Literary Hot Spots: London
London is a favorite locale for writers and has been home to some of the world's most famous and influential authors. While it seems that every nook and cranny of the city has some literary connection, here's a list of 10 places made famous (or infamous) by writers.
Kenn Wilson , Flickr
84 Charing Cross Road
New York writer Helene Hanff's charming exchange of letters with Frank Doel and the staff of Marks & Co. bookshop made London's Charing Cross Road internationally famous. Sadly, Marks & Co. has been closed for 40 years, but a plaque marks the spot where the shop once stood. Charing Cross and adjacent Cecil Court are still lined with new, used and antiquarian bookstores, and there's even a film and a book about the street, "84 Charing Cross Road." Spend a day exploring your favorite works of literature at Foyles Bookshop, Hatchards (London's oldest bookstore) or Daunt Books.
Foyles Bookshop: 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EB.
Hatchards: 187 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LE.
Daunt Books: 83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW.
221B Baker Street
Between 1881 and 1904, 221B Baker Street was the home address for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John H. Watson, according to Doyle's many Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Today the 1815 house is a museum dedicated to the famous sleuth and his faithful companion. The well-known first-floor study overlooking Baker Street is still maintained in its Victorian-era décor, allowing visitors to step back into the pages of one of Doyle's books.
Located in the southwest borough of Wandsworth, the Balham Underground Station was bombed during the London Blitz, killing more than 60 shelter seekers. Ian McEwan fictionalized the tragic event in his tearjerker "Atonement." Balham is located on the Northern Line between Clapham South and Tooting Bec stations, with entrances on the east and west sides of Balham High Road. While you are catching a train, note the plaque dedicated to the victims, and the surface buildings, which were designed by architect Charles Holden. From the station you can venture south to the tennis courts of Wimbledon or north to trendy shopping and club mecca, Camden Town.
Balham Station Road and Balham High Road, Wandsworth, London SW12 9SG.
52 Tavistock Square
Located in Bloomsbury, London's literary epicenter, this address is where Virginia Woolf wrote her most famous novels, including "To the Lighthouse," "The Waves" and "Orlando." The house was destroyed in the London Blitz, and the Tavistock Hotel now occupies the site. It's a tourist class hotel, inexpensive by London standards, and quite comfortable, so check in and get some inspiration. St. Giles Circus is half a mile southwest of the hotel, designating the beginning of Oxford Street-one of London's most bustling shopping areas.
48-55 Tavistock Square, City of London, Greater London WC1H 9HG.
London's bustling central train station has been the setting for many reunions and intrigue, none more interesting than in the graphic novel "V for Vendetta" by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Set in a dystopian future, anarchist "V" – who wears the famous Guy Fawkes mask – uses the abandoned Victoria as his headquarters while plotting to overthrow the fascist government. In Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," Lady Bracknell finds the title character as an infant in a handbag at Victoria Station. Named after Queen Victoria, the Westminster complex is London's second busiest railway terminal after Waterloo, so it's a great place to enjoy a cup of hot tea and people watch (a decidedly un-British thing to do)!
Victoria Street, London, SW1V 1JU.
On the rare occasions super spy James Bond was home in London, he lived in a Regency-style townhouse on this square in the hip Chelsea neighborhood. Although Bond author Ian Fleming was vague about the exact address, Bond lovers have deduced that Wellington Square was the place Fleming had in mind for 007's bachelor pad. It's a private residence, but one can view the house from outside. The garden square itself is a lovely place to walk-especially after a day in Chelsea browsing bookstores, sampling fruit at the farmer's market, or enjoying a glass of wine in one of the trendy bistros.
George Inn at Talbot Yard
Located on Borough High Street in Southwark, Talbot Yard was home to Tabard Inn, where Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims started their journey in "The Canterbury Tales." A blue plaque is affixed to the side of Copyprints Ltd., the oldest building still standing in Talbot Yard, in honor of Chaucer's immortalizing the spot. The Tabard was destroyed by fire in 1669, rebuilt and renamed the Talbot, and then demolished in 1873. The George Inn now stands in its spot. It's the last surviving coaching inn in London, and is mentioned in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit."
77 Borough High Street, Southwark, London SE1 1NH.
Located in North London, the Gothic cemetery was established in 1839 and is the final resting place for some of history's most famous names including Karl Marx, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Douglas Adams. Audrey Niffenegger worked as a tour guide at Highgate while researching and writing the novel "Her Fearful Symmetry" about twins who live with the ghost of their aunt next to the famous graveyard.
Swain's Lane, London, Highgate N6 6PJ.
Not too far from James Bond's abode, another famous spy, George Smiley, kept house at 9 Bywater Street in Chelsea. John le Carre made the address famous in his first novel to feature Smiley, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." The townhouse still stands today as a beautiful private home. The BBC used the townhouse next door, 10 Bywater Street, in its 1979 adaptation of the novel with Sir Alec Guinness as Smiley.
London's answer to Times Square, the famous West End crossroad is the locale for a nail-biting chase by young superspy Alex Rider in Anthony Horowitz's "Stormbreaker." Always a delight to locals and tourists alike, Piccadilly Circus is immediately recognizable for a number of reasons, including its statue of Eros, the pagan god of love, outspoken neon signs, and crowds of people taking in the many clubs, pubs, eateries, and movie houses.
Crossroads of Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Haymarket, Coventry Street and Glasshouse Street.
Collin Kelley is the author of the novel "Conquering Venus," and three collections of poetry, including Better to Travel and After the Poison. He has been traveling to the UK every year for the past 15 years and recently guest lectured on social media at Worcester College at Oxford University. Read his blog on Red Room.
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