, and the world, to visit and photograph hidden drainage networks of towns and cities. While the UK has a lifetimes worth of underground wonders to discover, our focus has always been drawn back to London, north London in particular. London’s main drainage network of combined sewers presents something akin to those initial adventures of tweenage years, coupled with a history you can literally reach out and touch (though you’ll want to wash your hand afterwards). Unfortunately London’s sewers also present a cocktail of vile, pathogen spiked liquids, carrying along bodily expulsions, all manner of sanitary waste, from tampons to condoms and the flushed by-products of business and industry alike. This feculent soup, flowing through its confined conduits, carries the very real possibility of a hideous death by way of drowning or exposure to noxious and explosive gases. If you share our interest in London’s sewers I strongly advise you explore them in the safest possible manner, through a web browser. While that may smack of hypocrisy, it is good advice.