Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Greenwich Revealed

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Neil Rhind, Julian Watson and Peter Kent

Blackheath Society, 2013


I’ve been waiting for this book for what seems like ever. Ever since I heard about a ‘lost’ panorama of 18th Century Greenwich’s ‘ordinary’ buildings I’ve been desperate to see what messrs. Rhind, Watson and Kent would do with it. I didn’t pester. No. Not at all…

It has been a long time coming – logistical issues, and a backlog of the authors’ various other books meant this one kept going on the back burner. But then this year has shown me a few things about back burners too…

The importance of the discovery of a bunch of photocopies of a then unknown ‘townscape’ in 2006 wasn’t immediately obvious. It had sat, unlabelled, in Wiltshire’s County Records Office. The originals were in a collection at Wilton House – not the obvious place to look for panoramas of Greenwich, especially if you didn’t know they existed.

I’ll leave the story of how it was found, what it was doing in Wiltshire and why the Earl of Pembroke might want a bunch of, to be honest, rather sketchy drawings of a town in Kent to the book, which takes the reader through it all step by step, answering questions logically and without the hysteria I probably would have plunged into had I been the Phantom to have made this particular discovery.

No – it’s not definitely Hawksmoor’s work – no one can be definite about these things. But the authors put up a spirited argument for his having a hand in it – after all, he was Clerk of Works at Greenwich and he did make other plans of the town.

Whether or not it is in Hawksmoor’s hand is, frankly though, less exciting than what the drawings actually represent. All the main buildings of Greenwich in the early 18th Century, even down to the humbler dwellings that no one usually bothers to record.

If you check the drawings against the buildings that still stand it’s clear the images are pretty accurate, so it’s worth taking a punt that the sketches of ones we’ve lost are also correct. They’re not works of art – they’re just quick line drawings for record purposes – but they’re better than nothing which is what we had before.

So – back to the book. What the authors have done is take each section of the panorama and study it in detail. Peter Kent has created then-and-now drawings in his inimitable style (there’s never going to be any question about HIS work in the future…)  so it’s easy to see what was where and Neil Rhind and Julian Watson have filled in the historical details, and added photographs. To be honest some of the photos don’t really have much connection with the drawings save to create context but that’s hardly surprising. The whole point of this discovery is that something has been found where before there was nothing.

It’s written in the detailed, accurate yet easy-on-the-eye style that  historians have come to expect from these three Greenwich heavy-hitters. I gobbled it up in an evening, but it still sits on the Phantom coffee table for repeated dips.

An important book in the local history armoury – not so much recommended as required.

Greenwich Park, Its History and Associations

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I realised the other day when I was writing about the little Greenwich Park entrance tokens that I’ve not actually ever talked specifically about the seminal Greenwich Park book (I could have sworn I did but then my brain’s not all there just now and there are nearly 2600 posts in the archives to wade through, gulp…)

AD Webster was the superindentent of the park in Late Victorian/early Edwardian times/ and part of a doughty group of antiquarians very active in investigating Greenwich’s past – I note in the foreward that he thanks a Mr. H. Richardson – I assume that he is this Henry Richardson who wrote another Greenwich history nearly seventy years beforehand and who would have been 91 by this point. The book is published by Richardson’s Greenwich press.

The splendidly bearded chap in the picture is probably Webster – he and a lady friend are inspecting the Roman excavations in the park in the very year his book was published.

Like several of the publications from that period, the book grew out of a talk he gave to the Blackheath Natural History Society and, for my money, it’s still the best (though not the prettiest – that honour has to go to Anthony Quiney‘s photographic record of a year in Greenwich Park.)

It covers everything from history to archaeology, tittle-tattle to flora and fauna, folklore to underground passages. The latter are slightly better described than in John Stone’s pamphlet from a few years later, though still not as well as I’d like.

Our problem is that in the early years of the last century, the underground passages were, if not officially open to all (though some of them seem to have been) not closed. So the writers of the time assumed their readers had already explored underground and didn’t describe them as exhaustively as I’d have liked.

Now, I only know of two people who have explored underground Greenwich to any great extent in very recent times so most of us either rely on Dominic and Per – or go to 100 year-old sources such as Webster and Stone, who at least seem to have a new nugget of something every time I re-read – this time I noticed a reference to a passage that opened with ‘wide stone steps’ at Queen Elizabeth’s Oak. I knew about a load of underground tunnels in the park but hadn’t registered that one. Neat.

And that’s why I think it’s worth seeking this book out. It’s not actually that hard to find because although at one point it became quite rare, it was reprinted in 1971 which watered down the market and made it accessible again. You’ll not have too much trouble finding it at Amazon Marketplace, ebay, Abebooks etc.

They’re both good editions and although it’s always nice to have an original, there’s no great reason to buy the older book over the new – you won’t justify your cash. They’re both hardback, good quality and have the same number of illustrations – both photos and drawings. The only difference I can see is that the map inside the cover of the original has the park coloured in in green, the 1971 version’s completely black & white.

If you’re building a library of Greenwich books, I’d recommend this as one of the must-haves. Look to pay around £20 for an original and around a tenner for the reprint. I’d go for the reprint. If you’re not feeling flush just now, it is available as a PDF courtesy of Toronto University.

A Summer’s Day at Greenwich

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

William Shobel Esq. Henry Colburn, publisher. 1840

“Being a guide to the Hospital and Park; with a select Catalogue of the Pictures in the Painted Hall; to which is added A History of the Ancient Palace from its foundation.”

I got an email the other day from the splendid Graham Dolan who had just discovered a book he had never heard of – he wondered if I had. I hadn’t.

I am delighted that after thinking I’ve at least come across every book written about Greenwich in Victorian times, there are still gems to be found. A Summer’s Day at Greenwich is not going to change any perceptions about the history of the town. It doesn’t tell the history of Greenwich particularly well – there’s far too much forelock-tugging rosy historical glow for my liking – but what marks it out is what it tells us about the day-tripping habits of our ancestors.

I’ve (obviously) never seen it in paper form, but it’s in the library at Princeton (God knows why) and they have kindly digitised it for the human good. You can fiddle about and get a PDF to print off (if memory serves, I pressed the big red button on the left) read it as an e-book or just look at it on screen. It’s 137 pages, plus all sorts of extra Princeton-added strange pages at either end, so if you’re going to print it off, be warned. Get your reams in…

William Shoberl was the son of Frederic Shoberl, an author and collaborator with Henry Colburn, a London publisher specialising in non fiction and what we might recognise as early travelogues. William followed Dad into the business as writer and publisher. I don’t know how many guides he produced, but there’s an ad for his forthcoming ‘Summer’s Day at Richmond, with a visit to Twickenham’ in the fly so it looks as though it was a series.

It’s obvious to see why Greenwich was an attractive subject for a book – in 1840 the railway was still new, steamers were frequent and the fair (of which there is a vivid description, though he does say, somewhat sniffily, that it is ‘nothing remarkable that is not to be met with at Croydon…’) was massive. In the days when virtually no one could afford a foreign holiday, and the seaside was still a long way away for working people to do in a day, Greenwich was a big draw.

Whitebait, rolling parkland, ancient buildings, art in the Painted Hall, healthsome walks, a brand new shopping centre – the 19th C equivalent of Westfield – and great views, what wasn’t to like?

Clearly there was stuff not to like, but Shoberl sweeps it all away sharpish – I can’t actually find the bit where he describes the ladies of Greenwich, making it clear that they’re VERY RESPECTABLE. NO – REALLY, but it made me smile. This particular lady seems to be protesting just that little bit too much…

He takes his time to actually get to Greenwich, starting at what sounds suspciously like his office, making his way through London, discussing the various options for getting there, describing the people he meets on the journey, shooting off on tangents whenever he feels like it.

And that’s why I like this book. Whether he’s going off on one about gypsies on the heath, the docks at Deptford, or the venerable old gent John Worley, that silver-haired innocent – who everyone talks about nowadays with great glee as being a dirty old reprobate – Shoberl is just great fun.

It’s great to read about the town when what is our ‘history’ is then’s ‘now.’ Princess Sophia is still in residence at Ranger’s Lodge. The pensioners are still in residence at the ORNC. Sick seamen are still in residence on the Dreadnought. Caroline of Brunswick’s house has only just been pulled down and they’re still digging up Roman artefacts on the Heath.

His tips include remembering to give your guide a trifle (sound advice in any age, though in this particular case, given the guides were salty old seadogs, best to choose the sherry variety…) and, oddly for a Victorian guidebook, not to miss the perepheries – Blackheath, Westcombe and Deptford all get at least a nod.

My tip is to take a peek. Skim the history bits – there are far better volumes on that subject – but linger over Shoberl’s own experiences of his ‘now.’ Enjoy some whitebait, look through a pensioner’s telescope by the observatory and gird your loins for the fun of the fair – though good luck doing that lot in one day…

The Paragon & South Row, Blackheath

Friday, March 1st, 2013

A Triumph in late 18th Century Unintentional Town Planning.

Neil Rhind, Bookshop on the Heath

It’s taken me an age to get round to reviewing this, not least because it’s so bloomin’ heavy (in pretty much every respect). Weighing in at nearly a kilo (926g to be precise) despite the fact that it’s a paperback, it’s just not the sort of volume you shove in a back pocket to read on the tube.

It’s also not the easiest book to find – you won’t get it online (for better or worse, sometimes I can’t help thinking that making something hard to buy online forces people to look in the real world. Of course that’s only useful if you don’t actually have to sell something…) I got my copy at Waterstones at an eye-watering £35, and for that price I was determined to squeeze every last drop of information from every last appendix before talking about it.

Thing is, that this is the sort of book that needs to be on the shelf of a serious Greenwich/Blackheath-ophile. Being a Neil Rhind, it is exhaustive, wide-ranging and, frankly, definitive, like his other volumes on Blackheath and Environs – if it’s not in here, it hasn’t been discovered yet.

It’s not the first book on the Paragon, of course. When I first heard he was writing a book about the Paragon I did wonder what Rhind could add to William Bonwitt’s The History of the Paragon, Paragon House and their Residents (also published by the Bookshop Blackheath) which delves into the lives of the people who lived there and which is a fascinating read.  I have always been particularly taken by the rogues and villains – especially the Misses Eliza Robertson and Charlotte Sharp, a pair of swindlers who lived there and who I keep meaning to write about myself.

Neil Rhind has, with a heavy-heart, relegated the pair to one of his (gigantic) appendices as he worries that they’re such a fine story  they actually detract from the rest of the tale, and I can see his point. It is a story hungry for attention and could pull other, more gentle tales out of proportion. It also adds grist to my own personal grind of getting the world to read appendices – proving my theory that they usually have the best bits…

In many ways, this work goes in the opposite direction to many modern social history volumes. Most books about famous places in years gone by have been about the fine architecture, omitting the fact that people lived in the palaces the writers expound upon. There’s been a recent trend for modern authors to come along and write a cosy history filling in the biographies of the human aspect, often with rather a lot of speculation shoehorned in. I confess I’m beginning to weary a little of this ‘fluffy’ approach, though of course, I’m as guilty as the next Phantom when a juicy human story comes along…

William Bonwitt had already looked at the people of the Paragon back in the 70s. So what Neil Rhind has done is go back to the actual bricks and mortar. He looks at materials, social background, the area, the big landowners of the day, Michael Searles (the builder) and, of course, the design. I particularly enjoyed the floorplans, and the newspaper ads from the time, expounding on all the marvellous things you could enjoy if you rented there (few people actually owned their homes at the time.)

Although Bonwitt does touch on what happened to the buildings through history, Neil Rhind goes into much more detail, especially on the 20th Century, which saw so much change – in both good and bad ways. Perhaps the fact that information is more easily accessible these days has helped, but it’s still one hell of a task to track down the kind of detail there is here – and he’s found some new stuff that wasn’t even known about in Bonwitt’s day.

At first I wasn’t wild about all the (many) illustrations being grouped together – I am a bit of a sucker for having pictures throughout a book. But I have discovered since reading it that now I’m using it for reference, it’s much easier to find the images I need – no leafing through trying to find the picture I’m after by trying to guess where it comes in the story.

So yes – it’s a big investment, there’s no getting round that. But it’s a solid one (in every respect.) The paper quailty’s high, the print is clear and strong and it’s going to stay in good nick – if only because it’s never going to stray far from your shelf. But it’s more than that – it’s good quality work. Just as I go back to John Bold again and again, and virtually never look at some of the cheap & cheerful tourist histories on my shelf, paying more for specific volumes does work out better value.

I recommend seeking this out – ask for it for a birthday or something. It’s a keeper.

Grandfather’s London v. Grandfather’s Greenwich

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Last week Chris asked me about R.L. Sims and Co. the photographer. I initially found the question quite hard to answer and ended up doing more round-and-round the garden research than I needed to because I didn’t know something that I only discovered because Gerald (of the Dreadnought Hospital photos fame) mentioned a book I thought I had.

On discovering that Sims was a friend and fellow-conspiritor of the Rev Spurgeon, who in taking dozens of photos of everyday life in Greenwich for a magic lantern show, created a unique and important record of London streets in late Victorian times, I immediately turned to my book on the subject, Grandfather’s Greenwich.

I knew it was a 1972 reprint, and I was fine with that – there’s only a certain number of first editions available and all I was interested in was the information inside. The photos are well reproduced and the commentary seemed perfectly good, if a little thin on the ground. There was a little intro and a short caption for each photo.

Then Gerald sent me some scans from another book< Grandfather's London – clearly the same photos, but an entirely different commentary. Each photo got a double-page spread – one half devoted to the photo, the other half an explanation, with the subject, how the photographer probably set up the shot and, very importantly for locals, exactly where the picture was taken. There’s a longer introduction, that discusses the ‘world-picture’ (well, okay, the London-picture) and, in short, 127 pages instead of 63.

Had I had the second book, I would have known much more about The Champion Piemaker, The Third Class Milkman and the Threepenny Bumper than just the picture titles and, more importantly, I wouldn’t have gone on a wild goose chase around Deptford looking for King Street and had to rely on Joe to remind me that it’s now King William Walk.

So, folks, a word to the wise. If you’re just after the pictures and a perfectly acceptable overall view, (by the usually highly enjoyable Alan Glencross) Grandfather’s Greenwich is fine. But by far the better book, with glossy pages and a more in-depth commentary, you need Grandfather’s London by O J Morris (the reputed third conspiritor). They’re both easy to find second hand, both about the same price on Amazon market place, Abebooks etc. but they are not both made equally.

Writing London

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

It’s not often I find myself surprised by the solitary entry about Greenwich in a general publication about London.  However, I have to confess to being taken aback at a Christmas present last year. A friend had bought me Writing London, one of Herb Lester’s splendid ‘alternative’ maps where there’s a delightful schematic  plan on one side and ‘interesting stuff’ on the other.

I (obviously) turned straight to Greenwich. It only had one entry – George Eliot.

George Eliot? I always think of Cheyne Walk and Wandsworth when I think of the ‘scandalous’ author of Middlemarch, Adam Bede and The Mill of the Floss . I have never heard her name mentioned in connection with Greenwich before – not even in my book about The Trafalgar Tavern where, I have just discovered, she enjoyed a whitebait dinner in June 1861. I guess everyone is so delighted to talk about the rivalry between The Ship and the Tavern, to supply the two political sides of the Commons with annual dinners, and so overjoyed with ‘the Dickens connection’, to pay a nod to this extraordinary writer.

Female authors still use male names to sell books, using the old argument that women will read books by either gender but a large enough number of men will not read a book by a woman to make economic sense in changing their pen name to something more masculine. It’s only a relatively small number of writers these days, but in Victorian times, Mary Ann Evans figured that there would be even more prejudice against her – and, ultimately she was right.

Wanting to be taken on an equal footing with male authors, she became George Eliot so that it wouldn’t be assumed she could only write frothy little potboiler romances. Originally from the Midlands, she moved to London to write and wanted a quiet life, not least because she was living in daring sin with the married George Lewis whose wife was also having a relationship with someone else. Oh – just as a by-the-by, Lewis was educated at Greenwich himself, at Burney’s school…

Evans edited the left-wing journal The Westminster Review (quite an acheivement for a woman in those days – there were female writers but few with any ediotorial power)  and published a ‘Scene of Clerical Life’ in Blackwood’s Magazine whilst building up to Adam Bede, her first novel.

It wasn’t long before the pseudonym became a pretty open secret (Dickens declared he wasn’t fooled for a moment) – as was the author’s private life, which wasn’t helped when she married someone else after Lewis’s death who jumped from their hotel balcony on their honeymoon (though survived.)

Victorian society though, had notorious double-standards. Whilst queuing up to read her novels (Queen Victoria loved Adam Bede so much she commisioned an artist to paint scenes from it for her), no one wanted her to come to dinner or infect their women-folk with her loose morals. Tongues wagged and George found herself in the odd position of being both ostracised and lauded.

When her publisher John Blackwood held a dinner for her to celebrate the publication of Silas Marner, he took her downriver to the Trafalgar Tavern where, as we all know, Greenwich women were much more robust…

It was the fashionable place to eat whitebait and, despite sundry Phantom efforts to introduce a new ‘local delicacy’ remains the only true ‘Greenwich food.’ Eliot was the only female present. Men, of course, being much stronger of character than women, would be able to withstand the disgraceful way she lived without being tempted to emulate her.

By this point, though, she was used to it all. She had a marvellous time – John Blackwood declares ‘George Eliot was extremely delighted with the whole affair, which she caused others to enjoy so much.’

Why didn’t I know about this fleeting moment in literary history?

London Archaeologist

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

London Archaeologist is one of those subscription-only magazines that’s almost impossible to buy individually, and few general libraries carry (I’m guessing Greenwich Heritage Centre gets it, but wouldn’t swear to it.) I’ve been subscribing for several years now for that very reason – you can’t pick and choose, but if you like London and you like archaeology, even if it’s not ‘your’ area, it’s still something to read cover to cover and enjoy.

Obviously there’s always loads about the City (yes, even this edition has a feature), not least because there’s always some building being demolished and redeveloped as something with seventy storeys, but I love reading about the City, and they do cover all kinds of stuff too – anything within the M25 area.

Greenwich has been pretty poorly served in the past year or so, but the Winter 2012/13 (Vol 13, No.7) edition is making up for that in spades (well, okay, trowels.)

It’s a special issue about archaeology on the Thames and there are three articles that include digs I’d call ‘local’ – though they’re not necessarily very recent.

The main excitement for me was a six-page, in-depth article about the dig at Anchor Iron Wharf. If you’re a bit hazy about where that is, think the modern develoment of flats with the Cutty Sark Pub on one side and the power station on the other – basically the bit where there’s apartments over a never-used riverside restaurant. The dig took place between 2001-2003, so we’re not looking at hot news here, but I guess that’s the speed that general archaeology goes at (as opposed to big-hitters like the Staffordshire Hoarde and Richard III’s maybe/maybe-not bones…)

It’s a fascinating account, not just of the history of Old Court from non-prehistoric evidence, through more exciting, possibly Royal, Tudor buildings to the site’s acquisition by Morden College, who, given that they own pretty much everything around those parts, probably still hold it, but also of the dig itself, and the issues created by ‘considerable ground contamination,’ not least more than 100 shells left over from WWII.

Further downstream, in an article called Ship to Shore, there is a small piece about the warship remains that still lie on the shore in Charlton just outside the Anchor and Hope, the wonderful Great Eastern launchsite, plus the remains of four wooden craft at Tripcockness, east of Woolwich (and a place of which I had never heard…)

I always enjoy London Archeaology, though it’s usually of rather academic interest for a Greenwich Phantom. This edition, though, really is worth trying to get hold of. The rest of it’s interesting, too. I utterly love the medieval shoes on the front cover, part of a haul of 417 of them (there’s always an odd one, isn’t there…) found at the site of Baynard’s Castle in Westminster, and the story of Thomas Gresham’s shipwreck is also well worth a read.

Charlton Park Reminiscence Project

Monday, January 14th, 2013

We’ve talked about the Charlton Park Reminsicence Project a few times now – an ongoing project begun by Carol Kenna and Greenwich Mural Workshop (if you recall, Carol & Co. were responsible for many of the giant, rather-faded-by-now murals and mosaics around here, including the extraordinary Rathmore Benches) – often when they’ve been holding one of their periodic open days and exhibitions where they actively searched out new memories to add to the archive.

The project, as it might sound, mainly focuses on things within living memory – everything from people remembering playing in the park as a child, visiting the animals in the zoo and watching the jobsworth parkie refusing permission for David Hemmings to bring his Rolls Royce into Maryon Park during the filming of Blow Up to more recent sporting events and protests at the proposed closure of the petting zoo.

The project continues, but they have reached a bit of a milestone – a booklet of memories, photos and information – which will be available free from libraries, Greenwich Heritage Centre and Charlton House from the end of this month.

That doesn’t mean they’re not looking to add to the labyrinthine archives (don’t miss the photos and if you have some good memories of Charlton, they would still love to hear from you. There’s a form you can fill in on the website, or you can just find it here.

The Londoner’s River

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Lt. Comm. LM Bates,, Frederick Muller Ltd, 1949

A rather wonderful book I found in a secondhand bookshop in the West Country for a pound – it’s always worth repeating that some of the best London book bargains are found miles from the capital – there’s just not the competition for them and therefore the prices are much lower. In fact, if you mention it to the bookseller what you’re looking for they often say ‘I’ve got a load more in the warehouse at the back that I don’t display because no one buys them…’

But back to The Londoner’s River. I can find virtually no information about Leuitenant Commander LM Bates (I’m sure somebody will have the info – I love doing this blog…) save that he spent many years traversing the sixty-nine miles of the tidal part of the Thames, knew the river better than most, and observed at first hand the characters that lined its docks, ports and ships.

He wrote several books on the subject: the ones I’ve read appear to be collections of articles that first appeared in shipping journals. Some are more ‘Greenwich-y’ than others – understandable, really, there’s an awful lot of river to cover in shortish books but the anecdotes about London ‘characters’ and incidents are charming and the illustrations by ‘Stanley’ are both dramatic and from a world we just don’t recognise today, rendering them, IMHO, utterly wonderful.

Understandably, writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many of Bate’s tales are of the war – one book, Thames on Fire deals specifically with the war years (and I note is going from 1p on Amazon) but there are delicious little asides, told with a nice nudge-nudge, wink, wink feel and snippets that made me immediately start googling on tangents.

Take the Seven Seas, for example. Built in 1876, as the Emma Ernest, she was an unassuming wooden brig that spent her life trawling around the world with dull cargoes, being cut down and refitted every so often, usually so she could carry even less interesting goods.

Even during the first World War she only trudged coal to France, her most ‘interesting’ moment an unfortunate collision with a destroyer.  On a boring passage to Cornwall she got stranded, then rammed and ended up being towed home.

But like so many salty seadogs, Emma Ernest was to find a whole new lease of life as a land-lubber. She was moored at Charing Cross Pier, renamed the Seven Seas and became the plushly maritime headquarters for the social club of the British Sea Services.

Bate’s description of a guest night at the Seven Seas Club is delightful – even he reckons that it was ‘the kind of evening which Kipling would have loved to spend.’

…it’s haze of smoke, the yarns and chorus of shanties…watched over by the ship’s macaw, a bird whose plumage and repartee were equally brilliant.

The ship was full of nautical treasures, including a lifebelt, the only thing recovered of HMS Pincher, lost with all hands during WWI, a copy of The Times from Wednesday Nov 6t, 1805, reporting Collingwood’s dispatches from Trafalgar, a cannonball fired by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 and a ship’s lamp from the Arethusa, a training ship broken up on the Thames in 1935.

But the piece de resistance – and the reason I’m banging on about it today – a ship’s bell, inscribed Shakespeare- Liverpool. Apparently a club member, finding himself lying next to the ship Ferreira in a foriegn port was furious to see his dear old Cutty Sark reduced to flying the Portuguese flag. He stole onboard, and half-inched the ship’s bell in protest.

The Portuguese crew, in sort-of retaliation, pinched the bell from the poor ship Shakespeare, who happened to be lying the other side – and sailed with it for 19 years.

When the Cutty Sark was bought back by Captain Dowman in 1922, the original culprit returned her bell to her – and received in exchange the Shakespeare’s bell – not entirely sure what had happened to her – probably chime-less she got run into in fog or something. The bell was presented to the club.

Sadly the Seven Seas was badly damaged by bombs and was broken up. I have no idea what became of the Shakespeare’s Bell.

Not really sure why I went off on this one today – but you could do worse that seeking out LM Bate’s books of the Thames if you’re at all maritime-interested.

Smoke – An Olympic Peculiar

Monday, October 29th, 2012

As longterm readers will know, I am quite a fan of Smoke – A London Peculiar, a now-online-but-used-to-be-proper-print literary magazine. I miss both it and One Eye Grey in their physical form, but hey – I get it. I can hardly snark, since I’m online myself…

Matt, the editor (who has his own Greenwich blog, Beware of the Trees) tells me the Smokers are putting together their latest magnum opus, From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea, inspired by London’s response to the Olympics. Matt tells me:

Not all the sporty running and jumping stuff, the other bits, positive and negative – everything from first hearing that we’d beaten Paris through to watching the stadiums being taken down, via the closure of the park, the takeover of Cafe Rouge by the Russian paralympic squad, and the removal of the Oyster card reader from Platform 3 at Greenwich station in case it caused dangerous levels of milling.

They’re currently looking for contributors, and, if past publications are anything to go by, the odder the better. Matt continues:

We’re looking for words, photos, fact, fiction, anything from a single sentence to a short story – but the more oblique and offbeat the better. 

If you’ve got something cool, fun – or just weird – contact Matt at or drop me a line and I’ll pass you on…