17 August 2016

1. Henrietta St, Covent Garden

In the summer of 1813, Jane Austen stayed with her brother at 10 Henrietta Street. His lodgings were ‘all dirt and confusion’ but ‘very promising’. Find the house amidst the Covent Garden camping shops and then visit Austen’s writing desk and spectacles at the British Library.

2. Sherlock Holmes pub

Go to the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Street and look at their immaculate reconstruction of the great detective’s study. Steer clear of the stuffed head of the Hound of the Baskervilles in the bar.

3. King’s Cross station

Philip Larkin took a train to King’s Cross on a summer Saturday in 1955. Read the final lines of ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ on a slate plaque a few metres from the tourists pushing a trolley to Platform 9¾

4. Atlantis bookshop

If the weather is grim, visit Atlantis, an occult bookshop frequented by W.B. Yeats. There’s a cosy armchair by a blazing fire.

5. The Old Bailey

In 1960 Penguin Books were prosecuted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The Old Bailey is open to the public; visit Courtroom One where the obscenity trial was held.

6. The National Portrait Gallery

In Room 31 of the National Portrait Gallery you can see a bust of Virginia Woolf by Stephen Tomlin. While he was sculpting Virginia in 1931, her sister Vanessa painted her. ‘Nessa and Tommy pinn[ed] me there from 2 to 4 on six afternoons,’ Virginia wrote in her diary, ‘and I felt like a piece of whalebone bent.’

7. Talbot Yard

Talbot Yard is an unremarkable alley that runs along the back of Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge. But it was here, at the Tabard Inn, that the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales rallied before beginning their journey. There’s now a blue plaque marking the spot.

8. St Pancras Old Church

One of London’s strangest sights is in the graveyard of St Pancras Old Church. An otherwise unremarkable ash tree was surrounded in the 1860s by gravestones, moved to make space for the Midland Railway. They are arranged in tight concentric circles, and the trunk has gradually grown over and amongst the stones like biotic blubber. The young architectural apprentice who oversaw this arrangement was the future poet and novelist Thomas Hardy.

9. Great Ormond Street Hospital

In 1929, J.M. Barrie transferred the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital, which has received royalties from the films and plays of the story ever since. The hospital now has a statue of Peter and Tinker Bell outside the entrance, and you can book a tour of its Peter Pan memorabilia.

10. Quo Vadis

Go to Quo Vadis on Dean Street and read The Communist Manifesto over a Russian Standard vodka martini. In the rooms above you, Karl Marx lived as a political exile. His lodgings were, in his words, so filthy ‘that to sit down becomes a thoroughly dangerous business’. Restaurant customers can ask to look upstairs.

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