Thursday, 13 October 2011
Alternative London Catherine Johnson
Today, people, join me on a sort of virtual walking tour of London. A brief canter past some of the buildings that have featured or at least been reflected in some of my books. London is wonderful. There is so much to see and the past is just there under the skin of the present.
In this blog I'm going round some of the buildings that inspired me and this is the first; Bevis Marks Synagogue in the city. It is the oldest Sephardi synagogue in London built in 1701 and perfectly stunning. I am an old atheist but this is one of those buildings which could convince me to believe anything. It's open to the public at specific times and it's well worth a visit. I visited often when I was writing Hero, about a girl whose Jewish and African American family were boxers. www.bevismarks.org.uk
Next up, and not so far on foot is wonderful Wilton's Music Hall in Graces Alley just at the western end of Cable Street. That's the front door there. It is stunning inside, barley sugar twirly cast iron pillars, no harsh modern lighting, a definite, tangible link to the past. It is the oldest surviving Music Hall in London and completely magical. Hoxton Hall is good too, but not so old and crumbly. www.wiltons.org.uk
This is inside Hoxton Hall, you can just imagine Marie Lloyd singing The Girl I Love, in there. www.hoxtonhall.co.uk
I wrote Stella, about a Music Hall fortune teller because of these places, and if you can't get to see a production in either of these these buildings try and get a look round if you can. You won't be disappointed.
That lovely smoking room over there is inside the Dennis Severs House in
Spitalfields, a sort of recreation of a Georgian house which, if you're lucky
enough to visit on a quiet day can send you right back into a different time. It's not a museum more an experience, and in candlelight with the sounds of a hansom cab rattling along outside is not to be missed. It's my Nest of Vipers parlour, with Cato and Addy just left to scout for a mark...
Finally my latest historical story needed a visit here, the Old Operating Theatre just across London Bridge. From the days when an operation was pure life and death drama and surgeons, showmen. This is where my new protagonist , Ezra McAdam begins his story, and although he's not working at Guys' Hospital, I imagine the one at Barts wasn't much different. If you're going, be aware the Operating theatre is in an attic and the stairs are narrow and very steep.