You Asked For It

Bryant and May

…and have only yourselves to blame. For several years now you’ve been asking me to write a Bryant & May London guide, and now seems the perfect time to do it. I’ve been able to visit a great many buildings without the impediments of traffic and tourists.

Originally I had baulked at the idea simply because there are so many London books out there that the city has its own shelf in bookshops. I needed a fresh handle on the material, and now I have it. I’ll be avoiding all obvious subjects – you won’t find much about Big Ben or Buckingham Palace in it because that’s the kind of material you can find in any London book.

Besides, with Arthur Bryant and John May in charge of your itinerary, I can promise that things will take a turn for the unexpected, so that it will read like a regular Bryant & May book without the murder plot. I already have a lot of ideas about what will be in it, and the research has been conducted over the course of the last few years. I’ve had a green light and we’re full speed ahead.

While you’re waiting, the paperback of ‘Oranges & Lemons’ will arrive, followed by my most epic Bryant & May novel, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’.

If you think there’s anything of special interest that should be included in the guide, now’s the time to suggest it. So yes, Jan and Snowy and the rest of you, perhaps there’s hidden knowledge the public should know about! (And maybe I should include the East End’s cockney ATMs…)

35 comments on “You Asked For It”

  1. Martin Tolley says:

    I hope parts of this will be a companion piece to some of the novels – places mentioned linked to some of the B&M cases – on this spot X was found murdered…. type of thing. Possibly with an appendix of things like “The Lonely Hour trail” etc. Whatever you decide will be good.

  2. Jo W says:

    That space I have reserved on the Chris Fowler bookshelf, just how big will it need to be? Now then,interesting facts and places in my home town? Which to choose? I’ll have to get my thinking cap on,if I can find it.

  3. David says:

    Will you be including pictures?

  4. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Looking forward to it.

  5. Barbara Boucke says:

    Good heavens – a Bryant and May guide to my favorite city that isn’t about Big Ben or Buckingham Palace would be a treat indeed. I once bought – and still have – a book called Unexpected London by Andrew Lawson which enabled me to find parts of the City I might have missed. I look forward to whatever John May, Arthur Bryant, and you decide to tell us about London.

  6. Brian Evans says:

    Wow, looking forward to this.

  7. admin says:

    There will be sketches, not photographs, because I want it to look and feel personalised.

  8. Peter T says:

    Brilliant news. I second Martin’s suggestions.

  9. Joel says:

    Please Chris,
    Find a spot in the guide for the long-gone (sometimes not much missed) ‘greasy spoon’ caffs. Those dubious joints were to my youth Red Rover (all day bus travel tickets) days the real stars of London, where you could be equally poisoned or pleasured (by food, but also by some dodgy geezer in the corner with an apparently buttoned-up overcoat) for a very reasonable price. Everything Formica and stained, cutlery dulled, tomato ketchup in ‘bottles’ from an Edwardian era or in plastic that hadn’t seen a cleaning attempt in decades.

    The whole of real London transitted those caffs, doing dodgy deals, people like me between transports, charladies (sometimes with their cleaning kit) putting the world and their husbands to rights over tea no longer even tepid… The London that’s gone will always be the most magical – bus conductors, coalmen and milkies, hand-painted glorificated shop fascias with porcelain lettering on their windows, and always a noise of excitement around the next corner, never quite found.

  10. tony williams says:

    Really cool idea.

  11. Derek J. Lewis says:

    Any chance of including those little pen pictures of obscure London pubs you’ve posted throughout the years?

  12. Frances says:

    This is great news! There may be a lot of books about London but this will be the only one where Bryant and May are our guides. I hope you enjoy writing it. I know we will enjoy reading it.

  13. Sarah Griffin says:

    This is something worth looking forward to. I have exercised great self discipline over the last 9 months not to make any future plans or have any expectations for the next 6 months at least! And now the gates are open. Feeling a bit light headed frankly.

  14. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Walking guides tied to some of the novels, with stops at pubs mentioned, would be good. Can one picnic near Marx’s grave? Opportunity to get a seance or meet some of your characters or their templates over tea or chips.?! Be well.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Definitely include references to the novels.
    Two sets of good news in one day: the foot care nurses have found a place and are taking reservations after a year’s wait and now all this good news about B&M.

  16. John Howard says:

    All I am going to do is echo all of the above and say thank you…. I will take up my place in the bookshop next to the London Guide shelf awaiting its arrival.

  17. mike says:

    Brilliant! Where do I order it?

  18. Paul C says:

    Perhaps the guide could include an entry on King Mob – a radical group based in London in the 1960s whose stunts included dressing up as Santa in Selfridges and handing out toys without paying for them to passing kids. Helpfully the police forced the kids to return their toys which was nice….

    Acc to Wikipedia ‘he most celebrated graffiti attributed to King Mob was the slogan which was painted along a half-mile section of the wall beside the tube (railway) commuter route into London between Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park tube stations in west London:

    “Same thing day after day- tube – work – dinner – work – tube – armchair – TV – sleep – tube – work – how much more can you take? – one in ten go mad, one in five cracks up.” Still spot on.

    I haven’t seen King Mob mentioned in other London guides and their savage posters would be a funny inclusion – esp the one with Pluto urinating on Mickey Mouse…..

  19. Lorraine says:

    This is marvellous news! So looking forward to them both.

  20. Jan says:

    Quick input from work Chris!

    Yes lots of rubbish to pester you with. You’ll regret asking sir!

    Have written a proper letter to you today and POSTED it!! (Well practically proper letter written on envelope) Future communication(s) on this topic via snail mail. Take it steady best Jan x

  21. Wayne Mook says:

    Sounds good, glad to see the publisher has sense, (I did like your thought about publishers, in short, ‘Don’t publish me and be damned.). will there be a section of graveyards and plague pits that have just been covered over and/or built on. There are quite a few in Manchester, even a catacombs that was bricked up under St. Peter’s now the sight of the Central Library.

    Sorry I’ve not been on much, circumstance and a spot of illness. I was under the weather but only one set of clouds. Derek the book you recommended by John Rogers is now out of print and the cheapest was £67 and some odd pence, didn’t bother to look at the postage.

    Since it will be a while before we see the B&M Lost Guide to Outre London, (If you go for the darker side you could call it ‘London’s Gory.’ Sorry I was reading about Execution Dock but it’s place seems a bit lost, in Wapping with a couple of pubs as possibles, like the idea of the Wapping Old Steps, so not far from St. Katherine’s by the Tower, modern day St. Katherine’s Dock is where the assassinated MP, Jo Cox lived in London.)….

    … Are there any other books about London I could send to my friend the guide?

    I was going to add stuff about the tower block thing but it’s a bit depressing.


  22. Ed DesCamp says:

    Oh thank all the little gods and goddesses…the Bryant and May tour book is a-borning! I’m still shy London Bridge is Falling Down (we ‘murricans are last of course) so the wait will be long but worth it. Thank you, sir.

  23. Jan says:

    Hiya Wayne. I tell you what is very interesting about some Execution sites. There’s a real tie up between certain sites of execution and the presence of ancient marker trees. The real big e g. is of course the Tyburn tree which latterly was not a tree at all but a very strange and large inverted triangle of a contraption which enabled industrial scale type executions to take place right at the spot where the (Roman) Edgware Road begins and v close to the location of Marble Arch(Relocated from Buck House) is presently sited. Lots of R.C. Martyrs created at Tyburn as celebrated -probably not the right word – in the basement museum inside the very narrow Tyburn convent . You know Chris one of London’s narrowest buildings which is situated nearby.

    Oxford Street/Bayswater road is thought to be actually based on an ancient prehistoric trackway which developed into a drover’s route taking advantage of the waters of Bayswater. A similar trackway ran pretty much parallel along what is now Hammersmith Road – Ken High Street – Kensington Gore. This route took advantages of an ancient well, now St Govors Well, in Kensington Gdns not far from Ken Palace.

    A tree I am much more interested in is situated in S.E. London at St Saviours dock where in the 17+18Cs ships waited for weeks to unload cargo. Therefore (Very local!) Piracy became popular not having to decamp onto the high seas but to take advantage of the Pool of London suited the local lads a treat! As a deterrent these “pirates” when captured were hanged right at the mouth of this Dock.

    At this location the river Neckinger had been physically extended by medieval monks to achieve a confluence with the Thames. That is a channel was dug out. At this same location an ancient tree survived in some living form until at least the early 17C + executions had taken place here for centuries. It was only the presence of the Pool and increased trade which accelerated executions accelerating the process until a gibet was created. The Neckinger seems to have been named for the “Devils Neckinger or Neckerchief ” that is a slang term for the noose which does for executing local pirates- and many others before.

    Now I have tried to sell this idea to Chris b4 but hes not having it.

    London’s very ancient – pre Roman I believe. The Romans tart up, develop, + improve a pre existing place and amongst the ancient leftovers are some much older sites, springs which become wells, tumuli which become embedded into later structures, henge monuments which also become embedded into different structures. Trees as well or perhaps tree sites would be a better way to express it already existed.

    Trees become symbols or border markers, places of worship which are ‘re used at various points such as “Gospel Oak”. Acton is supposed to have it’s roots (!) In an early word for oak or oak groves theres a good few of these places which cos I’m doing this off the top of my head I can’t bring to mind. Certain trees sites seem to have this link with being places of execution places to carry out authorized killings. It’s an odd thing I know. And I dunno why maybe cos they lie close to some form of border. It’s there though. And perhaps the tree sites the presence of an ancient first defines border its a strange circular argument

  24. Jan says:

    Christ I have sent along some emails to you containing photographs of St Saviours and Thames Wapping.

  25. Wayne Mook says:

    Cheers Jan,

    I guess it also ties in with the belief of using a tree at a cross roads to confuse the dead so they can’t come back as many a cross road marks the beginning and end of an area, especially when toll roads, turnpikes and such like are brought into the equation.


  26. Jan says:

    yes Wayne I can’t go on at such length this time but theres a whole separate tradition of burying suicides at Crossroads. Only abandoned when George 2nd I think it was was late for an appointment because of a Xroads suicide burial. (He might even have been late for funeral which seems ironic!!!)

    I think this was probably a very old pre Christian tradition although it survives into the Christian era cos suicides can’t be buried in consecrated ground so they are buried at Crossroads to guard the portal. Guard the crossing place. Interesting idea that such places need to be watched over by a soul.

  27. Barbara Boucke says:

    Jan and Wayne – Don’t know if you’ll see this but thanks for the history posts. I enjoy reading them. The comment about Oxford St.-Bayswater Road once possibly being a prehistoric trackway that evolved into a drover’s route reminded me of Highway 4 which is the main “street” thru Arnold, CA where my brother lives. Long ago it was part of the route for cattle drives – possibly connecting up to the Central Valley.

  28. BB says:

    I need maps in my guidebooks, hand drawn ala Tolkein works. Looking forward to your chapters on pubs and on underground rivers.

  29. Jan says:

    Thats interesting in itself Barbara no matter what the actual timeframe is it sort of rings true that once a path or way has been set its a natural development simply to stick with it!

    Unless theres some really stock “town planning” – them Roman lads being pretty big on this front – or some pretty widespread destruction (Gr8 Fire of London being an e.g.) Places sort of develop in a higgledey piggledey fashion that no ones wild about but we all learn to live with.

    Looking at some of the pretty dire results of the redevelopment of London after the extensive destruction of WW2 can make even the most progressive people come over all Prince Charles!!

  30. Lauren C says:

    Yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!

    I’m ready to place my order.

  31. Nancy says:

    I’m dying for a treatise on the various rivers that run or have run under the city – wanted ever since reading The Water Room! Anything you give us will be tremendous – can’t wait.

  32. Paul C says:

    More on King Mob (see above) :

    In 1968 members dressed in gorilla suits and pantomime horse outfits and led a crowd that tore down the high fences surrounding Powis Square gardens (a private park for wealthy residents) in Notting Hill to open the place as a playground for local children. They also sneaked their own float into the Notting Hill Carnival, They weren’t all about funny stunts though – they apparently had a death list of celebrities. Would like to see a documentary about them – an intriguing group……..

  33. Jan says:

    I heard a bit about “Kings Mob” a long time ago the locals – rather than the old Bill – had a few words in their shell likes which rather persuaded them that participating in Carnival wasn’t perhaps their most sensible stunt.

    Was “Frestonia” anything to do with them? It seems to have been an interesting sort of group sort of a precursor of the “Trustafarians” – perhaps their political wing!! Before they all grew up + moved on 2 become something in the City or hobby farmers in the West Country or Home Counties.

  34. Lisa Q. says:

    YES!!!! This will be a wonderful way to reintroduce myself to London when travel opens up again!

    My poor husband, having never been to London, is in for a treat with a tour revolving around this book! I can see myself now, wandering around muttering to myself about Waterloo Bridge, disappearing pubs, white witches, and falling church bells, whilst flipping through a dog-eared copy of the guide book.

    He’ll ask, “Who are these friends of yours: Janice, Arthur, John, and… Crippen?? I thought you didn’t know anyone in London?”

    My reply: “Oh, but I do know many people in London, old sausage. Let’s go see!”

    I can’t wait!

  35. Joel says:

    Nancy – books on London’s present and gone rivers include “London’s Lost Rivers – a walker’s guide” by Tom Bolton, published by Strange Attractor Press 2014 (‘amended’ version), with maps. Covers the Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet, Walbrook, Neckinger, Effra and Wandle. Loads more rivers in my home ‘town’, eg Hackney Brook, not written up yet.

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