Bryant & May’s London

Bryant and May

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.





22 comments on “Bryant & May’s London”

  1. Stephen says:

    Hi Chris, interesting article.Is next year the end of Byrant And May?

  2. James says:

    I feel like these might already in your books (I’ve not yet read them all)…
    Three Mills Island (esp. when viewed from district line train)
    The Grotto, Wanstead Park
    Abbey Park Cemetery
    The artists studios on Talgarth Rd
    Blythe House (museum storerooms)

  3. Jan says:

    Tried to e mail you about this last night. The Sky at Night featured a bunch of astronomers who meet in Regents Park who go by the magnificent name of the Baker street irregulars.

    These guys have had over 100 meetings and unbelievably have made some startling discoveries (somehow – God knows how in that light pollution. In fact one thing they found by accident cos of the light pollution) Thought that could be a really interesting set up for a B+M.

    I still think there could be great comedy value in having a group of oddballs in one place witnessing a serious crime but with should we say contrasting /discordant views of this same event. Struck me that a bunch of people focussing telescopes suddenly on an event seen. at a distance would definitely have really differing contrasting views of one event.

    In all honesty people DO see the same event differently its just how visual perception works. But it does drive u bonkers sometimes when you are trying to put a coherent narrative together. It’s like the who the bloody hell saw what compo.

    Does James mean Abney park cemetery? Not taking the Mick – said she the typo queen of old London town. Very interesting place Abney park.

    I can think of a good few places but best e mail later cos everybody will be snoozing be the time I’m done.

  4. Roger says:

    In the eighteenth century there was a notorious pub on Brentford Ait, The Three Swans. It would make an interesting drinking-place a little out-of-town for B&M. Oliver’s Island – just downstream – is said to have an undiscovered secret tunnel to a pub in Strand-on-the-Green and a lost forge.

  5. Jan says:

    That’s interesting Roger. I always get the River islands mixed up all the way down to Kingston + Hampton Wick. Which one exactly is Brentford Ait? Is that the one near to the theatre on the Thames N bank round Brentford where there’s a big sign on this theatre place announcing that it’s NOT a car park. You could see why the innocent motorist could make such an error cos it does look like a multi storey car park…..

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Why is it that brutalism architecture seems to be the only way to design a multi story car park? Especially on the inside. One, that though still brutalist, looked ‘good’ was/is Welbeck Street multi-storey car park, I hear it’s to be demolished, but what are those diamonds all pointing at?


  7. Helen Martin says:

    No suggestions from here (only been there twice) but looking at that street where Arthur “was” born doesn’t help me with the use of the word “terrace”. I assume it means a row of housing all built at one time as a single building. Confusing to me because I want it to be a paved area outside a home, often fitted with planters, chairs, etc. and perhaps a wall.
    I hear that Marx’ headstone has been vandalised along with others there. Hope no one has touched Douglas Adams’.
    Oliver’s Island certainly sounds useful
    Do we have to bomb your publisher, Chris, with requests for another trio of B&Ms? You aren’t tired of them, are you? I still have shelf space.

  8. Jeanette says:

    I used to go to a public swimming baths in Marshall Street in the late 1970’s ,unusual because it was just off Carnaby Street. I worked in Oxford Circus for Diners Club,and worked flexi hours so used to go very week during lunch hour. Who would have thought of a public swimming pool right in the heart of busy London. It has been refurbished now,but at the time it had 1930’s fittings.

  9. snowy says:

    Terrace housing was a class thing, and hence a frame of mind, more than a rigidly fixed house style. The ones in picture 2 are of superior quality, [the stone lintels give that away], and almost as good as a ‘passage house’.

    Terrace housing was close to the bottom of the housing pile, houses built at the absolute minimum cost to house workers, every possible corner was cut, [originally even the walls between houses stopped just above the upstairs ceiling, if a one house caught fire and flames got into there it would spread down the entire row].

    Most early ones, [as distinct from Estate workers cottages which were also small and in rows] were built by factory/mill/mine owners, to house their staff, some was also built later by local Corporations/Councils but they really went out of fashion post WW1, partly with the clamour for ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ and partly with general improvements in sanitary requirements.

  10. Jan says:

    I used to go to Marshall Street baths Jeanette have they been refurbished or demolished? I thought the area was being revamped.
    Spent far to much time around Soho to like it much really have never been back to check.

  11. Brooke says:

    @Wayne M. See post on Bainbridge.

  12. Jeanette says:

    Jan ,no not demolished.They said refurbished after it fell into disrepair.

    I’m the same never really went to Carnaby Street.Used to save our luncheon vouchers for slap up lunch in an Italian restaurant on Argyle Street, then sandwiches for rest of month on the Embankment and Regent Park..

    Snowy on a journey up north we were diverted through Bradford and saw the Mill owners house on the top of a hill with rows upon rows of houses stretching down towards the Mill, was quite a sight.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Snowy. If properly built those houses would have been just fine, but that fact about the fire danger is something our firemen warn about especially regarding commercial malls. I seem to remember some mention of it in B&M as well. Jeanette’s comment provides the perfect illustration.
    I was reading a coal miner’s memoir and he said that their homes were fitted with bathrooms but many families refused to use them, stored coal in the tub and used the yard facilities because it was nasty to have toilets in the house. We had some Japanese teachers staying with us 40 years ago (!) and they said that that was a common feeling in Japan, too.

  14. snowy says:

    Jeanette, parts of ‘Cottonopolis’ can be quite astounding if glimpsed just after a shower of rain makes the all the slate tiles shine.

    But if one were to look closer, subtle Class distinctions can be found in the houses. The Mill itself would be hard by the river that had provided the source of power to drive the machinery. Clustered about it were rather mean terrace houses for the millhands. Further up the sides of the valley were the better houses, the superior terrace, for skilled artisans, with a larger yard and individual toilets. Higher still, houses for overseers and clerks, these might have a parlour room and a scullery as well as a scrap of garden. Senior clerks and managers would be housed in ‘villas’ of varying sizes, graded again depending on status, at the lower end – typically comprising: parlour, dining room, kitchen, scullery and cellar downstairs, upstairs 3 bedrooms and a possibly bathroom, with a maid-of-all-works room in the attic. Senior managers houses would have larger better appointed rooms, additional floors would allow the inclusion of a drawing room, a study and a nursery room. The family would become the filling in a servant sandwich, as they occupied the middle floors, the ground floor devoted to the machinery of running the house, cooking, laundry, cleaning. The top floor, sleeping quarters for the staff.

  15. snowy says:

    H, that memoir must have come from the 20th C? Indoor plumbing didn’t trickle down to the working classes until around about the 1930s [if the local situation was typical]. It was still viewed as deeply suspect well into the 1950s.

    There is a quote from around the time of the Festival of Britain, if memory serves from the Grandmother of a couple being keys to a new house. She was moving in with them and was rather surprised by the celebrations. Much was being made of it, the chair of the local council would be handing over the keys to the couple with much ceremony in front of the nations press, the assembled company would then be treated to the then remarkable novelty of a barbeque laid on in the back garden.

    This redoubtable lady having lived through two World Wars, The Depression and the General Strike, raised a family and seen off at least one husband was asked by a reporter what she thought of the pristine new house with its modern conveniences. Her reply, “It’s a funny old world, where people cook in the garden and sh*t in the house!”.

  16. Wayne Mook says:

    Some terrace houses would have an entry or alley way between then round the back, over were built back to back and two up, two down (That’s rooms.) There would be a communal wash house & toilets.


  17. Ian Luck says:

    Sorry to (ahem) ‘Big Up’ someone’s youtube channel, but if you are interested in Manchester, I strongly urge you to have a look at the youtube channel of a bloke going by the name of ‘Martin Zero’ (if you’re familiar with 1980’s independant music, you’ll know the reason for his nom de video). His videos are simply fascinating. I apologise for the ‘Big Up’, but I had to mention his channel. Ta.

  18. raedarius says:

    Is that Beck Road? If so, interesting to learn that Arthur Bryant and Genesis P Orridge lived on the same street, albeit at different times, and in different realities…

  19. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy, yes it was 20th century. The son of the family came to Canada between the wars and it was his story. I was reading it partly because my grandfather was born into an Old Monkland (Glasgow) mining family and came to Nova Scotia in the 1880s where life and housing wasn’t any better. There are a few of the old houses left but these days one (much smaller) family lives in what was two families’ housing. Loved the bbq story.

  20. snowy says:


    I thought those terraces looked a bit upper tier and so when given a possible identification by raedarius. It was the only excuse needed, [and I never need much], to go for a nosey about in one of the most comprehensive surveys of London ever carried out.

    If it is Beck Street it was surveyed in ~1897 the relevant extract is:
    [I’ve omitted …. survey notations of a purely technical form that lend nothing to the description.]

    ….Antwerp St. looks rough. It turns South out of Ada St. Up Sheep Lane again to Goring St. another very rough St. …. It is a thieves resort. Half way down on the South side is a common lodging house with beds for 2d & 4d. Duncan Road & Duncan Square …. Street littered with rubbish. The North end of Sheep Lane has some very poor cottages, very small & very poor 4 or 6 of them I think with bits of front garden & Sunflowers. Then East into Beck Road which is a much better road. …. At one window was a man at tea with his children. The man was an artisan in appearance reading the Daily Chronicle in his shirt sleeves. From the opposite side of the St. came the sounds of a piano very much out of tune. A news boy running along the pavement & shouting “The Star and Latest Winners!” But no buyers as far as I could see….

    [The survey covered the whole of what was London at the time, anybody wanting to research their own street/road can pop over to the Booth Archive hosted by the LSE and use the interactive map.]

  21. Wayne Mook says:

    Thanks for that the link Ian.



  22. Ian Luck says:

    Raedarius – I met Genesis P Orridge once, in about 1982, when he was about to start Psychic TV. I was walking down Denmark St, and this bloke asked me if I had the time. It was G.P.O. (or Neil Megson as his mum knew him); I spoke to him for a few minutes, and far from being a ‘Wrecker Of Civilisation’ (© any red-top rag you can think of), he was a pleasant, well-spoken normal person. Being a fan of Throbbing Gristle, this made my day. Oh, and his former band mate, Cosey Fanni Tutti wrote one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read: ‘Sex. Art. Music.

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