Headhunters in Roman London

There’s an article in the Guardian today about new analysis of a stash of human skulls excavated at London Wall in 1988 which has pointed towards the theory that they may have been collected then displayed in open pits. They date from the second century AD, which rules them out as victims of Boudicca’s rebellion.

“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”The Guardian

Shame that they later describe the Walbrook as “long vanished” – it still gurgles away beneath the tarmac and spills out into the Thames near the bottom of Dowgate Hill. You can follow its course above ground – the Walbrook is very much present.


Here’s the rest of the article

The sound of Manze’s Pie and Mash shop Chapel Market

I recorded this audio clip whilst stopping for some much needed Pie and Mash on one of the walks for This Other London. It’s got great acoustics – something to do with all those tiles and marble worktops.

Here’s a bit from the book:

I move on quickly into Chapel Market where I can sate the desire for Manze’s pie and mash that had been stirred in Walthamstow. I order a small pie and with a dollop of mash smeared around one side of the plate and swimming in parsley liquor, it is placed on the marble counter top. The tea comes in a glass mug with the spoon standing upright. I settle on a wooden bench in one of the booths under the glow of a line of petal-shaped lights reflecting in the mirrors. It is a gleaming working-class food palace. The white-tiled walls are broken up with brown borders containing a band of decorated green tiles embossed with a chain of ribboned flowers.This Other London p.233

This Chapel Market Manze’s (there are a few dotted around London that grew out of the original empire established by Michaele Manzo, an Italian immigrant from Ravello) features in the film version of The London Nobody Knows. It makes a going for pie and mash look like a trip to the Twilight Zone.


Like a ‘grunge Keiller’

An article I wrote for 3:AM magazine about Paul Kelly & St. Etienne’s A London Trilogy dvd and my own London perambulations.


“I first met Paul Kelly and Bob Stanley after a screening of their film Finisterre in 2005, recently released on a BFI DVD, A London Trilogy. I approached them in the foyer of the ICA enthusiastically thrusting forward my treasured copy of Gordon S. Maxwell’s 1925 ‘ramble book’, The Fringe of London. I’d been nurturing the theory that Maxwell’s lost classic was the missing link in the topographical tradition connecting the romantic walkers and flâneurs to the modern trend in neo-psychogeography, and had bothered all the usual suspects with my grand idea drawing a blank on each occasion. Paul and Bob similarly had never heard of Maxwell or the book and compensated by handing me a copy of the Finisterre DVD.” continue reading here




Central London either side of New Year is a ghost town – like descriptions of the City in Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year (without people dropping dead in the street).

One turn took me away from the few stragglers around Embankment Station and into a deserted John Adam Street, then drawn up George Court.


The newly refurbished Adelphi looks impressive from the front but round the rear you look into bare office floors with cables dangling from the ceiling – an overestimation of the desire for top-price floorspace in the centre of town. Would serve much better as a skate park.

I follow the steps at the end of Adelphi Terrace down to the Embankment but then quickly back up Carting Lane where a hotel worker  sucks on a fag staring into the night.


In Sicilian Avenue I peruse the clothes in the window of the classic old school menswear shop and make plans to return to try on a smart overcoat I see hanging next to a Harris tweed jacket. I’ve been schlepping around in various green waterproof jackets now for around 10 years – perhaps it’s time to smarten myself up. Or is that just the ambience of Sicilian Avenue getting to me.

The authentic Italian trattoria at the end of Lambs Conduit Street is nearly full – a rare burst of life. I look through the window and am transported to Rome or Paris (oddly – restaurant = France somewhere in my mind).

Everything is closed on Theobalds Road. On Grays Inn Road I start to fantasize about being in a northern suburb – Muswell Hill perhaps but resist the urge to jump on a bus – the walk isn’t done yet.

Amen Corner. Knightrider Street. The darkness of the City ahead viewed from the crest of Ludgate Hill is too foreboding.

Beside St. Paul’s there is the strong smell of woodsmoke – I’m transported back to Italy, to the hills.

3 hours walking around empty streets in the drizzle – the thing I came here looking for starts to weigh me down. I long for the cosy outer settlements, the tube is pulling me. 25 minutes in a pod delivered to the convivial atmosphere of a Sunday night Weatherspoons in Leytonstone.

The sound of: Lewisham High Street

I recorded this on Lewisham High Street at the beginning of the walk to Herne Hill Velodrome and on to Tulse Hill in search of the birthplace of astrophysics. The journey is recounted in Chapter 4 of This Other London.

I’d meant to follow the Ravensbourne from the DLR to Ladywell Fields but had been coaxed into the High Street by the bright hand-painted sign for Lewisham Model Market. It was a sedate September Sunday morning with a few early drinkers sucking on fags outside the Wetherspoon’s. There’s a gentility to the High Street hiding behind the identikit shopfronts – Currys, Primark and Poundworld all mask fine modernist-looking buildings.

The sounds of a loud, joyous chorus of evangelical singing backed up by a pulsing rhythm section wafted across the High Street from a room above a shop next to Primark  A one-legged man sitting on a folding stool outside has the look of a fella who’s seen it all.