Victorian Tales: The Twisted Tunnels


London, March 1843. Jenny and her Granddad are toshers, that is, scavengers in the sewers, a dangerous and smelly job, but they like it. One day, they sneak into the new underground Thames Tunnel for foot passengers built by Marc Brunel. Queen Victoria is coming to open it, and they want to see her.

Jenny strikes up a conversation with the queen and suggests that they have railways underground, too. It would help with traffic congestion. The queen likes the idea and, in a twinkling, it becomes her idea. Jenny is miffed.

Fast forward to 1860. The first underground train lines are being built, but the construction work means that Jenny and Granddad’s home will be demolished. They become homeless. In desperation, they change jobs. Granddad becomes a railway porter, and Jenny becomes a maid at the King’s Cross Hotel.

One day in 1863, the hotel manager tells Jenny that the hotel chef has been asked to cook for some important railway people at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the new Underground’s opening. But disaster strikes! They are one maid short. Jenny will be whisked to Buckingham Palace in the new underground train. It’s a great honour, he tells her. And the new Underground Railway was all the queen’s idea. Jenny sniffs. She will go – and put the queen straight on a number of things…

This book is an enjoyable gallop through various episodes around London’s transport history, greatly enhanced by Helen Flook’s splendid and informative drawings. The story line is a bit of a muddle as it jumps about, still, children of 7 plus should enjoy the glimpses into the dirt and smells of the building of the London Underground.

Elizabeth Hawksley

I like Jenny because she says what she thinks and is cleverer than the rich people, even though she is dirty and poor. I think that people should understand that you can’t do something like building tunnels without causing problems like moving people out of their houses. It must have been a horrible job to be a tosher. I’m am glad that Jenny got to ride first class in the first underground train – and that her life was good in the end. But that only happened because she told the queen what she really thought rather than just pretended to be polite. I like the way that she looked after her Grandpa when he was old too. I think Jenny and her Grandpa had a difficult life because they had to work so hard just to be warm and to have food.

William Stockton, age 7

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(UK) £4.99

(UK) 9781408154113