Expecting the unexpected



Continuing my theme of looking down as much as up, look what I found on Fleet Street…


Fleet Street 1

Fleet Street

Fleet Street 2

Fleet Street 3

Fleet Street 4


I found this series of pavement plaques during another research walk, which is really just an excuse to spend several hours wandering aimlessly round London seeing what I can see.  These plaques mark the historical links between Fleet Street and the newspaper industry. In case you were wondering, the Space Invaders one explains how the rise of computerised printing in the 1980s brought about the demise of traditional Fleet Street printing processes.


Much of the walk focused on the Bloomsbury area, celebrated for its literary, artistic and intellectual connections that include Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes. The area is dense with blue plaques, announcing everything from the foundation of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood in 1848, to the living quarters of James Robinson, pioneer of anaesthesia and dentistry.


The gardens are stunning, too. With so many residential square parks locked to the passer-by, wandering through Woburn Square and Gordon Square gardens was a real treat.




Given that this was Saturday afternoon in central London, I was expecting to have to hustle my way through crowds of tourists, but it was as peaceful as wandering around a country village, which is, perhaps, why the Bloomsbury set loved it so much. These days most of the buildings house academic institutions which probably also explains why, in the middle of summer, it was so quiet. Needless to say, the buildings round here are beautiful and make a strong contrast for the squat terraces of Bermondsey where another of my characters will be living.


What I love most about walking round London is all the little flourishes in its architecture - the bugs that adorn the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine…




Gorgeous door steps…



Doorstep 1 


The golden horse reliefs on the front of the particularly ugly Sienna Buildings in Hatton Garden…



…and just down the road, the scholarly figures in 18th Century dress that, during the Second World War, were taken down and sent for safe keeping at Bradfield College in Berkshire. The building they adorn is reputed to come from designs by Sir Christopher Wren, and was built as a church after nearby St Andrew’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was later adapted for use as a charity school and itself severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the Second World War. I also love an informative building plaque!




Round the back of Fleet Street lies a knot of courts, squares and alleys, almost all of which eventually lead you back to Gough Square and Dr Johnson’s house. On a wall in nearby Red Lion Court was this beauty. Alere flammam means ‘to feed the flame’ and the sign was placed there by Abraham Valpy, a printer in the 1820s…




This plaque is hidden down Shoe Lane – its name reminiscent of a much older city, although the street itself is pretty non-descript.



The very un-lane-like road is nestled between the old Daily Express building and a branch of Itsu. The tragedy of Auxiliary Fireman Sidney Alfred Holder was immortalised in Leonard Rosoman’s painting A House Collapsing on Two Firemen, Shoe Lane, London and William Sansom’s short story The Wall. Both Rosoman and Sansom were members of the auxiliary fire service and used their art to try and process the horrific things they saw. Both are inspirations for some of what I am trying to write.


And then there is my most favourite thing about London – random, inexplicable sights, like this collection of giant sofas and a standard lamp made of fake grass near Waterloo station. Why? Why the hell not?