Bryant & May’s London
The London of the first book is different to London now
I’ve just started researching the 2020 Bryant & May novel, the final one in the series that I’m currently contracted to write for Random House. I have the basic outline, but will need to research its seven main locations, and intend to start doing this today.
I already have a file of key locations where the main characters live and work, but I also need to visit places at different times of the day. Sometimes I have to get into buildings that are closed to the public (I had a friend sneak me into parts of the Goldsmiths Guild, and watch for open days on other usually shut buildings).
Is this necessary? It helps because there are now so many books printing a (hopefully) cohesive image of the city that I need to reflect how it’s changing over the years. Already the London of the first book is different to London now. Here’s the building that’s the basis for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, although I’ve added a floor to it. When I was a teenager it was called The Hoop & Grapes, because King’s Cross was where they delivered London’s beer barrels.
Its beautiful Victorian interior was ripped out and it became a series of doomed, awful cocktail bars. Now it’s the extension of the Institute of Physics, the new building next door, and houses academics – so it’s got closer to its fictional counterpart.
Arthur Bryant grew up in the East End, in Whitechapel, but I use this street in Hackney as his imaginary birthplace. It’s used for filming a lot, so rare is it to find a complete terrace now that’s unspoiled and original.
Bryant lives here in Bloomsbury. Formerly working out of Bow Street, Saville Row and the North London Serious Crimes Division, he lived in Hampstead and Battersea, then moved to Chalk Farm. He shares with Alma Sorrowbridge, his landlady at 17, Albion House, Harrison Street, Bloomsbury (3rd floor).
After work, this is one of the boozers he and partner John May drink in. It has a peculiar mix of clientele, being on the frontline between a large council estate and expensive apartments so that the evening mix of plumbers and electricians, students and corporate managers can be quite invigorating (ie sometimes there’s a fight).
Like Bryant, John May has led a peripatetic life across London, finally ending up in a small bare flat in Shad Thames, here. He’s the divorced ladies’ man who has wound up living alone, down among the old spice wharves that once (certainly before 1980) smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg and is now dead except for tourists. Most of its walkways were removed in the late seventies – there used to be dozens – but it retains some atmosphere.
Janice Longbright now lives in a rented flat in Highgate, North London, a leafy suburb with startling views across the city. Most of it is not on the tourist trail and it remains close to town and residential. It’s famous for one tourist spot – the cemetery. It’s here that Karl Marx, George Elliot and Douglas Adams are buried. I prefer the steep redbrick terraced backstreets.
As I continue this mapping-out of the city I look for new places of visual interest, and am happy to accept all unusual suggestions, the less well-known and obvious the better.