Merlin & The Key Of Curiosity


My picture shows Percy Circus, a quiet, rather picturesque circus in my neighbourhood. When I wrote ‘Bryant & May On The Loose’, I invented very little about the book’s location. Even the tunnel that features at the climax is supposed to be there. The trouble is, nobody’s quite sure where.

The problem is Merlin’s Cave. It’s disappeared. I know there used to be a Merlin pub and a Merlin Street, because it came up time and again when I was researching sacrifices. Ah, I didn’t explain that part – the Penton of ‘head’ of Pentonville is so-called because of its view of the sunrise, an ideal location for sacrifice, hence the area’s long-standing mystical associations.

I was talking to someone who said he grew up in those streets, and there was definitely a Merlin Street because it’s still marked on a road stone – I just haven’t been able to find it yet. And then there are the Plum Puddings – an odd set of steps that go nowhere, they’re connected to the mystery somehow.

After that it starts to get complicated, and the story takes in Nell Gwynne’s house (now a 90 year-old lady lives on the site) and the Robin Hood legend and its connection with Aleister Crowley…

…and there it is, we’re off and running on the streets of London once more, tracking down new mysteries for Bryant & May to solve. And it’s why I can’t run out of stories, because every door holds the key to another.

But the real key is curiosity. I get worried when I meet incurious, closed-off kids who dismiss everything as boring. Yes, I suppose everything is boring if you close your mind and fail to make connections. Creativity is a giant join-the-dots game. Separately two bits of data may prove dull, but when they’re linked together you create something interesting.

A woman walks into a shop.
The shop is on fire.

Me, I’m off to find Merlin.

11 comments on “Merlin & The Key Of Curiosity”

  1. keith Page says:

    I love all this kind of stuff; London seems to have more than its fair share of curious mysteries. Paris, too;I recommend ‘Paris Noir’ by Jacques Yonnet.

  2. Jan says:

    Chris Are u (Or am I?) getting a bit mixed up about the plum puddings aren’t they the steps that run through the space deliberately left by the architect of that big Irish hotel a bit further down the road from PERCY Circus which were also featured in that novel as RICEYMAN steps It might have been a neville Shute novel? I know theres supposed to be a tunnel near Percy Circ and i think it used to be near that lovely little pub just off the actual circus which property holders got hold of a few years ago that was a gr8 little place lovely garden lots of different locals used to get in and Kings X nick used to use it a lot – u know the old place where the traffic wardens now live where the stables are. jan

  3. Dave says:

    Chris – if you have an iPhone/iPad, there is an application TTX London that allows you to superimpose old maps. The London 1746 Roque map shows Merlin’s Cave pleasure garden clearly to the south west of Sadlers Wells. The intersection of Amwell Street and Hardwick Street/Merlin Street looks dead in the middle of the please garden which shows as a narrow strip almost North/South. I’d reckon that there is a fair chance that the grotto is under the intersection, perhaps over towards the Hardwick Street side…. Dave

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Aleister Crowley. My hope is that no one in his immediate family emigrated to Newfoundland because we have Crowley connections from there. These Crowleys are benefactors, however, in that they founded a local dairy (still operating), fought the poll tax, served on the parks board and organized a women’s group.
    Neville Shute. In Town Like Alice there is a brief part set in London, but most of the rest of his fiction is set in Australia or the far east so the book is likely someone else. I stand ready to be corrected, however.

  5. D.J.Kirkby says:

    I think that photograph is very inspiring. I don’t understand why London has so may areas called ‘Circus’ though.

  6. admin says:

    I’ve just looked for this app TTX London but nothing’s coming up…

    Oh, and I guess they’re circuses because they’re round?

  7. D.J.Kirkby says:

    That makes sense! I wonder if that is actually why they are called circuses?

  8. jan says:

    Sorry 4 adding to the general confusion around this subject – Riceyman steps are just down the road near what was the Tara hotel when i was a Kings X stomper and is now a Travelodge.

    And secondly the novelist was Arnold Bennett (how i mixed those 2 up i don’t know but there u go!) and plum pudding steps are over the road in Argylle Square are they not? near the Pindar of Wakefield all that area near Grays Inn road up to Sadlers Wells is absolutely dominated by the influence of wells and water and this influence has stayed with the area throughout the centuries because of the water companies influence the New River Head was routed through to here. Interestingly the housing estate on the opposite side of the main road from Sadlers Wells is one of the sites of the Cromwellian stop lines which we’e discussed b4 i better e mail this is getting a bit long……..

  9. Dave says:

    The post above gives the details of the app. It’s necessary to buy the Pro version to get access to all the maps, and sadly you have to pay twice if you want it on an iPad as well.

    Looking more closely, the registration of the maps available varies slightly, and I think it is likely that the Roque map is the least accurate in terms of positioning. The other maps would suggest that the cave was about two thirds of the way along Merlin Street (away from Amwell Street) and either slightly to the North or South (depending on which map you believe – the later maps would say North). Merlin Street as it exists today is modern. The 1862 shows Merlin Place as a continuation of Amwell Street where it bends (the modern extension of Amwell used to be Upper Rosoman Street). Merlin Place extended as far as to where Merlin Street is today.

    Time perhaps to visit the Islington History Centre and take a closer look at mapping….Dave

  10. johneo says:

    Oh I had a great time reading all of these comments! The Plumb Puds, Percy Circus all stuff of legend and my childhood! Oh and I can’t leave out old Merlin and the Merlin Street baths!!!

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