‘Top Secret!’ – Espionage & spy sites of London (Fitzrovia & Marylebone)
London, the city at the epicentre of the world of 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!
On this new series of tours ( five in all), Ade will take you on a fascinating stroll around Kensington & Chelsea, Fitzrovia & Marylebone, Westminster, and Mayfair, the beating hearts of the dark world of the intelligence community, both past and present.
Walk 1 starts over in Fitzrovia, and at the Eisenhower Centre. This remarkable building started as a tube line extension, then was then used once or twice by allied command and as a secure storage facility. This is a place I know a bit about, as I’ve been lucky enough on many occasions to descend into its bowels when I worked for a TV company that stored video tapes there.
From there we move west taking in another remarkable building, the iconic BT tower (or Post Office tower, depending on your age!) with its plethora of communication devices, was it used as a giant listening device !
Winding through the streets we come to two places of interest directly opposite each other, the home of renowned poet and WW2 fascist sympathiser who was indicted for treason, as he was an American citizen. His local pub would surely have been the wonderful Yorkshire Grey, literally an arm’s length from his front door, and a well known meeting place for people from the intelligence community.
Passing the majestic BBC Broadcasting House on Portland Street, I’ll point out a little known alleyway, where at the end of the lane lived one of Britain’s most well known double agents and KGB spy, George Blake.
Crossing Cavendish Square and into Marylebone we go. Learning of Stephen Ward, an Osteopath with many connections to royalty and the rich & famous of London. Unfortunately he was also an agent of the KGB and had a large piece to play in what was called ‘The Profumo affair’. This scandal involved John Profumo MP and a call girl named Christine Keeler, more of whom we’ll learn about later in the walk.
Past a nondescript Italian Restaurant, which has hidden secrets of torture and interrogation below in its basement, and onto another house belonging to a double agent in Anthony Blunt. Here Blunt had a top floor flat in Home House, whilst working as an art historian and spy for MI5 and the KGB.
Weaving through the back streets of Marylebone the next three stops come stop thick and fast. I’ll tell the tale of Tyler Kent, an American embassy worker and his involvement in passing on state secrets to the Nazis, we’ll stop at one of the most important command centres from WW2 in the SOE HQ, and catch up on Christine Keeler as promised earlier, when we see the house she and her close friend, Mandy Rice Davies shared during the scandal.
As we head to toward the end of the walk, we will walk down Cato Street. It was here that a plot was thwarted to assassinate the Prime Minister of the day in 1820. Our penultimate stop takes us past another member of the Cambridge Five spy ring abodes, Donald McClean.
The final place of interest today is the Kendal pub. It’s always nice to be able to finish the walk at a pub, and this is a nice place with history, for it was here Oleg Gordievsky did some of his KGB surveillance on MI5, but ended up an invaluable double agent for British intelligence.
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 one 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’