On 5 December, Matt Brown, editor at large of the Londonist and author of Everything You Know About London is Wrong, gave the Christmas talk to the Society members at the offices of Pilbrow & Partners in St John's Square. Jo East reports.
Founded 14 years ago by Matt and other likeminded enthusiasts for all things London, and described by Frank Skinner as “the thinking person’s guide to London” the Londonist has grown to be an online font of knowledge about both London’s current events, and its history and myths. Over the years this has given Matt privileged access to areas denied to most people and Matt took us on a tour of literally the highs and the lows of his time at the Londonist - roofs and tunnels.
Beginning with a view of the splendid curve of Kings Cross Concourse extension (KCX). Matt juxtaposed this with its similarity to a view of a glacier spilling out into its valley in a soupspoon shape. Any connection? Well, the KCX is shaped to fit in the curve of the Great Northern Hotel, which follows the curve of the road, which, in turn follows the course of the river Fleet. So in some way glaciation had indeed created the KCX! This palimpsest approach creating much of the city we know today.
Matt seems to have been able to perch on most of the iconic sites of our city: from the top of the Piccadilly Circus signs to the top-most part of Monument, the roof of the Barlow Shed at St Pancras and the vertiginous ceiling space of the Royal Albert Hall.
Descending underground, Matt took us to first to the Crossrail commuter train – a workman’s transport already running the longest gap in East London, then the Clapham deep shelter hydroponic farm and the “Camden catacombs”. The latter being stabling under Camden market accessed from the splendidly named Dead Dog Hole on the canal waterfront. On this “not so official” foray Matt related how he had come across James Bond’s bouncer! a security man for the film Spectre which was storing sets and props in this secret space.
Concluding with extracts from his book – Everything You Know About London is Wrong – Matt pointed out that the myth of the ravens of the Tower of London seems to be a 20th century invention, nor did Trafalgar Square ever have London’s smallest police station. Matt then suggested some myths that could be started for the confusion of future generations: that the queen does not own her corgis, but rents them from Battersea Dogs Home, that Greenwich Park has no starlings, and no one knows why, and my favourite - that one of the ravens in the Tower is an albino and has to be specially dyed by a Yeoman – “Look for the pink eyes”!
This fascinating and light hearted talk was a suitable festive conclusion to the Society’s more weighty programme and will hopefully become a regular feature in years to come.