Literary London: From Hell Part 1

74 Brook Street, William Gull's home

74 Brook Street, William Gull’s home

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, their retelling of the Jack the Ripper murders, is a fascinating book about man and woman, the powerful and the powerless, the mystical and the rational, but most of all about time. The real and imagined history of London pervades it, and through murderer William Gull’s conjurations and sacrifices, he’s able to glimpse the (somewhat grim) future: the London of 1988 when Moore was writing (I need to reread that part of the graphic novel, but my recollection is that this is expressed mainly through the looming spectre of Centrepoint). It’s been a further 25 years since From Hell was penned, and time has added another layer, erasing locations quite key to Moore’s narrative, and leaving others intact; and the psychogeography and Ackroydian stories around the supposedly pagan churches of Hawksmoor perhaps aren’t quite as current or plausible as they may have seemed.

I wrote about walking William Gull’s coach route in From Hell nearly a year ago, but sadly the first attempt to walk it was rained off and later iterations suffered from ramblers asking awkward questions (e.g. “What is From Hell? Why are we walking this coach route? Who is Alan Moore? Where is Northampton? Can we go to the pub yet? and so on) until I gave up. The UCL festival of the arts has given me the opportunity to resurrect the project with PhD student Stephan Hugel, so we decided to capture the experience of travelling to and between these significant places using the full CASA/sensing arsenal: Google Maps for planning, GPS tracking for route finding, tweets, photos, audio recordings, movies, Instagram, instaquote and even Vine. One wag dubbed it “a cross between Iain Sinclair and Sir Clive Sinclair”.

The walk is not unproblematic; from a planning perspective, even though there are quite detailed instructions, they’re for a coach/car, and require substantial amendments for a worthwhile walk. Pentonville Road is just not somewhere you want to walk along, even if deviation breaks the psychogeographical reality of recreating Gull’s route. There are large gaps between items of interest; less a problem for a car than a walker. The “misogynist psychopath trying to ensure the oppression of women for another hundred years” aspect wasn’t as problematic as I’d worried amongst my feminist friends, maybe because of the, shall we say, “unreliable” nature of the narrator, which became apparent through the readings. I suppose it’s worth pointing out that this traced the incantation stage of the book, and didn’t feature the victims or the murders at all; I would have felt a lot more self-conscious about the whole exercise if it had –  this was less a “Jack The Ripper” walk than a “mystical London” walk. This, in a nutshell, was the route, from Gull’s home at 74 Brook Street, to Bunhill Fields, William Blake’s final resting place:


This is just the first stage; there are at least two more. I’ll add more details in future posts, and some technical notes around gps visualisation – but if you want to hear about the walk, Stephan and I will be talking about it at the Something Else for the Weekend Festival at UCL on Saturday May 11th at 3.15pm. We look forward to seeing you.

Thanks to all our walkers and content-gatherers: Stephan Hugel, Panos Mavros, Kimon Daltas, Dawn H Foster, Alice Bell, Karishma Chandaria and Ahsan Nazir.

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