‘Treason & plot !’ – Espionage, counterintelligence & spy sites in London ( Mayfair & Soho)
London, the city at the centre of world counterintelligence & 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 community, both past and present.
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!
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.
This walk was the most difficult to put together, not because of few places of interest, but the exact opposite! During my extensive research, it appears that over the modern history of the intelligence communities, Mayfair has been at the centre of it all, and therefore has an absolute plethora of interesting stories and sites to visit.
As always, I’ve tried to mix up the eras, the political backgrounds, and cover as many intelligence agencies as possible across each walk. I hope I’ve done Mayfair justice here.
We start down in the south west of Mayfair at Hyde Park Corner at the luxury Intercontinental Hotel. Abd Ar Razzaq An Naif was gunned down here in July 1978 after years of being targeted by probable secret service agents from the Ba’ath party of Iraq, very possibly on direct orders of Saddam Hussein himself. An Naif had fled Iraq after the coup in the 60’s and had survived previous attempts on his life.
Moving north and changing political ideologies, we learn of an infamous KGB agent in Oleg Gordievsky and how he made contact with his agency, using an intricate system of chalking number 2 lamppost, then walking around to nearby St George’s Gardens and chalking in blue a certain slate on a bench which alert his handlers. Staying with ex members of the KGB, we will delve into the chaotic and bumbling assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, an infamous story and one which has not gone away for the Russians, and still has relevance today. An absolute horrific tale of yet another poisoning, and highly probably sanctioned by the Russian state.
Passing the now closed but listed ex American Embassy, with its large CIA substation, we cross Grosvenor Square to another hotel with blood on its hands. After the terrible slaying of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in ‘72, Israeli intelligence went after the perpetrators of the incident with vigour. Mossad could claim some success but also some filings including the Lillehammer affair and the little known murder of one of their assassination team, here at the Europa Hotel in 1974.
Heading East we catch up on Alexander Korda. Used with great effect by the propaganda dept in WW2, and known as ‘Churchill’s man in Hollywood’, Korda had his workplace here on Grosvenor Street, next door to where Litvinenko’s murderers first lured him to kill him but failed miserably before fleeing back to Moscow.
Skirting Berkeley Square, an area densely populated by the intelligence community in WW2, we head south to the office of the GS & CS, London section. The Government Code & Cypher School,overtime became GCHQ. GS&CS was famously HQ’d at Bletchley Park during the war years and deciphered the Enigma code.
We pass Sidney Reilly’s home on Albemarle St. Reilly is regarded in intelligence circles as one of the best officers ever to have worked for the British. And onwards and across Piccadilly, we head down into St James’s and stop at White’s Gentlemen’s club. This area is famous for the number of clubs and they were a fertile recruiting ground for the security forces at least in the first half of the 20th century. White’s also hosted a meeting by Le Circle, a rather shadowy organisation and so called think tank, possibly funded by the CIA.
As we head towards our final destination, we stroll down Jermyn Street, another street bristling with spy sites and stories but we are interested in the Red Lion pub, just off Jermyn St on Duke of York St, for it was here that British KGB spy met with his handler over a couple of ‘King Lears’ in this beautiful Victorian London boozer. Navigating St James’s Square, passing the Libyan Consulate and the new ‘In & Out’ club, the former being infamous for the political situation after a Police officer was gunned down here in the 80’s.
Onto Regent Street before heading to the end stop, we hear of the amazing story of a female British KGB agent. Too often the role of female spies are overlooked, so this makes for an interesting story regardless of her sex.
Before ending up at one MI5’s many HQ’s near Oxford Street, we take in stories of three different political ideologies. First the Red Lion pub in Soho, where meetings were held by the Marks & Engels, next up it’s Anarchist superstar Emidio Recchioni and his legitimate Delicatessen on Dean St, before we learn of the HQ of the Italian Fascist Movement on Noel St.
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’