A London Miscellany


The upside to living in what has now become the world’s most popular city is that new things are opening all the time. In October, Scotland Yard’s so-called ‘Black Museum’ – a phrase they are keen to distance themselves from, except that here at Fowler Towers there are long memories – opens to the public at the Museum of London. From Jack the Ripper to the Acid Bath Murders and the Great Train Robbery, all aspects of the force’s history will be contained in the exhibition, which opens on 9 October. There’s also a TV series coming about the Met that promises warts and all.

Acid Bath Murderer 1949

Those things in the bowl above are the acid victim’s gallstones, the only part that didn’t dissolve. As expected, there’s a bit of beard-stroking going on in the media about whether or not this will be glamorising murderers, something I was careful to avoid at the conclusion of the last Bryant & May book, but I think enough time has passed to place these particular items in perspective. My pals at the Londonist are running a video about it here.

It’s a sure sign that you’re living in a city on the rise when new projects are being daily announced. Our neighbourhood is getting two new swimming pools, new green spaces and a new cinema. In central London last night (seeing ‘Mad Max: Thunder Road’, if you must know) I espied what I hope might be the start of another new trend. Lately having lost pubs to restaurants, it’s pleasing to note that the really-not-very-good dim sum chain Ping Pong vacated its premises and was turned back into the Newman Street Tavern, which has been getting excellent reviews. Can we have a few more multi-use taverns please?

I’m hoping that the demolition binge which saw so many beautiful buildings destroyed and replaced with glass boxes is finally over. Christopher Booker’s volume ‘Goodbye London’ offered a snapshot of London in 1974, and was an illustrated guide to buildings under threat of demolition. This was at the start of the movement to repurpose older buildings, something which could be done thanks to changes in technology, like the development of narrower pipework and techniques for holding up fascias. Walking through Soho is like having an attack of Alzheimer’s at the moment – it seems as if every other building has simply vanished. When Crossrail is finally finished we’ll see what the grand plan was – if indeed there is one – and can take note of what we’ve been left with. Meanwhile, my playground of choice is Holborn; nicer pubs, better restaurants, fewer crowds.

‘London’s Hidden Walks’ has made it to a handsome three-volume set with some real gems in the later volumes. From the Brick Lane Music Hall (not, of course, in Brick Lane or anywhere near it, just to confuse tourists, but in Silvertown) to the TNT memorial, it’s packed with things even I’ve never heard of. I didn’t know that Teddy Boys started as a gang in the Elephant & Castle, an area which is now very nearly respectable. I knew that the steps to Percy Circus, near me, are the location for Arnold Bennett’s excellent (if terribly sad) novel ‘Riceyman Steps’, but these books are packed with literary references for walkers, and there’s a lot you can still see. I always feel sorry for those people doing Jack the Ripper tours, being stuck with a resting actor pointing out that underneath this or that car park was once a building that housed something interesting.


So…it turns out that people came from all over the world to attend Secret Cinema’s ‘Star Wars’ event, housed in an old factory in the East End, which only proves how much people love a bit of am-dram. I’m not the only one who thinks Secret Cinema has really passed its sell-by date, and that charging £78 a ticket for what is basically a cosplay funfair with a bit of panto thrown in is a bit embarrassing; Wired magazine described it as a complete rip-off – but people love to do something pro-active, and there are too many passive events in London. We need fewer evenings of just watching other people do stuff and more evenings where you can actually do stuff yourself. Although I draw the line at my pal Graham Humphries attempting to stuff a dormouse pissed (the taxidermy course started late).

Well, it’s another cloudy, poor-quality air day here in London and for once I’ve the whole weekend free. I opened the Hidden Walks books to stick a pin in a page, then read about London’s pollution being so bad they were warning people not to jog. Meanwhile, the Mayor is planning more new roads…enjoy your weekend.


6 comments on “A London Miscellany”

  1. Jo W says:

    A question,Chris. Is the Graham Humphries you mention that nice man I’ve had the pleasure of chatting to? If so,I can only suppose that it was the dormouse that was pissed ( alive or dead)!

  2. admin says:

    It was indeed the same Graham, Jo, but it was sadly the taxidermist who’d had his stuffing knocked out.

  3. Jo W says:

    A story for another day,perhaps?

  4. Helen Martin says:

    The news this morning is of a proposal to go before Vancouver City Council that will put a stop to he many equests for demolition permission for houses in First Shaughnessy, an area set aside by the CPR in the 1880s for large and elaborate houses on parklike properties. No one can afford to live like that any more and people are wanting to divide the property, tear down the houses and build… condos? row housing? … whatever. They’re suggesting ways that people could divide the inside (without destroying all the lovely features), keep the outside, and retain the feeling of the neighbourhood. There was always some of that, though. My brother boarded in one of those mansions owned by the widow of a former Danish consul. Now if they do the same for some areas with simpler homes of the same period it would be well worth doing.

  5. chris hughes says:

    The Elephant & Castle was always a shady area – I can just about remember it before it was ‘redeveloped’ but the redevelopment didn’t do anything to improve it! But you never wanted to linger round there after dark, not that there was much to linger about for. The shopping precinct (not ‘mall’ in those days!) was deeply depressing – they could have put ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ above the doors. There is a book about the area – Elephant Boys by Brian McDonald which gives some of its seamier history.

  6. chris hughes says:

    PS Just noticed that the old Elephant & Castle pub is to become a branch of Foxton’s! – is irony dead?

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