Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Topographical Rambling

For the bookish, London is a book. For criminals, a map of opportunities. For unpapered immigrants, it is a nest of skinned eyes; sanctioned gunmen ready to blow your head off as you run for a train. When the city of distorting mirrors revealed itself, through its districts and discriminations, I discovered more about London's past as a reworking of my own submerged history. - Ian Sinclair

Here is an excellent overview on the topic of topographical rambling or psychogeography:

John Rogers Author gave this presentation at Housmans Bookshop, London 21st September 2013. He has written an excellent book on London ramblings which is available for sale at the below link: - This Other London Adventures in the Overlooked City by John Rodgers

Join John Rogers as he ventures out into an uncharted London like a redbrick Indiana Jones in search of the lost meaning of our metropolitan existence. Nursing two reluctant knees and a can of Stella, he perambulates through the seasons seeking adventure in our city's remote and forgotten reaches. When John Rogers packed away his rucksack to start a family in London he didn't stop travelling. But instead of canoeing up the Rejang River to find retired headhunters in Sarawak, he caught the ferry to Woolwich in search of the edge of the city at Crayford Marshes. This Other London recounts that journey and many others - all on foot and epic in their own cartilage-crunching way. Clutching a samosa and a handful of out-of-date A-Zs, he heads out into the wilderness of isolated luxury apartment blocks in Brentford, the ruins of Lesnes Abbey near Thamesmead, and the ancient Lammas Lands in Leyton. Denounced by his young sons as a 'hippy wizard', Rogers delves into some of the overlooked stories rumbling beneath the tarmac of the city suburbs. Holy wells in Lewisham; wassailing in Clapton; a heretical fresco in West Ham. He encounters the Highwaymen of Hounslow Heath, Viet Cong vets still fighting Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket in Beckton, Dutch sailors marooned at Erith pier; and cyclists - without Bradley Wiggins' sideburns - at Herne Hill Velodrome. He heads out to Uxendon Hill to witness the end of the world, Horsenden Hill to learn its legend, and Tulse Hill to the observatory of the Victorian Brian Cox. This Other London will take you into the hinterland of the city. The London that is lived in; the London where workaday dormitory suburbs sit atop a rich history that could rival Westminster and Tower Bridge. In an age when no corner of the globe has been left untrampled-upon by hordes of tourists, it is time to discover the wonders on our doorstep. This Other London is your gateway through the underexplored nooks of London. As Pathfinder wrote in 1911, 'Adventure begins at home

Ventures & Adventures in Topography

John Rogers and Nick Papadimitriou host a website devoted to their various rambles that also has podcasts they have produced on the topic:

Ventures in Topography Website

At one point they also hosted a radio show on the subject at Resonance FM but it does not appear on the schedule so it may have been discontinued:


Maxwell and the Start of the Topographical Ramble Genre 

Topographical ramble books were a trend during the interwar years. The first of these books was written Gordon Stanley Maxwell:

The first books is available online via the Hathi Trust Org:

The Fringe of London by Gordon Stanley Maxwell (1925)

In it, Maxwell explored places on the then outskirts of London such as Monk's Park (Tokyngton) They wrote about these areas as places of wonder and mystery and told the stories surrounding them. These books showed an affection for places that were often maligned and overlooked, often places that hubs, nexuses of different track.

Here Roger's give an excellent overview of the genre:

These books encouraged people to trespass, to look for the overlooked, to seek information by talking to other people, to open your mind, to look down alleyways. To work on the assumptions that whatever was neglected or maligned probably had an interesting story to tell, a reason what it had fallen into disrepair.


According to Rogers, psychogeography give this topic an intellectual framework and a political edge. Psychogeography is not just wandering around looking at where stuff happened (e.g. Jack the Ripper killed someone here.). It is programmatic and should have an end, the transformation of everyday life.

Walter George Bell - Where London Sleeps

Predating Maxwell was the book, Unknown London by Walter George Bell:

Unknown London by Walter George Bell (1920) AUDIOBOOK - Unknown London

Here are more Bell titles available at Archive.Org:
Archive.Org - Walter George Bell

Donald, the Other Maxwell

Gordon Stanley Maxwell also had a brother, Donald, who also wrote topographical ramble books:

A Detective in Surrey by Donald Maxwell

The Enchanted Road by Donald Maxwell

The Vignettes of Henry Vollam Morton

Perhaps the most famous writer attributed to this genre is Henry Vollam Morton but his works are more vignettes and travelogues than true topographical ramblings.

Modern Psychogeographical Works

Here are some modern examples of this genre:

London Orbital by Ian Sinclair (2003)

London Under by Peter Ackroyd (2011)

Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou (2012)

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