For a while now I’ve been enjoying derelictlondon.com, a website run by Paul Talling featuring thousands of pictures of derelict, abandoned, or wrecked sites around London. In fact it’s set me wondering whether somebody, possibly even me, should write a taxonomy of the different forms and manifestations of ruin - the difference between dereliction and abandonment, between a wreck and a ruin and a hulk, and so on.
The website has the feel of a man walking the streets of London, freely though not quite aimlessly, camera in hand, and photographing every crumbling house, weed-choked railway line, graffiti stained wall, smashed window or roof, every closed down pub and shuttered factory he comes across. The effect is obsessive and passionate, both unsystematic and all-embracing. Talling is as fascinated by a burned out milk float as he is by a world war two pillbox.
All these images are his, and yes, I did ask his permission. He says on the website, “99% of these pictures were taken by myself during many miles of walkabouts around the great capital. After years of traveling via car or public transport I realised just how little I had seen of London ... Apart from a few tip offs most of the locations on this site are on here because I randomly stumbled upon them when walking down the street.”
It would obviously be pointless to complain about the randomness of his images, since that’s the nature of the beast, but I wasn’t sure how this would translate into book form. But I just got a copy of the book, published by Random House, and I think it’s even better than the website.
A lot of pruning and concentration has gone on. There’s more emphasis on the text, which contains some real gems of curious information. That the Rail Freight Marshalling Yard in Feltham was built by German prisoners of war, that the phrase “going to see a man about a dog” comes from a play titled The Flying Scud, which also gave its name to a pub in Shoreditch, now derelict of course. That there’s now only one public toilet for every 10,000 people in England: bad news for the urban pedestrian.
It all makes me determined that the next time I’m in London I’ll take a walking expedition to Winchester Palace, the Woodford Town football ground, or the Lambeth Hospital, though there’s no guarantee they'll still be around by the time I get there.
Paul Talling leads walking tours of London’s lost rivers - there’s a book as well. As far as I know he doesn’t do tours of London dereliction, which strikes me as a shame. The idea of little gaggles of tourists wandering around grim bits of London admiring collapsed cinemas and half-demolished houses, is extremely appealing. I’d be there like a shot.
The derelictlondonwebsite is here: