London Calling

Anyone who knows me will know that I LOVE London. I lived there back in the 1990s and visit every couple of years.

Whilst most visitors flock to the usual tourist sites (and I have visited many of them, at least once over the years), London has many hidden gems and quirky places to satisfy both book lovers and history buffs, if you just know where to look.

So here are ten places in London that are perhaps not quite so well known, that I always enjoy visiting (and some of these just happen to turn up in my novels.)

1. The Banqueting House

This historical gem on Whitehall is often overlooked by visitors to the city, but it is well worth taking the time to lay back in one of the beanbags scattered throughout James I’s fabulous banqueting hall to admire the amazing Rubens ceiling – one of the few such decorations to survive Oliver Cromwell’s reformation. You can also stand where Charles I walked out onto the scaffold to his execution.

Photo credit: SL Beaumont

Photo credit: SL Beaumont

2.      The Brunel Museum

Brunel’s Thames tunnel was the engineering marvel of its day and the Grand Entrance Hall is now host to musical and theatre events throughout the year. This scheduled Ancient Monument was described as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in the mid-19th century.

 3.      Brompton Cemetery

There’s something about wandering through an old cemetery reading headstones and watching squirrels and other wildlife going about their business. Brompton Cemetery was designed to be a tranquil garden as well as a cemetery when it opened in 1840. Over 200,000 people are buried here including the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Photo credit: ZJ Beaumont

Photo credit: ZJ Beaumont

4.      Churchill War Rooms

Beneath the streets of Westminster, lies a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms which were the top-secret home of Churchill’s war cabinet during the Second World War. Featured in many books and movies, visiting the real thing is endlessly fascinating. The addition of a museum dedicated to the life of Sir Winston Churchill puts it right up there on my list of must-sees in the capital.

5.      The Queen’s Walk

Get above ground and wander along the Queen’s Walk from Westminster Bridge along the South Bank to the Millennium Bridge. Hailed as one of London’s great walks, it will take you past not only the London Eye, the National Theatre, the Tate Modern, and the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, but you also get fantastic views across the river to St. Paul’s and the city of London. If you don’t cross the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, keep walking towards London Bridge and you come to the foodie haven of Borough Market. As you pass Southwark Cathedral, be sure to pop in and see the Shakespeare memorial which appears in The Carlswick Mythology.

6.      The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is one of the grandest Victorian moments around and commemorates the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband Prince Albert at the age of 42. The intricate detail of the monument and magnificent gold statue of Albert gazing across the road towards the spectacular Albert Hall makes it well worth a visit, as Stephanie found when she stops to admire it, in The Carlswick Treasure. The statue was painted black during World War I, so that he wouldn’t be a shining target for the German Zeppelins and it wasn’t until an extensive restoration project in the 1980s that the gold leaf was rediscovered under the paint and Albert was re-gilded to his former glory.

7.      221B Baker Street

Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will love the period museum created at 221B Baker Street, the fictional home to his famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

Photo credit: SL Beaumont

Photo credit: SL Beaumont

8.      Disused Underground Stations

There are several disused underground stations around London, many of which have a fascinating story. Some were used to hide treasures from institutions such as the British Museum, V&A, and National Gallery during both World Wars and a number were used as air-raid shelters during the Blitz. Some have now been converted into underground hydroponic vegetable gardens supplying fresh salad ingredients to many of the city’s restaurants, whilst others are used as film sets. Perhaps the most famous, Aldwych Station, is now open for guided tours and this is where Stephanie took refuge in The Carlswick Mythology.

9.         London’s Pubs

No visit to London is complete without a drink (and usually great food) at one of the many historic pubs. Some of my favourites include The Blackfriar, the flower festooned Churchill Arms, the Dickins Inn (where Jess and Will met for lunch in Shadow of Doubt) and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, especially for its famous literary links.

Photo credit: Richard Mcall from Pixabay

Photo credit: Richard Mcall from Pixabay

10.       London Bookshops

There is something special about spending an afternoon trawling through bookstores and London has an impressive array, from new to second-hand to those stocking rare collectibles. My favourites include the always wonderful Daunt Books, Waterstones at Piccadilly covering eight floors (I can recommend their bar, 5th View on the top floor), Persephone Books (overlooked women writers of the 20th century, anyone?) and any of the bookshops in Cecil Court a narrow Victorian alleyway comprised almost entirely of book sellers (this was apparently JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series.)

Photo credit: Foundry Co from Pixabay

Photo credit: Foundry Co from Pixabay


Syrian Antiquities for sale on Facebook

Stephanie Cooper and DI Marks would have been saddened, but not surprised at recent news reports of looted Syrian antiquities being bought and sold through groups using Facebook.

Facebook has removed a number of groups following a BBC investigation. The latest threat appears to be from loot-to-order smugglers with mafia style networks set up to control the trade. Discussions in the groups on how to illegally excavate items have culminated in Roman mosaics, still in the ground, being offered for sale.

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Photo credit: Iyad Al Ghafari

A number of organisations are working to try to halt the looting of the country’s cultural heritage, but they are facing a battle on many fronts; from individuals looking to make quick money, to more organised criminal groups, and from what UNESCO has described as “looting on an industrial scale” by Islamic State.

In The Carlswick Mythology, looted artefacts from the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra are discovered in Greece before being smuggled first to Switzerland and then Rome, as part of an organised criminal network. As recent news stories show, reality is no stranger than fiction.

On a positive note, a recent innovation has been the development of a solution, which when painted on artefacts is invisible to the naked eye, but detectable under ultra violet light, making many antiquities traceable. It is hoped that this may act as a deterrent to both smugglers and private collectors wary of prosecution.

Hunt for Degas looted by the Nazis

Nazi looted art and its modern day repercussions are at the heart of the first three novels in The Carlswick Mysteries series. The hunt to recover looted art continues to this day. In an article this week in The Guardian, the Rosenberg heirs discuss their attempts at recovering a looted Degas belonging to their grandfather, renowned Parisian Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg, and the difficulties they face. You can read the article here.



Illegal trafficking of cultural artefacts

In what is being described as a 'hard blow against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods' Europol, the European Law Enforcement Agency, announced in a press release that on July 4th, that more than 250 police officers detained 23 suspects and seized EUR 40 million worth of looted archaeological items.

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The joint operation was initiated four years ago by a special unit of the Italian Carabinieri and was supported by officers from the Spanish Guarda, British Metropolitan Police and German Police. Members of the criminal gang are alleged to have illegally excavated and trafficked cultural relics to be sold at auction houses in Germany.

The scale of the looting and destruction of ancient historic sites in Europe and the Middle East is astonishing, as criminal networks turn to this lucrative source of income to finance their terrorist and criminal activities. Perhaps most shocking are the before and after images showing the scale of the looting in parts of Iraq and Syria, where the after aerial photos show historic sites, such as Apamea, pockmarked by holes where looters have roughly excavated whatever ancient relics they can find to sell.

In a case of life imitating art, my soon to be released novel, The Carlswick Mythology, finds Stephanie and James caught up in the trafficking of artefacts from the conflict zone of Syria to willing buyers in Europe...

Nazi looted art horde to go on display

The astonishing discovery of a horde of works of art that had been forcibly taken and sold by the Nazis before and during World War II, happened while I was researching for The Carlswick Affair in 2013. The discovery at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi art dealer and collector, once again highlighted how many items still remain unaccounted for today.  Around 1,500 works, including pieces by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Otto Dix were discovered by tax inspectors in Gurlitt's two houses.

Now, two exhibitions of these works are opening

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