Today in London underground history, 2011: an incursion into the sewers under Buckingham Palace… terror? Love?

During the riots in August 2011 we were handed this text: a communiqué claiming to be from a murky group.. of sewer workers? or sewer dwellers?

The press went to town on 16th May 2011 with police claims that a ‘disturbed manhole’ on the Mall was evidence that ‘dissident republicans’ had tried to break into the sewers under Buckingham Palace to plant a bomb.

This text begged to differ…

It had been passed through various people, hand to hand, which may explain its reference to events several months before… We do not know the authors, but reproduce it here  again because we liked it.  


Down in the Sewer

On May 16th, there was a ‘terror alert’ in central London. The press reported a manhole into the sewers under The Mall being ‘disturbed’; according to police, ‘dissident Irish republicans’ had been exploring ways to blow up Buckingham Palace; as we rarely read the papers or pay attention to the guttersucking media, we’re only responding now, late. As usual.

There’s lots of rats down here

Disturbed manholes? It was republicans, yes, but no splinter psycho-rump IRA; it was us, sewer rats, but not trapped in any nationalist mazes. We’re republicans, yes, of an undetermined kind, with no attachment to any borders; ours is a floating republic, bright dreams of a life free from darkness and wage slavery – dreams tossing on the tide of shite we wade through day by day. We weren’t breaking IN to bomb the sad Windsor window-dressings ­- we were looking to break OUT.

Picking up empty coca cola cans…

The mid-19th Century journalist and ‘urban explorer’ John Hollingshead toured the London sewers with some of its workers. After they led him through a maze of tunnels, till he had no idea where he was, they halted, and told him he was standing directly under Buckingham Palace. Being a good patriotic soul he made them take off their caps and sing God Save the Queen.

In the sewers under the Queen’s toilets.

Knee deep in shit.
Like the poor fuckers sweeping the drains of St James need to learn the royal family are crapping on their heads.

It’s not something we need to learn either. We know.

People say you shouldn’t stay down here too long…

We weren’t delving into the drains to find a way to blow up the royals (you’ll find armed cops hanging out there anyway, polishing their glocks in their piss-soaked boots, still gutted they didn’t get to shoot down rioters on Regent Street in December 2010). We spend our lives in the sewers; we’ve swum the black depths of the Fleet, navigated the southern outfall, boated the echoing chambers, sidled past crumbling brickwork ­ all our lives. We’ve broken out of Newgate Prison through the drains… fought the Nazis from the sewers of Warsaw…

We’ve laid planks across the Fleet River (long become a stench-filled ditch), to allow our mates to escape the law when on the lam…

In more fragrant moments we’ve skinny dipped in the New River, chased off by the Company’s private cops; legged it naked with our clothes clutched in our arms when the Capper sisters caught us in their private ponds on Great Russell Fields… When the Thames froze over we danced on the ice, slugging spirits and printing blasphemous rants…

They said we planned to chuck acid in the reservoirs… daft bastards.

Lately you can barely move for the sub-urban explorers, the depoliticised psychogeographers of the sewers… tunnels and lost rivers are so TRENDY again.

…lose your sense of light and dark…

in fact we’ve kept our sense of light and dark. both light and dark are alive in us – the Light, the burning light of a new world, of the love we have for each other, the laughing, singing, dancing joy of being, for ourselves as humans, not commodities or wage slaves, the head thrown back ecstasy, our cheeky kids learning letters and who to trust, the fucking sucking and wanking (porn free), the trespassing, the stealing and the occasional all out rioting – all of it, at its best, utterly cut loose from control, property and suppression. The dark – the Dark – love is magical, but to survive in this sea of floating shite, we also need hate and defiance to keep our heads above water, hate for the early morning alarm clock, the bullying gaffer, the shithead bureaucrat, the racist small mind wankers proud on their white toilets, all the balding fuckwit violent men, the priestophiles and imumblers, gaybashers, godbotherers, gangbangers…the list goes on.

… lose your sense of smell…?

are we coming up into the daylight? we still don’t know… we carry the light with us, even in the gloomiest side tunnels. sometimes we sit disheartened, by torchlight. Sometimes we dance, Wilko Johnson on good speed. We drink alot.


Sometimes the circular walls close in on us, pressure beyond bearing…

… I tell you what I’m gonna do…

Some nights just the spirit we create between us vaporises the walls, the sewers, the royal shitheads on their golden thrones; it’s just a whisper though, a shadow, Harry Lime caught in the fork of two tunnels; an echo of a future that could be…

Sometimes the desires that burst inside us emerge sounding like pretentious poetry. Yuk. Like we’re fucking Tiqqun.

… gonna make love to a water rat or two…

… Athens, London, Tehran; we’re emerging, surfacing, with a clang of manhole covers, the rats, feverish and plague-rich, blinking and stretching, night of the living dead… If we’re coming then it won’t just be the underground Victorian brickwork that’ll crumble. Palaces will fall. We’ll turn banks into bonfires and streets into canals. We’ll flood the City, and return golf courses and gated communities to wilderness. We’ll squat all churches, mosques, temples and dance and drink all night, every night; we’ll hack into the phones of all journalists and spook them and stalk them till they crack. We’ll mix our races till we’re all funky colours. We aren’t yet decided if we’ll turn the houses of parlyment into a massive storehouse for manure (as William Morris predicted), though as we know all too well, all that shit has to go somewhere. Politicos, from biggest presidents to self-righteous activist moralists, will be taking our places sweeping up sewage. We won’t be living in ruins or holes in the wall, no thanks Durruti, we’ll be hotwiring space shuttles and heading for the stars.

past tense gongfermers cell, June 2011  

lines from Down In the Sewer, by the Stranglers, quoted absolutely without permission, but with thanks and apologies

Dedicated to the memory of the Stranglers Dave Greenfield, 29th March 1949 – 3rd May 2020. Fly straight, with perfection. (And Covid-19 conspiracy theorists can fuck right off.)

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