Where the chartered Thames does flow

My favourite discoveries are the ones I make entirely by accident. The other night I was out seeing Watchmen at the IMAX in Waterloo (I actually enjoyed it, despite hating Zack Snyder and loving the original comic), which finished after midnight. The sensible thing to do would have been to walk to Westminster Bridge and catch the night bus from there, but if there’s one thing I can’t be accused of, it’s being sensible.

Having walked down the deserted Lower Marsh (whose eeriness was not helped by the Gregorian chanting issuing from an underpass – I am not making this up), I caught sight of a back street that I’d never been down before. I must have seen it dozens, if not hundreds of times. It runs under the railway bridge, just a couple of doors down from the abandoned Necropolis Railway station.

Westminster Bridge House - once the terminus of the Brookwood Necropolis Railway

Westminster Bridge House - once the terminus of the Brookwood Necropolis Railway

And so I thought, as one does, “My, I wonder what is down there.” And then I thought, “Maybe I shall venture down there, to see what there is.”

This was stupid for many reasons. It was late at night, the area was relatively deserted and I had work in the morning. On the other hand, it wouldn’t seem half so interesting by day. So down I went.

Well, there was precisely sod-all of interest. Some blocks of flats, the inevitable Storage place and that was about it. I considered heading back, but then I saw another underpass beneath the viaduct, and figured I’d take that route back to the main road. And that was where I found something of great interest.

In an effort to brighten the place up, some enterprisingly artistic soul had decorated the passage with mosaics based on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. One side carried ceramic reproductions of the illustrations, the other the verses.img_0291

Blake was a local boy. He set up his own printing press in Lambeth and trained in medicine at Guy’s Hospital (his lodgings there are marked with a blue plaque, visible from Borough High Street).

Blake is seen by psychogeographers as a pioneer of the art. Much of his poetry (most obviously the poem above) is based upon the reinterpretation of the city streets. Indeed, the now-patriotic song ‘Jerusalem’ is built upon ideas common to the psychogeographer – the land itself is everlasting, but hey, how ’bout we overthrow that government?

As a matter of fact, Blake gives a specific London location for the new Jerusalem he calls for:

“The fields from Islington to Marylebone

To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood

Were builded over with pillars of gold

And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.”

This goes some way to explaining property prices in that area.

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Filed under Arts, Geography, History, Literature, London, Notable Londoners, Psychogeography, Waterloo and Southwark

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