Surely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…
Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.
As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.
While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.
Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.
WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.
Great post, Londonphile! Thanks for introducing what sounds like a wonderful book.
I’d love a copy – thanks!
Hello Londonphile! Since I moved to Surrey Quays about 18months ago, I started doing exactly what you are doing, like wandering around this amazing city, looking for hidden treasures to discover (the main difference is that I am actually too lazy to write a blog!). I wrote a list, but still now I keep adding new interesting points, jewels that only London can contain. I wish you continue enjoying London, with the same enthusiasm and big, shining eyes of the beginning; of course I will do it!
Southwark and particularly Borough High Street is an area I visit often. It is an historic place, being at the southern end of what was once the only bridge across the Thames (the appropriately named London Bridge, decorated with the heads of executed traitors and criminals) and a place where visitors to London gathered before thrusting themselves into the congested environment of the bridge. Many traces remain and it is exciting to take your camera and ferret them out. As you point out, there are more modern traces, such as the remains of what we are tempted to call “Dickens’s” Marshalsea Prison, which I visited myself a while ago.
London is altogether a fascinating place and you cannot exhaust what it offers in the way of historical interest. Even knowing what is there is a huge task, so any book that provides a guide is welcome and Criminal London sounds like a classic of the genre. (Added to my birthday present list!)
Such an unusual momument to still be there. Most abandoned places such as this, sadly get removed nowadays. Thank you for this post and I will be sure to visit this site myself.