Today’s look at the world of the Royal Occultist introduces the redoubtable men of the London Tunnel Authority, and the dangers of Under-London…

The body known as the London Tunnel Authority has existed, in one fashion or another, for as long as London itself. It is possibly older even than the offices of the Royal Occultist, supposedly having existed since London was Londinium.

According to what few sources from that time remain, the first iteration of the Tunnel Authority was created not long after the Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Pompelo with the Folk Below. Composed of gladiators fresh from the arenas, the group functioned as the wardens of the secrets roads running through the dark beneath the earth. Hundreds of secret battles were waged, even as Rome’s grip on their island territory slipped. When the Empire at last departed, the wardens of the secret roads remained, bound by oaths stronger than iron.

Currently, the Authority recruits members from the police and armed forces, rather than gladiators. The Royal Occultist is considered a ‘civilian adviser’ by the Authority and often works alongside them in order to investigate some mystery or to stave off some dark horror, such as the Rotherhithe Incident of 1834, during which Isambard Kingdom Brunel was rescued from a horrific burrowing entity of enormous size.

The Authority are responsible for the entirety of Under-London, patrolling the depths in grim rotations, twenty-four hours a day. The ghost-stations of the Underground, the semi-detached cellars, forgotten tube tracks and the sewers are their beat, and they wage an on-again, off-again cold war with the Folk Below, tracking and eliminating renegades who seek the surface.

More than once in recent years, the men of the Authority have been forced to enter some squalid East-End cellar with guns and fire and deal with what was nesting there, or wall up a long-lost tunnel in order to contain a lurking horror. Only time will tell if they’re winning the war in the dark, or whether their efforts are doomed to failure.

The London Tunnel Authority was inspired by one of my favourite short stories, “Far Below”, by Robert Barbour Johnson. The idea of a select squad of men, fighting eldritch horrors far below the unknowing streets of a major metropolis, was too good not to borrow. After all, someone must have dealt with the sinister forces slumbering beneath London before the position of Royal Occultist was created.

Since their introduction in “Iron Bells”, they’ve appeared a handful of times, always ably led by Ian Stanhook, the night-manager of the Thames Section. Stanhook is the sort of Sid James-ish genial everyman I like to imagine being responsible for such a daunting task.

He’s become one of the most popular supporting characters in the series, right after Philip Wendy-Smythe. And as with Wendy-Smythe, I have often considered writing London Tunnel Authority-focused stories, centred around Stanhook and his subordinates. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation. I think Stanhook and co. work best as supporting players for the Royal Occultist, though I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date.

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