‘Access denied!’ – Espionage & spy sites of London ( Westminster & Strand)
London, the city at the centre of the world of counterintelligence, spies & espionage.
In this new series of tours ( five in all), Ade will take you on a fascinating stroll around Kensington & Chelsea, Marylebone, Westminster, and Mayfair, the beating hearts of the dark world of the counterintelligence & spy community, both past and present. There are spies around every corner on this walk!
From pre WW1 to the present day, London has always been synonymous with shadowy figures lurking behind lampposts, characters in long coats passing on envelopes with ‘top secret’ information inside, and spies ready to defect to another country and betray their own!
Today Ade will assist you in your dive into the deep and murky world of espionage and spies. We will fish for historical stats on the KGB, MI6, CIA and other clandestine organisations.
Meeting up in the ‘Duchy of Pimlico’ an area exempt from rationing and British licensing laws (be sure to bring your passport!). Our first couple of stops take in the current HQ’s of the most prominent secret intelligence agencies in the UK, MI5 & MI6, on opposite sides of the river. Nobody trying to understand the secret word of reconnaissance and surveillance should miss an introduction to the stories behind these organisations. Predating most major countries in the world of secret intelligence agencies, MI5 & MI6 have only recently become ‘public’ knowledge’ but of course many Londoners knew of their existence decades before they ‘came out’ into the public domain. So much so that many bus conductors would shout words to the effect ‘anyone for MI5, all spies depart here’, when they stopped outside the many various HQ’s for the SIS.
Moving inland from the winding river Thames, our next stop will be a lesson in trade unionship. Of course the security agencies of many countries were deeply interested in the unions of this country. During the 1970’s a particular member rose to prominence and MI5 kept a particular eye on this gentleman, he was of course Jack Jones. Jones became leader of the Transport & General Workers Union in the late 60’s, and many still think that he was in fact an agent of the KGB.
Just around the corner and to a gentleman who was definitely in the pocket of the KGB was Guy Burgess. Famously one of the infamous Cambridge, ‘ring of spies’, Burgess defected along with Kim Philby to a life in the USSR. Moving north and into the cradle of power, we stop at Sanctuary Buildings, directly opposite Westminster Abbey and within shouting distance of Whitehall and Parliament, we find ourselves amazingly at what during the 30’s was Oswald Mosley’s Fascist Party HQ of Great Britain! London has thankfully always been a welcoming, progressive society, but to have a political ideology so repugnant on the doorstep of Government is in truth, astonishing !
Winding through the backstreets of Whitehall, passing the Cabinet War Rooms, ending up on Whitehall itself, we’ll hear of the incredibly important Combined Operations HQ for WW2, and also of the newly resettled ‘New, Old, New Scotland Yard’, having just moved back near to their original HQ, from St James’s Park.
Moving north and following the line of the river, we’ll stop at 2 Whitehall Court. This was one of the homes and offices of the eccentric head of the fledgling SIS, or Secret Intelligence Service, which would of course go on to become MI6. Mansfield Cummings was somewhat of a character, and tales of his antics are stories in themselves disregarding the fact he was in charge of this incredibly important Government secret organisation, with numerous spies under his control.
Forward seventy years and a truly intriguing story unravels itself on Waterloo Bridge, where in 1978 the writer, and dissident of Bulgaria, Georgi Markov, was allegedly murdered with a poisoned umbrella by a passer by. The story made extensive headlines as it was nearer an Ian Fleming novel than just another normal day on one of London’s access ways across the River Thames !
And so we cross into the grounds of the resplendent surroundings of Somerset House, for it was here that another member of the Cambridge Spy Ring worked. Anthony Blunt, possibly the leader of the spies from Cambridge, not only worked here but was a professor in History of art at the University of London, director here at the Courtauld Institute of Art, the surveyor of the Queen’s art, and when he found time, one of the UK’s finest spies for the KGB.
The final two stops on this walk take in Bush House on the Aldwych, which for sometime during WW2, was the home of SIS’s ‘Z section’. Z section’s boss was Claude Dansey, known as ‘Z’. Dansey had the idea that business men travelled abroad freely, so maybe some of them could be introduced to the world of espionage, thus avoiding some suspicion. And finally onto a front company on the Strand. The Federated Press of America was not a journalistic venture, but existed here at 50 Outer Temple purely as a Russian espionage unit and dealt with contacts and communication, spying on the British Intelligence community, and as a post box.
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’