Saturday, 5 March 2011

Tell me a story...

This is a story about a story. Both are set in Shepherd's Bush; well, the former certainly and always is and I believe the latter to be too.

I picked up an original Penguin Books 1952 print of A Pin to see the Peepshow in the lobby of the building I live in. It is not unusual to find piles of books, magazines, DVDs and even boxes of food or unwanted clothes sitting, waiting and wishing in this lobby. They are left there by other inhabitants who want to share something they no longer need or alternatively things they can't be bothered to deposit at the charity shops across the Green. Either way, I've enjoyed rummaging through stacks of unwanted items and picking up things I would gladly have parted with money for; A Single Man on DVD and the hilarious does-what-it-says-on-the-cover book called Bad Hair by James Innes-Smith.

A Pin to see the Peepshow was written in 1934 by F Tennyson Jesse, the great-niece of Lord Alfred Tennyson who was a criminologist, journalist and author; three unusually honourable professions for a woman of her time. Unsurprisingly the first line of this book grabbed my attention;

"The tram roared and swung down Goldhawk Road towards Young's Corner..."

Though strictly speaking this is more Chiswick than Bush I loved the reference and I read on... I should add at this point I had no prior knowledge of the story, other than Google-ing the author's name and being frustrated at how little was available.

The first few chapters describe how sixteen year old school girl, Julia Almond, goes about her daily business whilst dreaming of bigger, more romantic things. The very first page sets this tone;

"For Julia did not think of the world as being enclosed in Heronscourt Park and Chiswick..."

Why, Heronscourt Park? This must surely be "code" for Ravenscourt Park. And it is within this area around Ravenscourt Park, Chiswick and Turnham Green that we see Julia grow up. There are references to the Packhorse & Talbot, Turnham Green church and "the sulky dark-red building that was the Roman Catholic Church at the top of Duke's Avenue."

I blindly read Pin to see the Peepshow as a love story. No longer a school girl, Julia ends up marrying a family friend, Herbert, an unlikeable widower who despite rescuing her from the dream suffocating environment of her family home, he does little to live up to those dreams. Julia then meets the younger Leo who becomes her lover. All the time she is coming home to the fictional Saint Clements Square, which from Tennyson Jesse's words I place somewhere between Stamford Brook and Ravenscourt Park. It is on the corner of this address that towards the end of the affair and the novel a drunk and enraged Leo appears unexpectedly and strikes out at Herbert who falls to the ground and to his death.

"Fryn" Tennyson Jesse
Source: Kemnal Road (where F. Tennyson Jesse was a regular visitor.
At this point I extended my research of Tennyson Jesse's story; it is based on the real events in the case and hangings of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters. The case blew holes in the British judicial system and opinion maintains that Edith's execution was a gross miscarriage of justice.

It was fascinating to see a story I eagerly read for local references then evolve into a heart-breaking desperate tale based on true events.

I scoured the internet for more information about F. Tennyson Jesse and for an answer to why she'd chosen to set this poignant story in our part of London. I found no reference to her once being a Shepherd's Bush or Chiswick resident, in fact she lived much of her life abroad, including reporting from the front line in Germany and Belgium during the First World War. Balham is the only place in London that I found reference to her living in. How I would love to know that she did live remotely near to the Bush.

One day I will write a story set in Shepherd's Bush. It may not be as profound, and I'd hope not as tragic, but I'm pretty sure it will feature a girl making her way through life and dreaming big...


  1. another great blog - thanks

  2. I remember watching a dramatisation of this on TV years ago but had no idea that it was set in Shepherd's Bush. How interesting. Nice post!