This piece was my writing the city module project for first year. If you like the Rivers of London series, I recommend going on the walk I’ve included!
I struggled for a while to work out what to write about.
Then I remembered: Ben said we were allowed to write an original itinerary for visitors or an account on examples of London lore. This encapsulates one of my great loves: magical realism. The series Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is a perfect example of this, and was also one of the things that inspired me to come to London for university.
For anyone reading this who hasn’t read either the series or the titular novel, Rivers of London combines elements of the real world with that of fantasy; PC Peter Grant works as the apprentice to Nightingale, master magician and Detective Chief Inspector. I promise it makes sense contextually.
I decided to go to each of the places that I thought were most significant to the plot of the first book.
These were as follows:
- The East Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden (where PC Grant meets his first ghost)
- Leicester Square (where he and Lesley discover some serious ‘vestigia’
- Richmond Park, home to Beverley Brook (and the character Beverly Brook)
- Downshire Hill, Hampstead (home to Evidence! and magical vampires)
- St James’ Park (as close to the Lady Ty as I could get)
- Nine Elms (home to Father Thames)
- The Statue of Victoria at the Old Bailey
St Paul’s seemed like the obvious starting point, as that’s where the magical drama begins to unfold. However, I had no particular desire to hang around a graveyard, or indeed a Church, so like the PC on page 4, I found a nearby cafe. Covent Garden is one of my favourite places to go in London, not least because of the Ben’s Cookies and froyo shop.
While I didn’t feel any ghostly presence myself, I did learn a little more about the so-called Actor’s Church. Interestingly, the Concert Director is apparently also a Mr Grant.
A ghost often linked to Covent Garden is William Terriss. He was a famed actor who was brutally murdered by a jealous acting rival, Richard Prince, in 1897. He has frequently been ‘spotted’ haunting Covent Garden tube station. Richard Prince feels to me like a possible inspiration for the character of Henry Pyke – wanting to be an actor (despite little skill) in the 1800s, complete with murderous urges.
Leicester Square is only a few minutes walk away from Covent Garden, so I took the last of my coffee and walked to the Odeon. I took a moment to stare longingly at a poster for Beauty and the Beast, but I calculated that there weren’t enough hours in the day for me to see that and finish the walk, to my dismay.
As the place where Lesley and Peter felt some serious Punch-related vestigium, this seemed a sensible time to start thinking about the story of Punch and Judy. Nowadays, it’s typically performed at the seaside, so it’s not necessarily
a story I’d think to link to London, but I rather liked the way Aaronovitch dotted references to the Tragic Tale throughout his story. And, something that I didn’t pick up on in the novel – the first recorded version was put on at St Paul’s, as documented by Samuel Pepys.
From Leicester Square, I got the Piccadilly line to Earl’s Court, then the District to Putney, and then the 85 bus to Robinhood Lane – the entrance to Richmond Park.
I adore the character of Beverley Brook – she’s funny and bubbly and totally the boss of Peter Grant. And I love the actual brook too – it goes through the park as well as an industrial area. In 2013, 2 years after Rivers of London was published, Sir David Attenborough began a campaign to get it cleaner, and the result of that was that I got a really nice place to eat my lunch, sat on the grass a little way from the brook itself (I had a tomato sandwich and some quavers, if you’re interested).
In the novel, Beverley describes herself and her sisters as Orisa. These are a kind of Yoruban spirit, a manifestation of the greater power/God. I really enjoy learning about manifestations of Gods in other cultures – it’s interesting that very few believe in only one God, even Christianity despite supposedly being monotheistic has Father, Son and Holy Spirit as representations. But that is me being distracted. An Orisa is a spirit that can influence humans, by contacting them and relaying messages from the spirit world. The closest I could get to a Beverley-like Orisa was Oshun, deity of the river and fresh water, luxury and pleasure, sexuality and fertility, and beauty and love. She is known for being quick tempered and sensual, which seemed very accurate to, indeed, most of the daughters of Mama Thames.