The author Christopher Fowler is famous for his Bryant and May series of novels about a pair of older detectives investigating “peculiar crimes” and for a series of supernatural novels and short stories. But for me and a few others his first novel is the most remarkable. Roofworld (1988) tells the story of a parallel society living along side our own whose members live above our heads, passing from roof to roof by a variety of means. It’s a little like a reverse of Neal Gaiman’s London Below from his novel Neverwhere but the inhabitants of Roofworld are unseen by us not through some kind of magic but by stealth. We just miss them, almost every time. The book is an adventure story telling how a couple of ground dwellers are drawn into the roofworld and the ancient struggle going on up there.
It’s one of the classics of urban fantasy. (Like a book I read around the same time, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. They come at a point when this sub-genre was just getting started. But don’t get me started or we could be here all day.)
The Roofworld setting was brought to mind for me by some of the images I have found recently while writing a loose series of posts set along Kensington High Street . Some of these pictures may have been taken by intrepid employees of the Planning department, others by equally audacious employees of those companies and individuals submitting applications, like these ones of the roof of the Royal Garden Hotel.
On an overcast day someone is looking around this roofscape. The application was probably concerned with the satellite dishes. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the handwritten notes on this picture of the hotel.
Below, a brave man goes closer to the edge than I ever would. It actually gives me twinges of vertigo looking at it.
I like the view from tall buildings but I prefer it when there is a nice secure guard rail (or a plate glass window – that’s why I liked the London Eye). It used to be possible to get on top of some of the buildings I know, a block of flats in Chelsea, a library or two (such as this one, which has a very secure roof). But the authorities are more vigilant about health and safety these days, quite rightly so I say speaking as an unlikely urban explorer.
(Have a look at Bernard Selwyn’s views here, taken from a safe and vantage point in the common parts or rooms of another hotel))
Despite a general dislike of heights I’ve been up a few tall buildings, particularly ecclesiastical ones- Notre Dame, York Minster, and my personal favourite, the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, which has a very quiet and atmospheric space on top of a tower. Going back to my teenage years, I went up the then Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) when it was one of the tallest buildings in London. This is a further link to Fowler’s novel – one of the later scenes takes place on the tower, reaching which represents a considerable effort on the part of the roofworlders.
Here’s that man again, still looking quite unconcerned. (On the right of the picture).
Some of this week’s other pictures may have been taken from the hotel, (not necessarily from the roof), or one of the buildings next to it such as the Ladymere Building like this one. (You can just see a decorative feature on the left.)
Looking down on a roof line you usually look up at gives you a new perspective on the variety of buildings and what lies behind the facades.
You can locate this roof space by noting the position of Rodeo Drive which we looked at from street level in a previous post.
Here are those double stairs again and what lies next to them, including the buildings east of Barkers.
These presumably give access to the roofscape and possible escape routes from fires, or other building problems.
In this 1998 picture you can see the tower on the corner of the Gas and Coke / NatWest building, along with another bit of the Ladymere.
And now we switch to the other side of the street to the top of Barkers and look back across at the Royal Garden Hotel, the Ladymere and the Old Court building.
In this picture the photographer has crept closer to the edge of a roof to look across at the upper floors of the Ladymere. (He’s not on top of Barkers any more.)
And here even closer to the scaffolding shrouded Old Court building.
A look west shows the location of the previous two images from above.
See that white section of roof and the small set of chimneys with the green flat roof beyond.
Now, I think we move back across to the north side of the High Street looking at a usually hidden part of another building.The roof area has been partially colonised and made safe for residents to roam outside.
Below a couple of men are roaming on this roof,looking safe enough for the moment.
Back on Barkers roof there is even a set of steps to get you safely over this pipework.
There are pictures which show how these spaces behind buildings have been adapted and made safe for inhabitants and visitors. Below, you can see a whole network of staircases and walkways, with railings, and access at different levels.
When building work was under way some photographers used the collage technique to build up an image showing a wider area.
Note the little Post-it notes telling you which house number is which.
The pictures this week have all been “working” images, to demonstrate what has been don or might be done in the future.
The last few pictures are of more general interest. These two pictures reveal another hidden area among the rooftops. They are both views looking in a westerly direction.
The towers of South Kensington in the distance give you a general idea of the area.
I love the section in the centre where a door and a few windows give access to a small yard, hidden from the streets below.
In the final picture, the viewpoint is way above Roofworld.
I felt I could keep on and on adding pictures this week as there are so many of these rooftop views in our collection. I suppose that at the eastern end of Kensington High Street there is a sufficient number of tall buildings to provide suitable vantage points for pictures. I’ll see how many more emerge as I proceed westwards.
I’ve just been flipping through Roofworld, having unearthed my copy from a cupboard, and I notice that a couple of the characters from the Bryant and May series make their first fictional appearances in it. You can still buy copies from various sources, so if you haven’t read it, why not take a look?
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