Saturday, October 11, 2014

"From Hell" Chapter 4: a re-enactment


When I was in London earlier in the summer I embarked on a strange adventure. This was an attempt to recreate the journey of Sir William Gull (Queen Victoria's physician) and John Netley in Chapter 3 of From Hell. In that book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, Netley drives Gull around London in a carriage to a series of sites of strange historical significance; when the sites are joined on a map, they make a five pointed star. I did not have a carriage at my disposal so I made the journey by public transport and on foot. But I was not travelling alone, as I had two companions: Dr Kenneth Maher and Mr Chris Gilmour.

We assembled at Marble Arch. This is not a site mentioned in From Hell, but it made for a convenient meeting place. From there we made a short walk to the Mayfair house that in 1888 was the home of Sir William Gull. Our journey proper began here.

Our first proper stop was Battle Bridge Road, beside King's Cross station. Here the Romans crushed the rebellion of Queen Boudicca and with it the last vestiges of the matriarchal society that once dominated the world (or so Gull declares in From Hell, a work some have described as a fiction). There is a tradition that Boudicca herself is buried under one of the station's platforms, though I did not verify this myself.

From there we went to Albion Drive and viewed London Fields. This is basically a park in east London. In From Hell, Gull links London Fields to the Saxons and stuff, though I think the place may have been visited primarily to make a point on the pentagram. Iain Sinclair apparently lives nearby, which may not have given the place spooky London significance in Gull's time but does in ours. London Fields is also the title of the great novel by Martin Amis; I was disappointed not to see somewhere in the vicinity where the ancient game of darts could be played

We used the Overground to travel to and from Albion Drive, which ate up our time as that service is somewhat infrequent. It was therefore quite some time before we reached our next stop, Bunhill Fields. This is an old graveyard in the City in which a great many famous people are buried. Gull remarks on the obelisk that stands over the grave of Daniel Defoe, comparing it to that of the church of St. Luke's, but I think he is more interested in the plainer grave of the visionary William Blake.

While in Bunhill Fields we encountered a demonic squirrel who was rather forward in his attempts to beg for food, but alas we had nothing for him. We then walked on to and past the previously mentioned church of St. Luke's. The spire here was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Gull sees it as a clear symbol of worship of the sun and the male generative organ.

We walked on. This stretch involved a lot more walking than expected and extreme measures were required to maintain discipline. As we progressed, we caught a glimpse of the Shard in the distance. That did not exist in Gull's time but I suspect that the good doctor would have approved of its totemic power.

Our next actual stop was Northampton Square. Gull points out to Netley that this was named after a prominent freemason, seeing this as a matter of considerable significance. He does not mention that at one stage in history everyone of consequence was in the freemasons, to the extent that everything in London is probably named after someone who was "on the square"; I suspect this is another stop chosen simply to make the pentagram more convincing.

We broke for lunch in the vicinity of Angel tube station. We had burritos, which I do not think Gull would have enjoyed.

From there we made our way to another Hawksmoor church, St. John Bloomsbury. Its strange spire is said to be modelled on the tomb of Mausolus in Halicarnassus. It is one of the triumphs of 18th century neo-classicism and I encourage all London residents and visitors to have a look at it.

A jaunt west to Earls Court (site of an ancient occult event of some sort) brought us to a third point of the star. In the book, Gull and Netley stop here and have a kidney pie for lunch. We saw a branch of Greggs which may have been the very place where they ate.

By now we were conscious of the latening hour. We pressed on, making our way to the Thames Embankment to see Cleopatra's Needle (actually another obelisk erected to honour some Thotmese fellow a thousand years before Cleopatra was born). At this point Mr Gilmour had to bid us farewell: he has an inability to cross running water and could not join us on the next leg of our journey, which would bring us across the Thames.

Dr Maher and I do not fear water. We pressed on to Hercules Road in Lambeth, where William Blake once lived. The house is no longer there and a block of council flats sits on the site.

And unfortunately that proved to be the end of our journey. We had made three of the star's five points. The last two would have involved journeys out east as far as Limehouse and down south to Herne Hill (a place largely beyond the reach of easily understood public transport). Making it to these would probably have taken more time than we had spent on the others so far. The hour was getting late so we decided to call it a day.

Perhaps in some future time I will make the attempt again.

See also:

Pentagram image source

More of my pictures

From Hell Chapter Four Walking and Riding Tour (An American gentleman made his own attempt to complete the Star in 2008)

Stefani Chaney's Map of Chapter Four in "From Hell" (danger: there is at least one inaccuracy in this map, as it has the wrong St. Anne's church tagged)

Sir William Gull (Wikipedia)

John Netley (Wikipedia)

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