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  • Writer's pictureFran Clark

Where In London Would You Not Be Caught Dead?

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

West Indian woman being viewed by Teddy Boys in 1950s  London street

Research for When Skies Are Grey - Book 4 of the Island Secrets Series

On Instagram the other day I posted that I was about to start the reworking of my novel, When Skies Are Grey. This is Book 4 of my Island Secrets Series and I plan to have it to my editor by the beginning of November. Just for a bit of background, after finishing this novel I entered it for a The SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2016 and I was on the shortlist!

Since this has now become part of a series, the 2023 reworking was in order and memories of the research I undertook reminded me of all the very seamy parts of Notting Hill Gate that I researched for the scenes that took place in the 1950s. Back then, the area was nothing like the gentrified Notting Hill Gate that you see portrayed by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the film Notting Hill.

The scenes in my book all take place the 1950s. As this was before I was born, and I wanted to make this setting authentic, I took to the archives in what used to be my old library in Lancaster Road, just off the Portobello Road in London W11. There, I was able to map out the routes, roads and places of the book and, hopefully, recreate a very different Notting Hill Gate than the one we now know.

Why You Wouldn't Be Caught Dead In This Part Of London in the 1950s

For one thing you'd have to be on your guard if you were a young, single female, if you were a black person, especially out on your own, or if you owned a business. My book was set at a time when lots of people, like my parents, were moving into London from the West Indies. The growing numbers of West Indians brought a diversity that didn't sit well with many of the inhabitants.

Racism, racial hatred and racial violence was common and several black people were attacked, beaten up or verbally abused. It was common for people renting property to put large signs up saying: No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish. It was a dark and bitter time and racial tension grew and grew. As did the number of seedy nightclubs, many unlicensed and often raided by the police. Many clubs that were frequented by blacks were attacked with objects flying through the windows.

There was a growing number of sex workers in the area. From the early 50s, Cannabis, later discovered by the hippies, was used and sold in clubs.

In When Skies Are Grey I make reference to the Race Riots in 1958 - but I'll make more of a feature of this in another post. But there is a scene in the book in which the West Indian jazz band are playing and the The Pelican pub where they play falls prey to race rioters who had had enough of their area being 'invaded' by West Indians. The devastation to the community is palpable. It was a fraught time and many, if not all of my characters feel the blow of this point in London history.

As a former Londoner, I would say there were lots of places in London that I wouldn't like to visit or stay in for too long! I live in a peaceful rural area now, with cows and sheep grazing in nearby fields. It's really weird writing this book with all the beautiful landscapes around me now and I have to really focus my mind as I write scenes for my characters. It's a real time travelling experience. I'm doing all I can to transport my reader into my world and can't wait for you to meet my characters!

What place or places would you not be caught dead?

When Skies Are Grey is Book 4 of the Island Secrets Series. You can get a FREE prequel to Book 1 if you join my mailing list here!


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