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12 of South east London and north Kent's best literary connections
FROM the author of The Twits living in Bexley to Sherlock popping by and a sixteenth century playwright topped in Deptford, south east London and north Kent has a litany of literary connections.
1. Fantastic Mr Dahl
Before he created Willy Wonka and got up to his shed-based writing escapades, the young Roald Dahl moved with his family to Hurst Road Bexley and stayed there for just over a decade. His illustrator buddy Sir Quentin Blake is famously from Chislehurst.
2. Hard Times in north Kent
Famous for being on the back of the ten pound note, Charles Dickens also wrote some books and lived in Gads Hill in Higham. The bearded author of Oliver Twist had lots of Kent links. The north Kent marshes inspired the beginning of Great Expectations. The town crops up again at the end as Magwitch tries to flee (as it does in David Copperfield). Among other references are to Shorne and Cobham in The Pickwick Papers.
3. The Heart of Darkness
Mean-spirited folk may tell you that Gravesend is itself the Heart of Darkness, but the town at the mouth of the Thames does feature right at the beginning of Joseph Conrad’s most famous work.
4. Robert Browning
Probably best known to most of us for the torture of having to read My Last Duchess in GCSE English, the nineteenth century poet and playwright and author of the Pied Piper of Hamlin was a resident of New Cross. Born in 1812, he moved to Telegraph Cottage on Musgrove Road in 1841 with his parents and sister before eloping with Elizabeth Barrett (herself quite the poet) and winding up in Italy.
5. Five go to Beckenham
Famous at five is children’s author Enid Blyton, who grew up and went to school in Beckenham and briefly taught at a small independent boys’ school in Bickley.
6. HG Wells
The father of science fiction was far from The Invisible Man around town in Bromley. The author, who wrote The War of the Worlds among others, was born in Bromley High Street.
7. Reginald Perrin
The Reginald Perrin author David Nobbs was born in Petts Wood but lived in Sevenoaks Road, Orpington, until he was 23. Last year he told us: “I like to think the idea of Reggie Perrin came to me catching the 8.16am from Orpington Station on the way to school.”
8. Death on (Deptford) Broadway
Contemporary of Shakespeare and author of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a drunken fight in Deptford.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes may have lived in Baker Street but his adventures twice took him to south east London. The missing Mr St. Clairs live in Lee while The Adventure of the Retired Colourman takes place in Lewisham and Blackheath.
10. Down and Out in Kent
George Orwell’s expeditions as a tramp in London and hop picking in Kent found themselves in print in The Clergyman’s Daughter and Down and Out in Paris and London.
11. A Long Goodbye to Forest Hill
Master of detective fiction Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep, was born in America but is thought to have lived with his mother in Devonshire Road, Forest Hill between 1909 and 1912 while he studied at Dulwich College.
12. Garden of England (in Lee)
Children’s author, poet and one of the founders of the Fabian Society, Edith Nesbit, lived with her family in houses all over south east London, including Lewisham, Grove Park, Lee and Eltham. Nesbit Gardens was created in Lee in her memory.
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