‘For your eyes only!’ – Espionage & spy sites of London (Pimlico & St James’s)
London, the city at the centre of world of intelligence & espionage.
From pre WW1 to the present day, London has always been synonymous with shadowy figures lurking behind lampposts, people in long coats passing on envelopes with ‘top secret’ information inside, and spies ready to defect to another country and betray their own!
In this new series of tours ( five in all), Ade will take you on a fascinating stroll around Kensington & Chelsea, Marylebone, Westminster, Pimlico and Mayfair, the beating hearts of the dark world of the intelligence community, both past and present.
Today Ade will assist you in your dive into the deep and murky world of espionage. We will fish for historical stats on the KGB, MI6, CIA and other clandestine organisations.
On this walk, we will visit the homes of some of the members of the infamous Cambridge spy ring, go back in time to see and hear about one of many HQ’s for MI5 & 6, and take a walk across a famous bridge in St James’s Park that for many years has been used as a ‘dead letter drop’ and meeting place for spies
Meeting at Victoria station, a place well known for its connection to the world of the undercover agent in its own right, our first story will be a tale of two people and two secret organisations. Ebury street has seen its fair share of spies and agents come and go and here we’ll hear about the creator of arguably the most famous of all time in James Bond, Ian Fleming and the house he shared with fascist agitator Oswald Mosley, and of course, the house was not lived in at the same time! On the corner of Ebury St stands a building that once housed a joint MI6 and OSS office, under the name X2, and directly next door, the Topsham hotel, an address with direct links to the intelligence services of yesteryear.
Moving around the corner we’ll arrive at Chester square. The home to many more organisations than I have space to tell you here, but what I will inform you about are the fascinating Joint broadcasting committee (WW2 propaganda), the Dutch Government in exile, and as we leave the square, none other than the home of Guy Burgess, the infamous member of the Cambridge spy ring.
Our next stops reveal the infamous fifth man in the Cambridge spy ring, John Cairncross, preceded by an unsolved ‘crime’ in that of MI6 officer Gareth Edwards, who was found unceremoniously stuffed into a sports holdall bag. Did he do this himself or was he given a helping hand !
Later in the walk, we’ll learn about an MI6 research centre in the heart of a block of Victorian flats on Victoria Street, get info on the most secret of secret ‘section Y’ unit of the SIS just off Pall Mall, and pass the now demolished Old New Scotland Yard, and St Ermin’s luxury hotel opposite, once a hive of secret intelligence activity that had its own floors in the hotel.
Moving northwards toward St James’s Park, a remarkable street in Queen Anne’s Gate and the Broadway Building, once the epicentre for MI6, housing both offices and homes of its foremost leaders. Across Birdcage Walk and a tale of ‘dead letter drops’, ‘brush bys’, and secrets of clandestine meetings can be told.
Once across St James’s Park in St James’s proper, a remarkable story has to be told from the top of the steps at Carlton terrace. As if Carlton terrace didn’t have such an extensive history already connected to the dark underbelly of secret intelligence, in 2007 Ashraf Marwan, a billionaire arms dealer, ex insider to Egyptian intelligence and son in law of former president Nasser, whom it must be added is seen as a hero in both Egypt and Israel due to his clandestine work for both the Israeli and Egyptian secret services, appeared to throw himself off the balcony of this exclusive development killing himself in the process.
The walk terminates in St James’s Square, a place where I could have chosen a number of interesting subjects relating the world of intelligence, but chose Norfolk House, the HQ of the D-Day operations. A building steeped in intelligence gathering and an operation that if it did not go according to plan, the UK could have been a very different place indeed.
So, we’ve reached the end of my introduction to this tour. I’ve found it incredibly fascinating researching this subject and I hope to be able to pass on my enthusiasm and knowledge of London’s world of espionage to you soon.
Please remember, this is just walk number three of five! Check my other walks on this subject and many others on the walks information page, and I hope to take you on a stroll around a part of this amazing city of ours.
Take a stroll with Ade, a qualified London Borough Guide
‘Enthusing the enthusiastic’