Thursday, 7 February 2019

Last Train to Redbridge

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.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

2019 Talks

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.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Belated Happy New Year!

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
(Murnau) Sunrise
(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.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Talks in 2019

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.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Suffolk and Somerset Folklore

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.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Death Line

Death Line was released on Blu-ray a few weeks ago and I finally got round to watching it last night. Many years ago I watched a much-degraded video where the many underground scenes were too murky to see much of the action - that was the only version I had seen up till now.

The new disc is very clear and highlights the impressive long tracking shot where 'The Man's' lair is revealed in all its horror. Interesting to think that this film was released (1972) before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its ilk. Rather than being a monster movie the film elicits some sympathy for the deformed and cannibalistic man trapped in London's underground, mainly through the performance of Hugh Armstrong (there's an interview with him as a bonus).

As ever, I'm always interested in the locations. It soon becomes clear that the film was not made at Russell Square station, where mysterious disappearances take place, but at Aldwych - a prominent sign points to the District Line (see still above) which doesn't connect with Russell Square on the Piccadilly (this must have meant a walk to nearby Temple station).

The exterior of Russell Square was used and many of the interiors (police station, student flat) were filmed at Battersea Arts Centre (an interesting snippet of local information for someone who lived close by). The bookshop and the appealing-looking pub have not been located - the director Gary Sherman thinks that the pub was in Battersea but has since been demolished. The scene inside the pub appears improvised and I later read an interview with Donald Pleasence (who really steals the film despite a short cameo from Christopher Lee) confirming that the dialogue - including British film stalwart Norman Rossington - was totally improvised and they were actually drunk at the time.

Some very thorough location research can be found here. My suspicions that some of the underground scenes were filmed at Bishopsgate Goods Yard in Shoreditch (in recent years an interesting indoor market and now extensively redeveloped) proved well founded. This is the area that stands for Museum station in the film - cut off by a tunnel collapse in the late nineteenth century and now the lair of The Man. See the British Museum Station Spectre posts below for the film's part in subterranean London folklore.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Open House 2018 and Book Sales

A couple of pictures taken at this year's London Open House. The view from the 42nd Floor of The Leadenhall Building, designed by Richard Rogers and with a terrifying express lift ride on the outside of the building - impressive to be looking down on the 'Walkie Talkie'. Also Michael Ayrton's Minotaur (see earlier posts), now installed outside Salter's Hall, which was open (although I had visited it last year) - Clothworker's Hall was spectacular inside with beautiful tapestries old and new and some excellent examples of book bindings, which the company sponsors, see here. Also visited, but not pictured, The Layered Gallery in Percy Street, which was one of the places that makes Open House worthwhile.

The historic London Stone is about to be returned to its most recent site at 111 Cannon Street in this article. John Clark has written extensively on the history and folklore of the stone, for example here.

Also, a friend sent me a photo of a table display at Treadwells, which has been the best shop outlet for Netherwood, having sold over 40 copies so far.  Secret Tunnels has also sold very well there. Now down to under 50 copies for that book, so the price may start increasing.

All books also available on the shop on The Big Cartel here.

Hare & Hawthorn in Hastings has also been selling copies of Accumulator Press books and did very well during Jack in the Green, see here. Some extra copies have now been delivered to the shop. One Netherwood was shoplifted - appropriate perhaps.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Some Suffolk Secret Tunnels

A busy summer school holidays now having finished, I hope to write up some information about a few of the places we visited in England and Wales of relevance to this blog.

Firstly, Lavenham in Suffolk, a very pretty village with a wealth of timber-framed buildings - famous in Folk Horror circles as a location in Witchfinder General see here.

Lavenham appears in Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore and Fact and during our visit I took some photos of some of the buildings mentioned in the text:

'The beautifully preserved medieval wool town of Lavenham in Suffolk includes many half-timbered houses such as the rambling block of buildings in Water Street known as the Priory. Originally the property of the Benedictine Colne Priory at Earls Colne, Essex, the building, which began as a thirteenth-century hall house, has a blocked-up doorway in the cellar leading to a culvert, probably used for the dyeing of wool. According to a local guidebook: 'on the opposite side of this is a corresponding doorway of a subterranean passage leading towards Lady Street (there is authenticated proof of this).' The lavish brochure for the present-day 'boutique accommodation' says 'It is rumoured that there is a secret underground passageway connecting Lavenham Priory to the Swan Hotel, which was built during the Reformation.'

Facing onto Lady Street, The Grove is a timber-framed house with a Georgian front and gardens that stretch back to Barn Street. It was in the gardens that: ' a Roman bath or crypt was discovered and evidence of an underground passage leading from the splendid building on the Barn Street side of the Grove garden towards the Guildhall was also found.' The Guildhall is a sixteenth-century timber-framed building founded by the local wool guild and later used as a bridewell and workhouse; today it is a National Trust property.

On the corner of Water Street and High Street stands the Swan Hotel with the old Wool Hall now incorporated into it. In the fourteenth-century cellars there is said to be a blocked entrance to a passage that runs along under the road.'

Little Hall, Lavenham, is also worth visiting (no secret tunnel) - see here - a 14th century house with plenty of atmosphere, used as a kind of artist's hostel during the middle years of the last century by the Gayer-Anderson brothers who amassed an eclectic collection on antiques, pictures, books and Egyptian artefacts including the famous Bastet Cat Goddess, now in the British Museum.

We also visited Bury St Edmunds, home to one of the 'vanishing fiddler' tales popular in that part of the country.

'In Bury St Edmunds, a number of buildings have been incorporated over the years into the ruins of the great Benedictine abbey, once among the richest in Europe. On Angel Hill, the Angel Inn, now the Angel Hotel - built in 1779 on the site of three adjoining inns, The Angel (build in 1452), The Castle and The White Bear - sits on arched vaults that date back to the thirteenth century.  Tunnels are said to honeycomb Angel Hill and local legend connects them with Maud Carew, a nun alleged to have poisoned Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), who was arrested on his arrival in Bury St Edmunds on 18 February 1447 and died on 25th of that month. Her ghost, seen as a 'Grey Lady', 'still patrols the buildings, passing in and out of the walls with celebrated abandon.' The legendary tunnels are very likely remnants of the abbey's drainage system. Once more we hear of a bold fiddler being  the only person willing to enter the tunnel under the Angel, being followed on his subterranean journey by a crowd listening to the slowly fading music that suddenly ceases, with no subsequent sign of the fiddler - 'probably he was instantly suffocated by some unwholesome vapours that he there met with.'

Photos above of Lavenham Priory, The Grove and The Guildhall in Lavenham taken by me, Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds (not by me).

Sunday, 5 August 2018

British Museum Station Spectre? Part 3

One morning last week I spent a couple of hours at the Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre looking through the Holborn & City Guardian newspaper for 1933 and 1935. Fortunately, the newspaper came in bound volumes, rather than on microfilm, so it was easier to scan whole pages quite quickly. I was looking for any mention of British Museum station and, in particular, any references to ghost stories - later accounts say that 'shortly' before it closed there were rumours of its being haunted by the ghost of an ancient Egyptian (see posts below). The newspaper included weekly columns devoted to 'unusual' stories and local oddities, but I found only a couple of surprisingly brief pieces that mentioned the station and both were to do with its closure when the expanded Holborn station reopened in September 1933.

I also checked from July, the month in which the film Bulldog Jack was released, up to the end of October 1935 to see if there were any news stories about mysterious disappearances of women in the borough, especially at Holborn station. I found nothing. As noted in the previous post I had already checked digital files of major newspapers and the British Library online newspaper archive, to no avail. One source claims that a newspaper had offered a reward to anyone who would spend the night in the closed station - although it is highly unlikely that the London Passenger Transport Board would have agreed to this arrangement.

However, in my searches I did find a few interesting snippets gleaned from the British Library's online newspaper archive. There were two incidents of suicide at British Museum station, in February 1930 and May 1933 (curiously, not mentioned in the Holborn & City Guardian), both males, a traditional explanation for some hauntings, but not in this instance. After the closure of the station, a young traveller had a disconcerting experience, as reported in the Lancashire Evening Post 22 Sept 1934 p.4:

'Marooned Underground in London: Burnley Student's Ordeal' by 'North Westerner'

'A Burnley young man, while a student in London, had a quite remarkable experience recently through being marooned in a disused station on the underground railway.

The incident occurred soon after the closing of the British Museum station, whereby by some mischance a tube train stopped and swing-gates at the carriage entrance opened. At that moment the Burnley student who had been ready to alight at the next stopping place stepped from the train onto a station pitched almost in inky darkness. Then he had the more horrifying feeling when he heard the gates of the carriage close and the tube train restart. By the light of matches he felt his way towards the station exit to find that it was boarded up.

Minutes that seemed hours passed and the traveller marooned in the tube had, so he said later on, the sickly feeling creeping over him when first one and then other trains swept along. Ultimately, a train stopped and the guard, having received a message about the stranded passenger, alighted to hail the young man and take him aboard.'

In what seems to have been some pre-publicity for Bulldog Jack, a number of newspapers carried reports of the filming at Gaumont-British Lime Grove Studios in Shepherds Bush. According to the Birmingham Daily Gazette 19 Dec 1934: 'They have had to construct in the Gaumont-British studio a replica of a tube station, a tube tunnel, and a tube train. And the station which has been made is one that is no longer in existence. It is the British Museum station, which has been merged with Holborn. The Hastings & St Leonards Observer 29 December 1934 also noted 'The Gaumont-British studio at Shepherd's Bush now has its own 'tube' station - dubbed 'Gaumont Station' another set represents the British Museum', while the Daily Herald 21 December 1934 added 'Shepherd's Bush studio replica of the former British Museum station has been built together with live rail and train', which must have been rather hazardous.

Addendum 07/08/18 Today my nine-year-old son showed me his copy of Horrible Histories: Loathsome London (Scholastic Children's Books, 2005) p.121 which has a cartoon of a terrified man fleeing a male in ancient Egyptian garb who says 'I haunted the British Museum station. Because your trains disturb my mummy. I'm a pharaoh way from home.'