THINGS THAT AREN'T THERE
a manoeuvre around The Elephant & Castle
You are wrong to try and pass through from, say, the nice end of London Rd across to the traffic island (the Faraday monument - a very large silver box) and then across to the beginning of the Old Kent Rd. Despite that seemingly correct assumption of directions, you would be completely wrong.
Criss-crossing the place called the Elephant & Castle, a locale just South of The Thames in London Town, is the right way to go about things. This is because there is no other way to pass through the area. Not least because the six off-sprouts of majorroads that spike off of The Elephant are ready to spin your head in a very demonic fashion. Nor because most of the ways through it are actually under the groundand lead one not to the intended destination but to a parallel destination completely somewhere else. Neither is it any other complicated excuse or reason. And the Elephant is complicated. Rather it is that the place itself, for over 2000 years or onwards, has been a meeting point of travellers, persons, escapees and maybe me and you, and demands random behaviour, stop 'n' start motion and a Kwik saviouring of the terrain. There is much to miss here and you have already missed much. I also suggest that just passing through would be rude.
There is an arrangement of twelve stones that form a perfect stone circle. Closer inspection reveals that some of the stones are different colours. In fact, there are four sets of different mineral forms that make up the circle. Some Redstone, some Portland stone, granites, base concretes? There seems to be no logic to the placing of the monument, as it corresponds to no passage of the sun or moon or flow of water. There seems to be no alignment between points on it's compass and the ways and passages, roads and flows that encircle it. Any precise correlation is in the hands of the town-planning shamans of the local municipal works. Astrologically, on a wider repeat circumference of this stone circle, there may be some higgledy-piggeldy web-weaving going on. Leo is The Coade Lion at Westminster, a Mithraic Bullring at Waterloo for Taurus, another clue – Tower Bridge, a Libran scales of justice? But Dog knows!
Surrounded and enclosed by trees, visitors to the site will immediately notice its sunken irregular distortion of all known sacred geometries. This all leads me to believe that we are not privy to any intuitive or physical initiation into this cult organg. The bluff of the mishapen landscaping and the counter-bluff of the perfect circle throw us merely bones to chew on, scraps and tidbits, rather than invitations to an earthy feast or hyp-gnotic service. In this, we find the first unsettling edges of anElephant paradigm. That much here is not what it seem, is not for what it has ended up as. This is the land of a thousand disappearing acts. Magicians tricks without rabbits. Izzy-wizzy - lets get busy. Let's uncover some more, shall we?
Nearby, there runs the remains of a very old passage way. This is Clock Place, a truncation of a way through from West Walworth to Kennington. It has been known as Church Passage, Clock Passage but today we settle for less. Now merely a Place that arrives at Newington Butts, all cars et cetera and departs from a backwater of behind-the-shops predictability. Cars parked. Wheelie Bins. Signs preventing the parking of wrong vehicles and another that warns of the dumping of 'bulky items' specifying 'fridges etc'. It is a non-human space, a skirting zone. Hurry past here and get to Hampton St, Marlborough Place, The Newington Estate. No lingering, it says.
Clock Passage was a muddy track, Then a building or two jumped in. It became occluded, darkened. Secrets joined the edges of the path together.
Let me warn you, weary traveller, lost in your miserable search for a tavern. Someone is watching you but you can't watch back. Jack is his name and he is often around. Comes and goes, you see. They don't know how. A warning on the main thoroughfare you ignored.
Just then! A shuffle, a flash in the dark, a knife? a robber? A brown McDonalds bag, a piece of foil blown by the wind. Had you worried, eh?
Jack Sheppard. Dreamer, rebel, robber and master escaper from the best of prisons. The local rumour is it that the two-storey house off-set from Church Passage, and I'll assume a whisper here, is the entrance to a subterranean passage that leads to the water side.
But of Jack? We speak of a lad, a classic idler turned robber. His first criminal mischief, to steal the silverware from the Rummer Tavern in Covent Garden. Then a procession through the capital's merchant's basements, some cloth here, some folding stuff there, a circular path that leads him through some of the capital's greatest establishments.
• St Anne's Roundhouse - he springs his lover Edgeworth Bess in Spring 1723.
• Escapes St Giles Roundhouse in February 1724.
• New Prison, Clerkenwell - escaped May 1724.
• Took the jackrabbit parole from Newgate, in August, in October, in November 1724!
• His last escape meant tackling the pounds of chains and manacles, fetters, leg irons and padlocks his gaolers had locked him to the floor of the Stone Room with. He picked the locks with a nail, climbed up a chimney, clawed through masonry and came out through a fireplace. Then tackling four inner locked and bolted doors with scraps of metal he made his way out to the roof. The drop was too high so he returned all the way back to his cell and fetched a blanket to use as a rope. Then he was gone, back to Covent Garden for a drunken night with his gal.
That Jack! A classic, a cliche of the criminal rebel. Suave, self-assured, cocky. They hung him in Winter 1724 but not before he'd tried another escape attempt from the very cart that led him towards Tyburn. His murder was watched by an estimated 200,000 people and a bloody riot ensured as the crowd snatched his body to save it from the surgeons, doctors who practiced their carvery on the freshly executed.
So here, on Clock Place, as in The Mint up by The Borough, Jack's ghost is watching everything. Waiting for something...Skipping off in the dark tunnel to arrive where?
That The Thief-Taker himself, Jonathon Wild had a warehouse near here on Newington Butts full of booty, bounty of watches, wigs, silks, purses, proceeds of
nocturnal levitations of other people's stuff makes you wonder at the coincidence. Wild and Sheppard, their lives a double-helix of 18th Century intrigue. Clever men. Missing nothing.
So, here in this dilapidated Church Passage building, which felonies and malfeasance continues? The spirits of the work of locals like Obidiah Lemon, a Rattling Lay who'd whip the bags from your carriage in a flash. Or Samuel 'The Lynx' Linn. Or Richard Greatorex, the keeper of Wild's 'lock' in Redcross St, up at The Boro'. James 'Hell & Fury' Sykes who stitched Jack Sheppard up in February 1724. The Carrick Gang. All Rest In Peace.
Now it doesn't take too much map-reading, detective work and feeling the gurgle of an underground flow to know that the olde River Neckinger, one of London's many lost rivers, exists beneath the bitter surface of the Elephant & Castle. In fact, is this the exit point for Jack Sheppard's tunnel? Away with him.
Criss-crossing remember? Green-cross-code yourself over to Newington Butts and land in a very sacred spot. Un-announced as such, this land denies everything. You are standing on St Mary Newington's Churchyard. All remains of church are long since removed. But here, at the left-hand side, of course, are ancient graves. Blackened tombstones, the example of Mrs Elizabeth Cross, Late of this Parifh , Who died in Jan 1806, will suffice.
You can witness the building and re-building, the overlaying of monuments here like nobody's business. And it always seems like that. More erections, monoliths, masquerades of nobody's business except themselves. But this land is fertile soil still,consecrated years back, in times of chain-mail and Holy Grail. Skirted by The Neckinger, the Devil's Neckerchief, a wash of ancient waters, the land itself destroys the pious sanctity of what they'd intended here. This turbulent land, continuing torque from the backspin of rejecting any edifice, is pagan land. Feel it. Pre-Christian, spitting out Gods and Goddeses. Pre-idol, pre-totem, beginning at nothing. A wonderful place.
Here lies another border of the place they named The Elephant. The territory denying permanence. St Mary Newington, the parish Church for Walworth. A village created on Saxon land given by King Edmund Ironside to Hitard, his joker. Maybe this goes some way to explaining the cauldron of mystery we are currently exploring. The joker's lot, eternal, without time, space-less. History and future and awaiting the punchline. Our motto here - a local vernacular version of St Paul's declaration: "For Christ's sake, let's be fools".
The church itself? When records begin, we learn of it's demolition in 1720 after worshippers heard the audible cracking of the walls during a service. A new church in 1721 but demolished in June 1791 when the North and South walls were found to be 'in ruinous condition'. It's purely functional resurrection in 1793.
The parish books sub Anno 1686, of November 1703, of July 1706, of April 3rd 1716 record tales of many payments made in the hope of 'making the timepiece do its duty in a proper style'. Here is a Church clock that is subject to a time-keeping of its own.
Our own time and motion study of this parcel of sacred land also reports the failure of the church's bell tower (in accordance to the failings of it's friend the clock) over time. The cash for the two cracked bells, sold for scrap to raise money for a steeple, was never recovered. The new 1793 church itself cost 'a mint of money' in constant repairs. In 1819, a magnificent series of scurrilous pamphlets circulated in the parish. Scribo Scratchum Esq, the unGodly author, lampooned the Parish Council, a motley collection of do-gooders - Glutton Swallowfee, Brandy Bumbrusher, Younge Bugman, Limp Carrionhunter – to recall a few names. Then the forces that be gave up trying, abandoned the site in 1876 and re-located the whole she-bang further down on Kennington Park Rd as a spiffy Gothic masterwerk. In true local style, it was blown to pieces by Hitler's bombs mid-1940's. But there's more...
...A benevolent functionary of the St Mary Newington Parish Council, local chemist Robert Faulconer Esq, paid for the erection of a wonderful 100ft Clock Tower in 1877. By 1908, the tower was in an advanced state of decay. It was patched up but by 1924 the structure had become 'dangerous'. Further repairs were enacted. The wonderful Bath stone tower stood proud in the Gardens, recorded in the 'Diary of a Supertramp' by W.H.Davies (1908), a writer then catalogued at the British Library as 'the one-legged tramp poet'. By 1971, it was all over. Falling masonry, a lack ofwill, the power of the meaninglessness of time itself, and the local Council called in the bulldozers.
Here again was the skirting board (without mousehole) of The Elephant conundrum. Will any monument fit here? The evidence is skewed by the architectures but crime seems to be the hopes of those pagans, long since forced to live underground. Crime versus the promised Heavens of the Christians. The crime? To live life fully.
The forensic tests we are conducting here give up two patterns. Continuous pagan demolition. Continuous pagan construction. The battle for heathen earth. What the religious throw up, they subvert, re-cycle. The mysteries pull their formal towers down. Unwind their clocks. Damp their bells. Here, The Clock Tower is an accurate alignment, at last, from East to West, the path of the Sun over the Elephant. At sundown, the tower becomes a gnomon on the landscape casting a phallic shadow into the womb of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre.
Take time to find your way to the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. There are many, many entrances. Take time because only one is the narthex.
Let me explain. The narthex is the long narrow enclosed porch of a Mithraeum. You would step through and wait. Then enter the underground temple for all Temples to the sungod Mithra were constructed underground. Passing the guardians of the temple, Cautes and Cautopates, life and light, dark and death, you would then be inside the Mithraeum. A row of columns would lead you down to the alter. Behind the columns were places for reclining and relaxing. Drinking spring water and wine, (the blood of a bull?), being lulled by the burning of pine cones. This was a place of initiation. Of stages to transcendence. From The Raven, The Bride, The Soldier, The Lion, The Persian, The Sun and The Father. In death there is life. Mithra's slaying of The Bull. Here were initiations through endurance and ordeal.
It is possible to locate the architecture in the underground shopping centre. Constructed with joy by urban planners who knew the way ahead for inner city life, the shopping centre was sunk into the ground in the mid-Sixties. Below car level, foot level. A lack-of-concentration camp without fences. A bunker. Every Mithraic element re-defined here. Pillars. Iniatory codings. The hidden Neckinger river a spring for the temple.
Visit the Sundial Restaurant inside this modern Unisex Mithraeum and feast. Endure Woolworths, Superdrug and the pull of the rather good second-hand bookshop, Tlön Books (straight outta Borges). Find your own honey, your red wine, your Toilet Duck(smelling of Pine) in Tescos. Your directions thru' here are magnetic. Pulled into the mysteries. (It is impossible to find a Sol beer at the E+C). 'THIS WAY TO THE UNDERGROUND CAR-PARK', the sign promises us more. An Under-underground?
A clue: The first acid-house club in Britain was SHOOM by The Thames in Southwark. The acid-house smiley a totem for a sungod?
There is resistance here. Friction. This is a land of struggle but let's not get maudlin round our cosy fireside. We are here for a reason. It has been said that the defence of this land may at times be necessary and that, the other large Southside re-development of the 60's, the South Bank, is the ramparts of our defences. An elongated concrete bulwark against invasion. It is here that the ever-tightening concrete molecules lock down our own artistic Maginot Line and provide us with the first line of defence. The battle may have been lost at the Elephant but the war has not yet been won.
What The Blitz did for the area, the local Council finished. Southwark, the borough home of the Elephant, was destroyed by bombs. From the Thames riverside
wharves and industries to the beautiful buildings set along the massive historical junction of the Elephant & Castle, the place was mangled to fuck. The explosives punctured the land around here, wounded the sealed earth, uncovered mysteries that had lain dormant for centuries. Here, on the site of concrete myth, heavy history, the past wrapped up in the permanence, the demons were let loose. The area was re-built in the late Sixties in a monster showpiece re-development. The surround, the body and the core were flattened, removed to landfill in surburbia. The place was concreted over. It was the art of war, lightning war, scorched earth led by hip architects. Here is a cenotaph of horizontal badland flatness, concrete roundabouts and subway tunnels.. but their emphasis was always on the Ascension. Buildings rose higher and higher as the shell-shocked residents of an ancient community wondered where it would all end up. The upward thrust of Hannibal House, the London College of Printing, Draper House. Banal microcosm - as above (awful), so below (even more awful).
Displaced, divided by the destruction of this collection of inner-city villages, the metaphorical pink Elephant roared. The planners baked pie-in-the-sky here and force fed it to those still standing. As a final piss-take, in the early 1990's, long after the battle was over, the owners of the Shopping Centre, went one further, a final assault and painted their mammoth temple pink from top to bottom. The physical manifestation of a long-standing clever-clever insult.
In 1576, across the plains of The Elephant came Peter Hunningbourne to build his theatre at Newington Butts. The perfect microcosm for the inner and outer worlds. Here were plays, in situ in our ancient terrains, performed beneath the signs of the zodiac twenty-five years before The Globe or The Rose at Bankside and Shakespeare's fame.
The struggle continues here. This land, separated by elemental Thames, is always a microcosmic world within a world. A balance of forces, inner and outer. The facts add up and the myths multiply. There is a certain replication of the North and South of The Thames. What chances of two Mithraic temples, one here and the discovery of the Walbrook Mithraeum in 1954 in the City of London? Why does Thomas Maurice, in a 1799 poem concerning The Grove in Camberwell (south of The Elephant) present us with the extra inclusion of his marvellous 'Ode To Mithras'? An excavation of Southwark Cathedral in 1977 unearthed an oolitic limestone figure of a Hunter-God. The speculation includes a Mithraic one. Here the simlarities flow. APhrygian cap, a bow and a short sword. Hunting dogs.
Here, South of the Thames, the connections muddy water. A mirror image of The Whitechapel murders of 1888 concurs with a skewing of the London map. Each point in time, each local lore re-assembling itself at other sites. Catherine Eddowes, a Jack the Ripper victim and previous resident of Southwark. Mary Anne Nichols, a previous resdident of Walworth. Martha Tabram (a early murder attributed by some Ripperoligists to Jack) a previous resident of The Elephant. The Ripper suspected doctor-surgeon, the strange Russian Dr Alexander Pedachenko was a resident in Walworth. Sir William Gull, obsessive surgeon and Ripper suspect #1 is a doctor at Guy's Hospital in Southwark. Thomas Cutbush, Ripper suspect, stabber from behind of young ladies and gruesome collagist of pictures of mutilated women lived near The Elephant. The local library reveals Mary Jane Staples 'The Lodger' (1991), a book of horrific murders set around the Elephant at the turn of the century. One gruesome murder occurs behind Clock Passage. And do take note of the misprint on the re-issue of 'Mord Emily', William Pett Ridge's 1898 account of a girl-gang set entirely in Walworth. The back-cover switches 'Walworth' for 'Whitechapel' when the East End is not mentioned once in the book? The 'phony chink' Herve Sosthene de Rodiencourt in Celine's great London book 'Guignols Band' lives in 'Rotherhithe, the section just after Poplar'. Like Whitechapel-on-Thames, no? Like Tony Wilkinson, posing as a dosser in his 80's reportage 'Down and Out', "setting off for the East End of London", to "arrive at Tooley St"!
Or a stealthy mirror-image or a swivel through locations and times? A reversal? The discovery of an Isuem, a Temple for the worship of Isis, on Tooley St, just south of the Thames, just south of the Walbrook Mithraeum, a counter-point for the bull slayers. Here, the religious connections are in perfect opposition. The harmony of Isis and Mithra, yin and yang.
The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre has enclosed a lot. It is our job to free the land.
And The Butts? A public house situated within a concrete spur from the Shopping Centre. What is it that makes it No.7 of things that aren't there? It is the sense of time itself. Please go and see.
And beneath The Butts? Where was that place? Beneath the roundabout in the midst of the rush of traffic? Beneath the South South-West corner of the red (once
pink) Shopping Centre? It is very hard to pinpoint. The locus, the omphalos, the centrifugal heart of the territory of Austin Osman Spare - artist and magician
but much, more more. Going past Alistair Crowley (whose Argenteum Astrum Spare was once a member of), part William Blake (Lambeth son, poet-seer and
visionary whose spirit possessed Austin Spare), here is the start of the emergence of a post-modern magics. Towards an alchemy of the self. 'Desire nothing and
there is nothing you shall not realise' - The Book of Pleasure (1913), a time-travelling reminder (to me) of Situationist theoriser, Raoul Vaneigem's poetical hints at magic and alchemy in his own 'The Book of Pleasures'! History revolving around it's own occult axis.
The shadow of Austin Osman Spare is cast across a giant chunk of Southwark. Which roads and alleyways remain ignorant of his constant back and forths? His art and his sorcery fanned out from his little Council flat at 52 Beckett House, Tabard St; from the top-floor studio of 56a Walworth Rd (a building dead-set in the grand junction that the Elephant & Castle creates); from a temporary wartime stay hostel at 86 Walworth Rd; walking through Clock Passage; drifting to The Thames at Bankside; to the (until very recently) obscure Green Dragon Court in Borough Market; to exhibit paintings in local pubs (The Temple Bar on Walworth Rd, The Mansion House and White Bear on Kennington Park Rd - all still warm and welcoming).
Blitzed by 'The... er! ...Blitz' in 1941, Spare's art disappearing up in smoke like a cheap conjuring trick.Trying to stand on that central E+C spot, is now an act of the impossible. No Spare rubble, hardcore, no grains left here. Built over, erased from the mind by the Protestant work + shop ethic of the disastrous Willett's re-development of the 60's. Here lies nothing. Central to our Spare mythology, is this emptyness, where once stood his studio, a vanished garrett, on terrain that now defies our attempts to
embody ourself as Spare. In both his practice and posthumous legacy, neither famous nor infamous, Austin Spare, dissolved himself back through Magical History, in the opposite direction to Crowley or The Golden Dawn. He occludes himself, becomes part of the cult, the underground heritage of an ever-subterranean moving Elephant & Castle. Spare fans do long-hard detective work. There is a slow, leak of expensive Ltd. Ed pamphlets, reprints and recreations of Spare, that find their way in a mad dash from magical shops to immagical book collections. It's a race after the hare. The electrical trick hare, a robot, fake flesh 'n' blood, no meat. All speed and saliva. The Elephant & Castle has done well hide him but please poke around. It's worth it. For unlike our un-enclosure of land, a physical act of restoration, his magic works against constructing playgrounds. This is un-enclosure of time/space, a 5th, 6th, 7th, Nth dimensional freedom. This is the real Void of the E+C area. Chaos flowing.
A final memory. Those who seek to un-enclose land and property rights are often called criminals. The Elephant boasts an impressive role call of self-styled criminals. People self-titling their fight for un-enclosure as criminal. Re-appropriating language and history. Seeing yourself as a rebel. These people are often nameless. It is my 'job' to remember them. Let us remember some of the names together. There was once a gang called The Forty Thieves. It was a woman's gang. A gang of hoisters, for that is what they did with pride. The activity was shoplifing and Alice Diamond was their chief. There was also Nelly Waites, Mary Whitely, Ruby Cohen, Florrie Holmes, Maggie Hill, Ada Welman, Nora Nolan, Shirley Pitts and many others.
They robbed the rich stores of The West End and brought it all back down South. Down to the Elephant.PS.
Download Nine Things That Aren't There