This was supposed to be a blog about corners of London that feel magical, but the list got so long I will have to split it into a number of posts.
I make no apology for including places that I have told stories in!
So here’s my first magical top 10: Five shops, followed by five of London’s “secret” corners.
Just off Portobello Road W11, this place hardly seems real…piles and stacks and heaps of comics, books, rare, fashionable, weird and boring- including children’s books. Expect to pay a lot for some books but there are brilliant finds too. Best of all, you can browse for days at a time. You can bring your own books to swap for cash or tokens. There are also nearby music and clothing exchanges too, highly recommended, prices ranging from 10p to £800.
Just by the British Museum WC1, this family-owned, old-fashioned store has a fascinating atmosphere and an enticing mixture of antique and contemporary magical /pagan/ occult items. There’s obviously an unrivalled selection of books. If you have any questions about the occult in London, Geraldine is likely to know the answer! It’s an exciting place for storytelling and we will be back there again soon. (Pic: George Hoyle taking part in our Saturnalia celebration!)
Covent Garden, WC2 Not to be confused with the equally brilliant independent museum, this completely beautiful shop, curated by the artist Louise Heard, sells Victoriana, magic, antique and replica toy theatres, puppets and dolls. (Pic: stories in the shop, way back in 2011)
Picadilly, W1A Much better than Harrods, exquisite Victorian luxury and magnificent chocolate displays. I don’t recommend actually buying anything (way too expensive and doesn’t taste as good as it looks) but as an experience, it’s unbeatable. Avoid holidays, especially before Christmas as it can be packed with tourists, best times are early Saturday or weekday mornings. Although I have told stories in Harrods and Selfridges, I have never done so in Fortnum and Mason… here’s hoping I will one day!
Can’t be better described than on their own website here. Strictly speaking a museum though quite a lot is for sale. “…everything from old master engravings and oriental erotica to modern and contemporary art, and complete and utter, though hopefully fascinating, rubbish.” Giles Abbot can frequently be found storytelling there on a Sunday.
Any “secret London” list would be incomplete without these 5 not-so-secret but still amazing gems:
- St Dunstan in the East (City) The shell of a church, turned into a garden, it’s quiet and mystical all the time except weekday lunchtime. (Pic: Tales of the underworld in the rain!)
2. Postmans Park (Barbican) Moving and beautiful memorial to dozens of people who died in heroic self-sacrifice. A place to quietly soak up stories rather than perform them.
3. Any of the “Magnificent Seven” Cemeteries: Nunhead, Tower Hamlets, Brompton, Highgate, Kensal Green, Abney Park, West Norwood. You have to pay for Highgate, they consider themselves to be better than the other six. Each has its own charm and character. They are especially beautiful at night though getting more and more difficult to climb into, your best bet is to stay a little too late “by mistake” and get locked in. Or go to a special, rare late event! (Pic: Storytelling at Brompton, 2013)
4. Denis Severs House (18 Folgate St Brick Lane) The “whole house” creation of late artist Denis Severs, this is rightly famous and not as secret as it’s supposed to be. Step into a silent candlelit time-machine and wander through rooms full of the signs sounds and smells of the past. Agreed it’s an artfully created magical experience rather than one that has just “happened”. Also, it costs (around £10-15). But really, when it’s this good, who cares?
Actually on opposite ends of the Heath but worth seeking out together. Warning: DO NOT go on a busy hot day! If you go to the Ladies pond on a hot summer Sunday you will find yourself in a horrible queue that is the exact opposite of magic. If you wander in at dusk on a September weekday, you might float off into the atmosphere and vanish in the beauty forever.