As I ponder over whether to publish a third edition of Subterranean City myself or with a major publisher (having this week spent hours searching out all my royalty statements - I'd forgotten how impressive the sales figures of the first two editions had been - at the time I thought those figures were normal, as it was my first book, I've since learnt differently) underground subjects again come to the fore.
A recent addition to the Collection has been 'Shelter Scene' by Edward Ardizzone, a 1941 lithograph published by the National Gallery, printed at the Baynard Press and commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information.
It depicts the interior of the Commercial Road Goods Depot in Whitechapel commandeered as an air raid shelter during the Blitz. It was known as 'Tilbury' which has understandably caused confusion with a number of commentators assuming it was situated in Tilbury docks some miles further down river. I recently emailed the Tate to correct that error in their caption for Henry Moore's A Tilbury Shelter Scene 1941 - they didn't respond, of course, and the error remains - see here.
There is an excellent, highly detailed history of the building by Tim Smith for the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society here.
The hydraulic power station that supplied the warehouse still exists as a private building in Hooper Street. See here and here.
The best and most evocative description of life in Tilbury is from the Mass Observation archives see here - written up by one of the co-founders Tom Harrisson and published as Living Through the Blitz (Penguin, 1976, 1990). A Mass Observer's description from 14 September 1940:
First impression was of a dim cavernous immensity. The roof is made of metal girders, held up by rows of arches, old and solid ...giving a somewhat church-like atmosphere. The hall is oblong in shape, and covers many acres ... so huge and dim, the end seems out of sight ... Between the lines of archways are wooden platforms, raised about four feet from the ground and stretching the whole length of the shelter. Between them are wide gangways, paved with brick and earth trodden so hard that one might imagine it was stone. Round three sides of the interior runs a narrow railway track, in almost total darkness, for here there are no lights, and here the earthen floor is dark and rough. The entrance to this vast, dim, cathedral-like structure is narrow and insignificant - just a break in the street wall that could easily be missed by the passer-by. But once through this gap, one finds oneself in a large stone courtyard, sloping way in two directions down into the earth ... There are only two small doors into the shelter, one of which can be locked on occasion, the other manned by police ...
By 7.30pm every bit of floor-space is taken up ... Deckchairs, blankets, stools, seats, pillows ... people lying everywhere, on the railway track, among the margarine crates, everywhere. The floor was awash with urine ... only two lavatories for 5000 women, none for men ... overcome by the smell. People are sleeping on piles of rubbish ... the passages loaded with filth. Lights dim or non-existent ... they sit, in darkness, head of one against the feet of the next ... there is no room to move and hardly any to stretch. Some horses were still stabled there, and their mess mingles with that of the humans ...
Ardizzone's shelterers are not so jam-packed and are stoically going about their business getting ready for the night, filth and squalor is not obviously in evidence.
Gradually links were forged amongst the shelterers, marshals were elected, some basic rules for order and hygiene established and cleaning teams set to work.
There were some lighter moments recorded by MO: 'A girl played an accordion, while men danced burlesque dances round her ... a young coster was playing the accordion. He played well - with fire. A coster girl, about 20, sang a gypsy melody in a clear, high, plaintive voice ... Another archway was playing 'Knees up Mother Brown'.
Tilbury was demolished in 1975 and part of the site was redeveloped as an operations centre for National Westminster Bank.
There is an article about Tilbury in London's Industrial Archaeology vol.2 1980.
When I delivered some copies of Netherwood to The Atlantis Bookshop yesterday Geraldine Beskin told me that Boleskine had been bought by the Boleskine House Foundation who want to highlight the importance of Crowley and Thelema and - after extensive restoration - open Boleskine to the public (!) Maybe one day the bookshop will be selling Netherwood, although I'm sure it will have sold out by then.
I don't want to bang on about it, but this week I despatched 16 copies of Netherwood to various shops and individuals and I don't think I'll be producing a third edition, so I can see it selling out in the next few months.
Also available from Treadwells in London and Hare & Hawthorn in Hastings, both shops that I've had very good dealings with and have sold a lot of copies on my behalf.
Caveat Emptor: I recently had a brief encounter with someone who agreed to sell Netherwood and ripped me off - won't name him natch, but the fact that he boasts of being a 'socialist' on his website certainly rankles. Luckily the number of books involved was very small.
The reason for the lack of activity on the blog is that I'm currently working with my trusty typesetter on a new edition of an earlier book, to which I've added considerably more text and much more comprehensive footnotes, together with some different illustrations. I'm hoping to have it printed and published by the autumn of this year. More news soon.
The next event is 26 September talking on Decadent London for Salon for the City with Nina Antonia talking about Lionel Johnson. I'm flattered to see that I'm described as a 'cult writer'. Tickets available HERE.
Aleister Crowley's magical retreat by the side of Loch Ness, ravaged by fire in 2015, is now for sale. I went there a few years back - it's in a beautiful atmospheric location, but it takes over an hour to get to along a narrow road that winds along next to the loch, once you leave the main road.
Estate agent's brochure here - no mention of AC of course.
A lot of my time is being spent revising one of my earlier books for republication - hopefully in the summer. The rights to my early books have now reverted to me. This one will be published by Accumulator Press (like Secret Tunnels and Netherwood) and we'll see how things go and consider republishing one or two of the others. I am also considering publishing, or re-publishing, non-fiction (no fiction or poetry) by other authors.
At present I have only one talk arranged - it's for Salon in the City in September on Decadent London (can you guess which book I'm republishing?). Also appearing at that event is Nina Antonia, who amongst other things has recently written a book about Decadent poet Lionel Johnson called Incurable. See here.
Jack-in-the-Green will be with us shortly. See here.
A book I very much enjoyed reading recently was Hollywood by Garson Kanin, a highly readable and amusing account of his time as a screenwriter and film director in Hollywood, mainly for Sam Goldwyn, who is brought to colourful life in the pages. What is impressive is that it's told almost entirely in dialogue - although as with any such account you have to question how accurately these conversations could possibly have been remembered - but it's all hugely entertaining. I also found interesting the account of 'Mae's' an LA brothel where the girls were lookalikes for film stars of the period, surely the inspiration for the similar operation in James Ellroy's LA Confidential where they were 'cut to look like movie stars'.
This week the number of pageviews for this blog passed the 200,000 mark.
As a footnote to the earlier posts about British Museum station I finally got round to watching an episode of the 1969 television series Department S which can be found online ( a boxset is also available). I may well have seen it on first broadcast as I do remember watching and enjoying this series in the dim and distant past. This episode is entitled Last Train to Redbridge and should be included in the filmography associated with 'ghost' underground stations.
The last tube train of the title arrives at Redbridge station on the central line (although Redbridge is not a terminus) with all the occupants of one carriage dead, apparently gassed. Cue the summoning of Department S who specialise in solving such mysterious cases. To cut a long story short, we are eventually told that a criminal gang, led by a ruthless businessman, have intercepted the hotline between London and Washington and are hoping to eavesdrop on information about the fluctuating price of gold in order to make a killing.
The only killing that does take place (in a cough and you'll miss it explanation) is when one of the gang gets cold feet and runs out of their hideaway - that happens to be a disused tube station - and jumps on a train stopped at a signal. However he's pursued by another gang member handily equipped with a canister of deadly nerve gas (manufactured by the businessman's company - some Skripal topicality here). To stop the villain blabbing the whole carriage is poisoned and the perpetrator escapes dressed as a guard.
An amusing site with reviews of each episode - complete with captures of the ubiquitous 'Department S corridor' can be found here.
At one point Jason King - by far the most memorable member of Department S, who was subsequently of course to get his own series that made Peter Wyngarde world famous (perhaps notorious) - is imprisoned in the station and is later subjected to the same nerve gas that renders him temporarily amnesiac and befuddled, a good performance here.
Later, when he's recovered his senses he tries to recall where he was held - there was the sound of trains, 1930s posters on the wall (a nice touch that), tunnels, and the realisation dawns:
JK: An underground railway station.
Stewart Sullivan: Old, disused. That would tie in with the murders. Are there any stations like that?
JK: Let's see. On the Central London [sic] Line two: British Museum, which was closed when they opened Holborn and when they opened St Paul's they closed ... Post Office.
In actual fact Post Office was just renamed St Paul's in 1937 (the same year as the Central London became the Central line), although it had an interesting history during the Second World War, when its disused lift shafts housed control rooms for the electricity grid for London and the South East. See here. Also in WW2, the then-unfinished tunnels on the extension to Redbridge were utilised as an underground factory making aircraft parts. See here.
The disused station scenes are clearly filmed in a real place and it would have to be Aldwych, used for the vast majority of film and television underground locations. A comprehensive site for London underground station locations is here. At long last I should be visiting this 'ghost' station on one of the London Transport Museum's tours later this month.
I think that the talk I gave at Treadwells Bookshop on Thursday went very well and as usual I met some interesting people afterwards. I signed a few books, some had even brought in copies of the first edition of Netherwood for signing. I'd like to thank everyone who came along and especially Christina and her staff at Treadwells who have been the best bookshop outlet for Netherwood.
One young man told me about a writer I have to confess I'd never heard of before called Stephen Volk. He recently wrote a book called Netherwood which features as part of a trilogy of novels about famous men and the locations they are often associated with: so we have Peter Cushing at Whitstable and Alfred Hitchcock at Leytonstone (with Aleister Crowley and Dennis Wheatley at Hastings - although I should point out that these two never met at Netherwood in 'real life').
I'll try to get hold of this book The Dark Masters Trilogy see here.
Also various interviews with the author online. In this one there are a couple of details mentioned that make me think that the author may have read my Netherwood although he doesn't mention it by name.
Certainly the dramatic and fictional possibilities of Crowley's last three years at Netherwood are still ripe for mining - I have met a couple of lovely chaps who wrote a play about it, although I'm not sure if it's ever been staged and it crops up in A Chemical Wedding (by Julian Doyle & Bruce Dickinson, have to be honest I thought this book wasn't very good; I haven't seen the film with Simon Callow as AC) and Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Century. I'm sure there must be many others. Obviously, the novel of that name by Jane Sanderson has nothing whatever to do with the Hastings guesthouse.
One point I made in the talk was about the huge amount of misinformation on Crowley (and indeed Netherwood, often referred to as a 'cheap' 'shabby' or 'seedy' boarding house in numerous books, articles and online sources). As just one example see the first post here correcting numerous mistakes to be found in a biography of Led Zeppelin (which also includes a very favourable reference to my book in the 11th citation - thank you to the poster).
Further talks in 2019:
Thursday 31 January Folklore of Underground London Kensington Central Library 18:30-19:30 FREE BOOK HERE
Thursday 21 February Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London 18;30-19:30 FREE
Tuesday 9 April Underground Folklore of England Kensington Central Library 18:30-19:30 FREE BOOK HERE
In July I shall probably be talking at Westminster Reference Library about Decadent London and the 1890s. TBC
As usual my books will be on sale at all these talks at discounted prices.
Personally, whatever else has been going on, 2018 was a good year for me. Thank you everyone who bought one of my books, or attended one of my talks or events.
I don't often do end of year lists but I'd like to mention, as far as books are concerned, a few of my favourites this year:
Shawn Levy Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome.
Biographer of the Rat Pack produces another engrossing page-turner that I devoured remarkably quickly, followed by a viewing of some of the key films mentioned in the text. I love Italy and (some) of its culture.
Damian Le Bas The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain
A much older slant on the 'liminal' school of British geography -see earlier blog entry.
E M Forster Howard's End
Never read this classic before - put off by Forster's 'heritage' image - but really enjoyed this strangely subversive novel, which I read over the Christmas holiday, part of my mother-in-law's dusty but fascinating old library.
I get very little time to go to the cinema to see new films, so all the films I enjoyed are old and on DVD - most of them in black and white:
(Antonioni) Trilogy La Notte, L'Eclisse, L'Avventura.
(Franju) Eyes Without A Face
(Varda) Cleo de 5 a 7
(Wilder) One, Two, Three
The Woodfall films box set - I never grow tired of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and all the other films in this set still stand up.
Musically, again it's been mostly old stuff that I've only just discovered. I was particularly impressed by two records by the 1970s English 'Krautrock' band Nektar: Journey to the Centre of the Eye and A Tab in the Ocean. Rather more recent the output of Norwegian (where else?) prog, jazz, fusion, psychedelic trio Elephant 9 see here. Another Norwegian outfit who look interesting are Needlepoint, see here.
Gig of the year - let's go for The Bevis Frond at Blackmarket VIP in December - great psychedelic light show and suitably 'far out'.
Must also mention Dewa Budjana who played in Hastings this year - my second favourite after BF. I knew nothing about him and at the gig bought his cd Zentury, bedecked with one of the worst covers and titles ever, but some interesting music within - I love the first cd but the second is harder to warm to. Some really adventurous electric guitar playing on here in a Mahavishnu style, but with a lot of unusual scales and syncopation - he's Indonesian and seems totally unknown here, although he has some stellar musos playing with him. His website here.
I wanted to take a rest from talks for the remainder of the year, as I'm trying to get some writing done and thinking about republishing one or two of my earlier books in revised and updated editions next year, plus, perhaps, work by other authors (non-fiction naturally).
However, the requests for talks keep coming in, so I've arranged a few for the first part of 2019.
On Thursday 31 January there will be a FREE talk starting at 6.30pm about the Folklore of Underground London at Kensington Central Library. Booking through Eventbrite. See here.
Also at Kensington Central Library Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London on Thursday 21 February at 6.30pm. FREE booking through Eventbrite. See here.
Tuesday 9 April a talk on Folklore of Underground England at Kensington Central Library starting at 6.30pm. FREE booking through Eventbrite. See here.
As usual, copies of many of my books will be for sale at these events at reduced prices. I've acquired some of the last copies of Subterranean City, which I'll be selling at these talks until they run out.
I shall be giving a talk about Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley at Treadwells bookshop on 24 January. Details here. Treadwells have sold a large number of copies of the book and have done sterling work in promoting it.
In the summer we camped in Suffolk and visited a few local places of interest. Principal destination on my (Antonine) itinerary was Woolpit, home of the famous Green Children folklore classic. The town sign features them in silhouette and there's a small local museum with information about the history of the village - I imagine most visitors are interested in the Green Children. You can buy a level-headed booklet, which gives a convincing explanation for the mysterious events. One of the leading experts on this subject is John Clark, who has written a number of scholarly articles, see here.
We also visited Woolpit church and were surprised to find an eroded figure of a wodewose in a niche on the south wall close to the altar. More information here. See also my earlier post about the Brede Ogre in East Sussex.
Yesterday returned from a weekend trip to Somerset, staying at beautiful Walnut Tree Farm near the village of Regil. Arriving late at night by minicab from Bristol Temple Meads I was rather disconcerted to be dropped by the tableau of scarecrows above photographed in daylight the following day. Scarecrow festivals seem to be increasing in popularity in rural England in recent years.
While staying in a shepherd's hut at the farm I was reading The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas, a fascinating insight into gypsy life and how it has survived into the twenty-first century. Probably the best book I've read this year - I liked the way that the writing was reigned in when it threatened to get too self-consciously poetic in the way of so many travel books. See here.
Author of Subterranean City, Beneath the Streets of London, London's Coffee Houses, Decadent London, The Folklore of London, Subterranean City (Revised and Expanded Edition), Netherwood, Last Resort of Aleister Crowley, Lord of Strange Deaths, the Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer; Secret Tunnels in England, Folklore and Fact