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Talking Location With … Julie Anderson – CLAPHAM

14th June 2024

#TalkingLocationWith … Julie Anderson, author of The Midnight Man (1 Clapham Trilogy) – CLAPHAM

South London Surprises; some historic and highly unusual places:

My new crime fiction series is set in Clapham, London, in 1946. As anyone who has read my other TripFiction articles or my books will know, spirit of place is always important to me. This is especially the case with The Midnight Man becauseI live in Clapham. Its locations are real places on Clapham Common, clustered around Clapham South Underground station. Some of these places are highly unusual, some still exist (although they have been repurposed) and others can be visited today.

The South London Hospital for Women & Children, the main location, no longer exists, although some of its buildings still stand. The largest, the ‘New Wing’, a red brick 1930s building, dominates the area around Clapham South. It is now an apartment block above a supermarket and the prize-winning hospital gardens are the car park.

Julie Anderson

The hospital was founded by some remarkable women in 1913 and operated as a ‘woman only’ institution on Clapham Common Southside for seventy-two years. Patients were women, girls and boys up to the age of seven; all its staff, except for one or two men, were female, even the porters. It was the largest woman only hospital in the UK. When the local health authority eventually closed it on grounds of cost (something still hotly disputed by those who worked there) the hospital buildings were occupied and an international campaign was launched to keep it open, including a petition to Downing Street. On Facebook you can find a group, to which I now belong, called the South London Women’s Hospital occupation 198485 where those who protested at the time, many of them staff and patients, reminisce and organize the occasional get together.

Julie Anderson

Opposite the hospital buildings, above Clapham South Station, is Westbury Court, built and owned by the local authority in the 1930s, but now, largely, privately owned. Two of my main characters live here, renting from the council. They often go to the cinema, the most popular form of mass entertainment at the time and their local was the Odeon at the top of Balham Hill, a fine art deco building which is now a wine warehouse.

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The exciting denouement of the novel finds the two main characters far beneath the ground in the deep shelters. As you emerge from the Northern Line at Clapham South you can see, about a hundred yards away from the station, a concrete pillbox of a building, on the common but very close to the busy road. Currently graffiti covered, this is the entrance to a warren of tunnels deeper even than the London Underground lines. One of eight locations of these deep shelters, the Clapham South entrance stands alone, surrounded by vegetation encroaching from the common, unlovely and unloved, but what it contains is fascinating.

On 1st April 1939, as General Franco declared victory in the Spanish Civil War, the last few surviving British members of the International Brigade escaped home. They and their fellows had experienced aerial bombardment by the German Luftwaffe in Barcelona, Madrid and Guernica on a scale not seen before. They tried to warn their compatriots, but it was only in 1940, once the Blitz was underway and the makeshift shelters in the London Underground proved inadequate (a direct hit on Bank station killed fifty-six people), that the government agreed that deep shelters were needed for the populace of London. The London Underground was entrusted with construction and work began.

Julie Anderson

Clapham South Shelter

By the time the work was finished the Blitz was over, but this warren of tunnels came into their own in 1944 when German rockets bombarded London. South Londoners descended, nightly, in the lifts, to their bunk space in the shelter, which also held canteens, lavatories, washrooms and a medical centre. The shelter still exists and the London Transport Museum runs regular tours of them (although you have to be reasonably fit to manage those 180 steps up and down as the shelter is eleven storeys deep). After the war ended, the shelter was frequently used as a billet, including for citizens from the colonies on the HMS Empire Windrush. But that, as they say, is another story. Some of the new arrivals feature in the second novel in the Clapham trilogy (out 2025).

Above ground, away from the busy road, walking on the green and pleasant Clapham Common to the restored Victorian bandstand, or around the lakes, it is easy to forget that the tunnels are there. Yet, as the tagline from the book reminds us, you should ‘Beware the darkness beneath…’.

The Midnight Man’ by Julie Anderson was published on 30th April 2024 by Hobeck Books, the first in the Clapham Trilogy.

For London Transport Museum tours check the website at London Transport Museum (ltmuseum.co.uk) and look for Hidden London or sign up to their Newsletter for regular alerts about tours and get priority booking access.

For more, free, information about the Deep Level Shelter visit The Clapham Society’s website at Articles – The Clapham Society


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Catch Julie on Twitter @jjulieanderson and on Insta @julieandersonwriter

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