London Lore at Bishopsgate Institute

By Londonist Last edited 117 months ago
London Lore at Bishopsgate Institute

The Holly King from the Lions Part
There could be few better venues for this the first, of hopefully many, annual celebrations of London folklore. A powerful cast of authors and other experts on some of the stranger legends of London town assembled at the magnificent Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street for the day long conference organised jointly by SELFS and the Folklore Society. Also present was the lovely Vivian from Newham Books with a stall selling historical London delicacies and another pushing London literary magazines Smoke and One Eye Grey.

The speakers were themed into blocks with the more active elements (the people behind the Deptford Jack in the Green and Lion's Part event) starting proceedings followed by Doc Rowe's summary of London seasonal celebrations. After the break was the effortlessly entertaining Paul Cowdell on London's animals (rats and ravens and our close relationship to scavengers) followed by Noel Rooney on fox lore who attempted a very complex analogy of fox and foreigner. This cantered effortlessly into medical folklore and Scott Wood's talk on the friendly terrorist. The latter tale does not start with the IRA in the 1970s but tracks right back to the First World War and appears firmly embedded in the culture with the most recent manifestation being the Arab chap who, in return for a good deed, warns their benefactor to avoid the city on a certain day.

It might have been amusing to have provided traditional London fare for lunch but there's only so much watercress and eels one can face. With Brick Lane nearby it was easy to go for London's other traditional favourite. The lightish lunch then was followed by a couple of heavyweights (in the clever clogs sense) with Neil Gordon Orr and Steve Roud duetting about Edward Lovett and his rather ace collection. A theme continued by the equally cerebral (and celebrated) Ross MacFarlane of Wellcome Library on Lovett's contribution to the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum. From the healing arts it was a logical step to when medicine gets it wrong with a tale of two cemeteries (Mark Pilkington on Brompton and John Constable on Crossbones). John is, putting it mildly, an ace performer and perhaps should have ended the day but talking is thirsty work and with most in the hall fancying a drink it seemed a good point to exit on Anthony Clayton and the folklore of London pubs.

Top day and anyone interested in hearing any of the speakers should check out either SELFS or the Folklore Society who both put on regular talks as indeed do the Bishopsgate Institute themselves.

By Chris Roberts

Last Updated 26 April 2009