Walking the locations of a book has some unique challenges, but with Plague (Claret Press, 2020) it was relatively easy, because the ‘lost’ River Tyburn provided a, somewhat sketchy, but traceable, route-map. As my previous post described, ( Walking a book, walking a river… ) Helen, my friend and photographer, and I walked from Bond Street tube station, the place where readers of the novel first meet Cassie, its heroine, to the outlets of the various arms of the Tyburn into the River Thames. The earlier article took us as far as the memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette, engineer extraordinaire, on his Victoria Embankment.
We had taken a rest outside Buckingham Palace before crossing St James’ Park, always a haven of calm (now with pelicans). Thence to Queen Anne’s Gate and Old Queen Street and that warren of Georgian streets just south of the park. It is there that Plague locates the private club to which several of its characters belong. This is really medieval London, with its narrow alleyways and twisting streets. The course of the old Tyburn follows present day Tothill Street, now lined with government departments (an important factor in the book), until it reaches Parliament Square at Broad Sanctuary, so called because Sanctuary Tower used to stand there.
Now this space is occupied by the majestic Methodist Central Hall and the rather less impressive Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Readers of the novel will know that it is there where Cassie first meets a number of interesting characters. Given that the temperature on Thursday was up in the thirties at this point we made a quick detour to buy water, before filming a brief piece to camera in Parliament Square.
We were now on old Thorney Island, that small hillock amidst the original Thames marshes which became the centre of power, first of a province, then of a nation, then, eventually, of an empire. Unfortunately ( or fortunately, given the theme of Plague ), the Palace of Westminster, a key location for the novel, is, for the present, a building site, shrouded in scaffolding. But before we ventured into the buildings around the Palace, we had to visit another key location not so far from Parliament Square.
Since 2016 New Scotland Yard has been housed in the Curtis Green building on the Victoria Embankment, the Metropolitan Police Service having moved from its previous home on Victoria Street. This means it sits next to the Norman Shaw Buildings, an earlier home of Scotland Yard and very close to where Whitehall Steps would have been in Tudor times and earlier, near where the northern-most arm of the Tyburn ran into the Thames. The incident room in Plague is located on the fifth floor overlooking the Thames.
Time to capture the landmarks, including the chariot of Boudicca next to Westminster Bridge, within which, sewer records tell us, lies an entrance to the sewers below Westminster Palace itself. Then a quick saunter up Whitehall, where some of the older government departments – the Treasury, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – are housed. Cassie’s boss, the Permanent Secretary, has rooms in Admiralty House, as does his boss, the Deputy Prime Minister. This is not an ongoing position, the current government does not have it, though previous administrations have, when the post was occupied by Nick Clegg, MP and, earlier, John Prescott MP.
At the top of Whitehall is Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, where the Admiral stands, guarded by lions, in front of the National Gallery. We did not walk so far, but reversed our course and went to explore the medieval streets around Westminster Abbey. These will be the subject of my next post.