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Archive for the ‘Southwark’ Category

A guest post by London Historians Member Jenni Bowley of the Lambeth Tour Guides. 

Lambeth Tour Guides Association are compiling an anthology of literature set in the London Borough of Lambeth and would welcome suggestions from London Historians members – they can be sent to me by email to Jenni@bowley.net.
Given London’s long history and its rich diverse tapestry, there is little surprise that so much fiction and poetry is set here – helped by the fact that it has been the centre of printing in English for more than 500 years.

London has attracted the attention of poets, playwrights, journalists, essayists, historians and, especially, fiction writers. But certain parts of London feature in novels far more than others. The slum-fiction of the late 19th century such as A Child of the Jago and The Nether World are set in the East End and selected parts of North London. Modern spy writers such as Mick Herron and Le Carre have their “Joes” located in the West End and around the Barbican area. Somehow, James Bond never ventures south of the river (apart from MI6 in Vauxhall in the film adaptations); Ian Fleming preferring his martini-drinking spy to inhabit the environs of Whitehall and the Gentlemen’s clubs of Pall Mall. With few exceptions, even Charles Dickens’ characters rarely venture into the hinterlands of South London.

Research by the recently established Lambeth Tour Guides Association has found evidence that the location of the London novel is slowly moving south of the river. The LTGA have tried to map novels and poems which are firmly based in Lambeth and, so far, have come up with a list of more than 40. This is nowhere near the thousands of works of literature based in the City, West End, East End and fashionable North London, but immigration, gentrification, political movements and new writers have focused on Lambeth as a backdrop to dynamic and new literature.

This new focus on Lambeth roughly started in the middle of the 20th Century with novels like The Lonely Londoners, by Sam Selvon (1956), a story about immigrant life in the 1950s in the Waterloo area. A poem from the same genre – Beginning in the City 1948, by James Berry depicts the life of a recently arrived man from the Caribbean negotiating the Labour Exchange in Coldharbour Lane.

More than a third of the novels identified have been written since the year 2000. These include Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, a contemporary novel about race and culture in South London; The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan, set around Clapham Common just after WWII; and Harare North by Brian Chikwava, set in a Brixton Road squat, where a troubled Zimbabwean lives.

The earliest novel identified was No Name by Wilkie Collins (1862), set in Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth. But new novels and poems are continually being written and published and older works are being discovered so our list will expand. However, it appears that south of the river – and Lambeth in particular – is now firmly on London’s literary map.

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