The London Grill: Lee Jackson

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.


[L]ee Jackson runs the website an encyclopaedia of primary sources about life in 19th century London. He has written a series of Victorian historical crime novels, and is currently researching the history of leisure in the Victorian metropolis. He has an obsession with historic street furniture – he claims credit for uncovering the long-lost Clifford’s Inn Passage urine deflector – and spends a worrying amount of time on Twitter (@victorianlondon). His most recent published book is Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth (Yale University Press, 2014).

What’s your secret London tip?
Pay a visit to the local history libraries / archives run by the older London boroughs. These archives all contain astonishing collections, including many historic images, which few people ever see – and they are all open to the public. What are you waiting for?

Dirty-Old-LondonWhat’s your secret London place?
The café at Stoke Newington reservoir, on a hot day in summer. Cabbies – you can park there, too.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
People sitting on the aisle seat on buses, who don’t move when you try to get past them (whether to get out of the window seat, or get into it). See also people who ‘reserve’ adjoining bus seats with their knees, handbags or other accoutrements. They will be first up against the wall, come the glorious public transport revolution.

What’s your favourite building?
Post Office Tower. I blame the Goodies and 2000AD. It somehow dominated my 1970s (not in London) childhood.

What’s your most hated building?
Like many people, the 20 Fenchurch Street ‘Walkie Talkie’ / ‘Death Ray’ building. A vile, bulbous excrescence that ruins so many views of the City – not least from the south-eastern side of Tower Bridge. It is remarkable how anyone could design a skyscraper that looks so ugly from so many different angles; but they managed it. Congratulations, City of London.

What’s the best view in London?
Looking east, from Waterloo Bridge, pending the arrival of the ‘Garden Bridge’ which, however pretty, will fill me with inexpressible anger, whenever I see this ridiculous contemptible vanity project/tourist trap. Did you know they’ll have to tear up numerous trees along the South Bank to build it; and we’ll end up paying for part of it, in perpetuity, as ‘transport infrastructure’? I’m tempted to smash my Sapphire and Steel* box–sets in protest. [*Joanna Lumley reference. Bizarrely, it was all her idea.]

What’s your personal London landmark?
Very fond of St. Mary’s (New) Church, Stoke Newington. Beautifully illuminated at night; by George Gilbert Scott.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
Sorry, but I really live in the 19th century, so Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Dickens. It’s as much about the city, as the man. Alternatively, albeit still Victorian, Lynda Nead’s Victorian Babylon, which conjures up a lost gaslit world.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
All my oldest favourites have now closed but the Blue Legume on Stoke Newington Church Street is a proud exception (you may begin to discern an N16 theme emerging here).


How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Walking the streets with my camera. I love wandering, looking for odd sights, ancient and modern. You can see my best pictures here, if you like . . . [pdf ebook – free to download]

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