Monday 11 August 2014

Review: This Other London - Adventures in the City

If you like exploring London's forgotten corners and hidden secrets - or reading about other people doing so - This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked Cityis a book you will enjoy.

In it, author John Rogers takes 10 walks through different parts of London and, as the description on publisher HarperCollins' website says: "...delves into some of the overlooked stories rumbling beneath the tarmac of the city suburbs. Holy wells in Lewisham; wassailing in Clapton; a heretical fresco in West Ham. He encounters the Highwaymen of Hounslow Heath, Viet Cong vets still fighting Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket in Beckton, Dutch sailors marooned at Erith pier; and cyclists – without Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns – at Herne Hill Velodrome. He heads out to Uxendon Hill to witness the end of the world, Horsenden Hill to learn its legend, and Tulse Hill to the observatory of the Victorian Brian Cox."

A few of these things I was already aware of, but some were quite new to me and I do love learning more about my home town.

But apart from being happy to read about unusual places in London that are worth visiting, what prompted me to pick up This Other London is that John Rogers is a renowned psychogeographer. A friend of Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Russell Brand and Nick Papadimitriou, John previously made the film The London Parambulator, which is about "deep topography" in London's liminal landscapes and which features all four famous psychogeographers. As I've mentioned before on my blog, I'm currently writing a talk about psychogeography to give at the Pagan Federation London conference at the end of August and I'm doing my research. But this was not only a book I felt I had to read, it was a book I was pretty sure I would love. I was correct.

John comes across as a likeable bloke - a family man teased by his young sons as being a ‘hippy wizard’, his adventures in London not only include historical research and plenty of footwork, but also more than a passing interest in occult and pagan mysteries. He learns a druid ritual to perform in Abbey Woods, where "the godfather of modern druidry, William Stukeley, had led the initial excavations of Lesnes Abbey" and buys magical herbs at Treadwell's Bookshop to make offerings at the site of Ladywell's historic sacred water holes - one of which is under Ladywell Station.

But the thing that struck me most as being perhaps another coincidence on my magical journey is that John's home town - and the starting point of several of his walks - is Leytonstone, the place in which this August's Pagan Federation London conference is to be held. John even describes the area as being "the ancient Lammas Lands", where the bounds were traditionally beaten every Lammas. I had been thinking that I needed to learn more about the psychogeography of the place I would be giving my talk - then this serendipitous book lands in my lap. I love those Twilight Zone moments.

But, of course, most people who buy this book will be looking for inspiration for places to visit rather than simply doing research. This book will leave you spoilt for choice and each chapter comes with a map so you can follow in John's footsteps and do the entire walk if you like. My only criticism is that the hardback doesn't come with an index - but, of course, if you buy the Kindle version you can just search on any term you need to find.

This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked Citycan be ordered on Amazon or, of course, bought at bookshops.

Links and previous related posts
This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City


chris street said...

In a similar vein, and possibly more mystically inclined, is the book: Legendary London and the Spirit of Place.Edited by Anthony Thorley.Chapters include; The Sacred waters of London;Dragon City;Guardians of the sacred City;Wren's Secret London:London and the British Landscape Zodiac; Lugh's River, The River Lea; Sacred Games of Lugh the LIght Bearer.Archive Publishing Wimborne.

chris street said...

My contribution to the book is the chapter on the Guardians of the Sacred City. Chris Street.

Badwitch said...

Thanks for the suggestion - I have added the book to my wish list.