Walking Notorious London

Like Secret London, Walking Notorious London looks at one aspect of London (in this case its notorious past – ancient and modern) and contains fewer walks but correspondingly more history. In fact, I am constantly amazed at quite how much historical detail it manages to pack into such a relatively small space. The book’s nine chapters cover the whole of central London, and the walks – one per chapter and each prefaced by a full historical introduction – take you to such notorious locations as the sites of Jack the Ripper’s murders in the East End, social and political scandals in the West End and frauds and swindles in the City. If you have a taste for the darker side of life (and let’s face it we all do) you will love this book. As usual, each walk has its own detailed map plus full information on transport, refreshments and opening times. In a departure from my earlier works, the illustrations include historical prints as well as modern colour photographs.

See the book's contents
  1. Southwark: Brothels and Bloodsports
  2. Along the Fleet: Prisons and Executions
  3. The City: Frauds and Swindles
  4. The East End: Murder and Mayhem
  5. Covent Garden and St Giles: Rookery and Red-light District
  6. The Strand and Haymarket: Victorian Prostitution
  7. Soho: Porn Trade and Gang Warfare
  8. Mayfair and St James's: High Society Gambling
  9. Westminster and Whitehall: Royal Mistresses
Read the introduction

London's streets, squares, alleys and lanes; its parks, heaths, gardens and open spaces; its palaces, villages, docks, canals and rivers – all offer an amazing variety of terrain for the dedicated urban explorer. One minute you can find yourself breezing down some grand thoroughfare or strolling nonchalantly round an elegant square as though you owned it. The next you could be treading cautiously down narrow lanes and dark alleys, peering into cobbled courtyards, squeezing through gates and wickets, tramping through woods or puffing up hill and down dale startling deer and other creatures rare even in the countryside.

London has such a rich past – and present – that one could pick almost any aspect and make a book out of it. In this case I have chosen – as the fourth in my series of guides to the city – to focus on the notorious side to life in the capital's teeming streets. The thrust of the book is mainly historical, but there is a lot of 20th century material in it, particularly gangland bosses, prostitution and the porn trade in the East End and Soho, while in the case of the Westminster chapter, which features a number of political scandals, some of the people and events described are of a very recent date. So whether you are interested in notorious London of old or of today, you will find something in this book to titillate your taste buds.

Notorious is a broad umbrella term which I have applied liberally to many different people, places and events. Generally speaking, anything to do with murder, theft, swindle, fraud, bribery, corruption, blackmail, sex, scandal, pornography, prostitution, adultery, gambling, spying, violence, prisons, executions, torture and squalor gets a mention. There are probably other categories represented in the book, but I think that's enough to be going on with for the time being!

The structure of the book is based on the premise that at different times the main areas of central London have all been notorious for one reason or another. Each area has its own chapter, and the chapters are arranged broadly chronologically from east to west. Each chapter starts with an introductory feature focusing on what it was that made that area notorious – for example in the East End it was Jack the Ripper in the 19th century and the Kray brothers in the 20th century – and continues with a walk. The walk passes sites associated with the main theme of the chapter as well as others associated with the overall notorious theme of the book.

One final point. There aren't – perhaps for obvious reasons – many places in London associated with its notorious past or present which are open to the public. But anywhere that is is highlighted in bold type in the text and and underlined on the relevant map. Opening times are listed in alphabetical order of venue at the end of the book. I hope you have fun on the walks – and take care not to become part of London's notorious history yourself!