Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Sunday 5 May 2013

Childhood influences and burial sites

One of the main influences for my writing thus far has been my childhood. I recently had the opportunity to revisit the playgrounds of my youth; and, perhaps inevitably, I was taken aback by how different they seemed. 
I set out for a run from my childhood home, across the playing fields and through the Spinney I wrote about in The Source of the Lea and Abraham's Bosom, and on to the Marsh House playgrounds. There used to be an enormous children's adventure area styled after a fort, which was impossibly exciting to me as a child, and now it has become a BMX track. Marsh House still stands alongside, but it's a sad sight now, doors and windows boarded or bricked up. I recall the side of the building being painted in bright colours, back in 1978, when it was transformed into a youth centre. At that time there was a go-kart track there, on some old tennis courts, delineated by piles of car tyres. It was a mecca for youngsters back then, but now it is mainly deserted. It occurred to me that there could be some inspiration for a story here, so I thought I'd take some photos.

This is the painted side of Marsh House, which now looks to be deserted and boarded up
The front of Marsh House
All the ground floor windows are either boarded or bricked up.
I wonder what's inside
This made me think about creepy stories suggesting childhood memories, of which there must be quite a few. Two such tales by Aickman spring to mind, The Same Dog and The Inner Room. The interesting thing to me about using a child (or a younger version of the writer) as the main protagonist is that misunderstandings can be created; the child's view of things can be unreliable, which adds to the mystery. One of my favourite stories along these lines must be The Shelter by James Everington. This is a particularly evocative tale of the vagaries involved in the formative years. The Boy in Green Velvet or Come into My Parlour by Reggie Oliver might fit the bill too.


While I was wandering around reminiscing, I was reminded that the surrounding area, Waulud's Bank, is named after a neolithic burial site. A D-shaped enclosure, it takes the form of a grassy bank through the surrounding woods, down which we used to run, roll, cycle, toboggan ... depending on the weather. I've since found out that a major ley line runs through the middle of the site, stretching from Cornwall to Yarmouth; it also bisects the Avebury stone circles. Apparently there would once have been stones at Waulud's Bank too, but they have long since disappeared. We used to find arrow heads, bits of pottery and so on in the chalky soil there, but we thought nothing of it. In recent years, many very significant finds have taken place there, but with almost no publicity. I could only find one scruffy old sign mentioning anything about it; but I'm sure more people would be interested if the history was more widely known.
I'm also sure there's a story in there somewhere ... History can make for a compelling tale, adding a convincing background to a good story, particularly when ghosts are involved. For proof, have a look at the excellent blog Freaky folk tales, for some evocative MR James-esque delights.

Part of the ancient Waulud's Bank in the foreground, and the three blocks
of flats over the hill. Five Springs is the closer of them 
The only sign I could find with details of this fascinating area


  1. Martin, thank you so much for the kind mention of FFT. As you point out, I too am indebted to a childhood spent traipsing over fields and amongst ruins for providing a collection of vivid imagery that has fuelled my writing.

    I grew up in London in the 1970s at a time when the city still retained the shells of crumbling pre-war factories, littered with shadows of the past. Though pretty hazardous, they were my playground. This, together with Bunyan's churches and graveyards, and the covered plague pits of Bunhill Row, provided me with an endless source of fantastical musing.

    I spent my childhood reading HG Wells, Poe, Ray Badbury and borrowed numerous tomes on ghostlore and legends from my local library. I even found myself organising trips to visit the remains of places such as Borley Rectory (yes, I was on a very long leash at 11 years of age ... my how things have changed!)

    I just hope that through writing we are able to spark an interest in these places; the sites that are off the beaten track yet tantalisingly close to our doorsteps. The world 'appears' to be a much more threatening place that it was when I was a child but what a redundant life it would be if we were to always tread so carefully that our knowledge became entirely dependent on the internet and second-hand sources of information. Not only do these fail in delivering the first-hand practical experience of actual physical encounter but they never tell us the whole story. For this, we need to venture forth, brave and dare I say it, slightly foolhardy, to gain such treasures of the imagination.

    1. My pleasure Paul. My childhood too was unfettered, I was out playing from dawn till dusk whenever I could. My own children have such a different existence! My grandparents lived in Harringay, and when I stayed with them, I would explore the area around Finsbury Park, which was a fascinating world to me. You're right, all we can do is write about these things and hope interest is raised.

    2. think you may be on to something here, Martin! Our childhood memories are like spectres, rising up from our past to color our thinking - sometimes welcome, sometimes not; sometimes wonderful, sometimes chilling; sometimes momentous, sometimes mundane; sometimes heart-warming, sometimes heart rending. They are the anchor that tethers us to this world. Without them, I think, we are lost and adrift in a sea of meaninglessness.

    3. Yes, you're absolutely right. I suppose it could be said that we are the sum of our memories.

  2. Derelict buildings make chilling settings. They often have a long history with many memories. So much the better if some of those memories are your own.