Deep under a central London office block can be found a warren of shops — all selling silverware in small rooms behind a bank vault of an entrance.
This is the London Silver Vault, and like a certain brand of DIY product, it does exactly what it says on the tin — it’s a vault full of silver, for sale.
With 1.2-metre (3.9 ft) thick walls lined with steel, the vaults have never been broken into, and even when a bomb hit the surface in WW2, the vaults were unaffected.
This deep basement space, about 3 storeys down was opened in 1885 as a secure store and initially was just for storage. Just a few years later though, traders thought this was actually quite a secure place to sell from, so part of the vault was turned into small shops.
It’s a very strange place.
Entry is through a street door and down three flights of rather utilitarian looking stairs.
Right by the bottom of the staircase signs point you to the Silver Vaults, but take a moment to peer through a side door to the Safe Deposit, and see the most James Bond style bank vault you will ever see. Goldfinger would have been envious.
That’s not the only bank vault door though, as you have to pass through one to get into the Vault itself. A large map of the vaults has welcome messages in German, French and Arabic. The lure of Chinese money hasn’t quite reached here yet.
There are about 40 shops down here, with 29 currently occupied, and reputedly all owned by the same families that have traded here for the past 50 years.
Rows of narrow breezeblock lined corridors with polystyrene ceilings, and each small shop with a black solid door, although on a Saturday only around half the shops are open, and each door complying with recent laws reminding us not to smoke down here.
No shop windows, but some have glass cases outside to show off their wares.
Silverware seems to be mostly antique, and the design seems to have changed little since Victorian times. I suspect that although modern silverware is made, people prefer the older designs to match their existing collections. A contemporary silver pot would look odd in a collection of Victorian silver.
Prices range from reasonable as a gift purchase to full-on ouch.
So the rooms are packed, often floor to low-ceiling with antique silver, enough cutlery to serve several banquets and plenty of silver plate to eat off or serve on.
One shop down here will give Harry Potter fans a moment to stop and realise, Olliver Vanders isn’t that shop.
It wasn’t busy on a Saturday lunchtime, a couple leaving a shop with the friendly farewells of a customer making a purchase, a couple looking around with the air of buyers, and a group just looking around like tourists.
As a tourist to this subterranean space, it’s just such an odd experience.
The space is shabby in places, old fashioned, undecorated save a bit of whitewash on the walls. In a way it’s just like your local indoor market — but with goods on sale that are as far from your local indoor market as it could possibly get.
It is though, quite literally a hidden gem under the streets of London, and one that everyone should visit at least once, and drag people along to see if they have visiting guests.
It’s surreal enough to leave your guests amazed at what you clever person you are to have found this for them to see.
The London Silver Vaults is open Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm and Saturday 9am-1pm. Closed on Sundays/Holidays.
Important – photography is not allowed inside the building — and I haven’t linked to their website because (at time of writing) it is infected with malware, and a week after I contacted them about it they haven’t replied or fixed the problem.