Chiswick's Bedford Park At Centre Of New Novel
Best selling writer Bryan Appleyard was inspired by 'fairytale' suburb
Bedford Park in Chiswick is at the centre of a new novel by best selling writer and journalist Bryan Appleyard.
Described as 'an evocative historical thriller', the world's first garden suburb (developed by Jonathan Carr in 1875), is the setting for the plot which features WB Yeats, Maud Gonne and the American hero of the book, Cal Kidd. The novel is peppered with exotic characters, from the Yeats family to Ezra Pound.
The plot also includes a murder which takes place on Acton Common, close to the Tabard Theatre and involves a fist fight between Kidd and Ezra Pound.
Bryan Appleyard says he got the idea for the setting while driving in the Stamford Brook area about five years ago.
“I turned into this lovely suburb which I now know to be Bedford Park and it was an extraordinary place. There was amazing architecture and a timeless feeling. I wanted to know more about it and I started to do some research on its history. I was fascinated not only by the buildings but by its history and it almost became an obsession.
He chose to set his novel in that period which he describes as a Golden Age not just for Bedford Park for for English culture; “We have nothing of that level of genius around today. When you make a list of all the great writers of that period, from the 1870s to 1914, it was a time of endless possibilities. You had Yeats, Pound, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, so many more."
Would he have liked to have lived then? "Yes, I think so, I certainly feel as if I belong there. I feel as if I know Ford Madox Ford, I certainly could have recognised Yeats and Ezra Pound.
“London was a city of extremes in those days. It was the greatest city in the world but it also had great wealth and terrible poverty."
Though Bedford Park created a model for suburban developments and was described by Sir John Betjeman as “the most significant suburb built in the last century", it did go through a period of decline and was once referred to as 'Poverty Park' before it re-emerged as the affluent area it is today.
The Yeats family lived in Bedford Park twice, and it was there that William Butler Yeats composed what is his best known poem, the Lake Isle of Innisfree and made the acquaintance of luminaries of the artistic world such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and William Morris. The area was full of artists, occultists, anarchists and aesthetes.
In 1879 the Yeats family lived in Woodstock Road, while the area was still essentially a building site. By the 1880s, according to Yeat's biographer Roy Foster, "aestheticism had moved to the suburbs" , and in 1888 after a period in Ireland, the family moved back to Blenheim Road where the rent was £50 a year. It was on January 30th 1889 that Maud Gonne came to visit, after which WB Yeats wrote - "the troubling of my life had begun".
One of the pivotal moments in the book is when Cal Kidd observes Maud Gonne alighting from a hansom cab as she arrives to visit the Yeats family. He immediately falls in love with her at the same time as William Butler Yeats.
The vibrant world of journalism in London is also featured in the novel where two characters taken from history, the campaigning journalist W.T. Stead, and the tabloid pressman Frank Harris, both encounter the hero and offer different solutions to his problem.
It seems as if the whole world passed through Bedford Park, says Appleyard, whose previous books include The Brain Is Wider Than the Sky- Why Simple Solutions Dont Work in a Complex World. An award-winning journalist, he currently writes for a range of publications including the Sunday Times. ( http://bryanappleyard.com/)
Other historical and literary figures featured include Oscar Wilde, Ford Madox Fo and Joseph Conrad. The name for his main protagonist, Calhoun Kidd, is taken from The Strange Crime of Dr Boulnois, a nod towards GK Chesterton who immortalised the suburb as Saffron Park in The Man Who Was Thursday
Bryan Appleyard says he chose to use an American as his main character to give an outsider's perspective on London. America at that time was fascinated by England, he says. Cal Kidd arrives from Chicago in 1888 , an 'innocent' in London. When he is invited to the suburb of Bedford Park by a local resident called Biggs, he believes he has found a "little paradise". The American stays in London until 1912 and the novel documents his many adventures in the capital city.
In essence the book, says Bryan Appleyard, is set in a moment in time and is also a comment on a London during a period when the city was full of artistic genius and great ideas. Anarchism, spiritualism, socialism, technical advance, all thrived side by side. The hedonistic atmosphere was soon to be transformed with the outbreak of World War One.
Bedford Park by Bryan Appleyard ( Weidenfeld & Nicholson) can now be downloaded as an e-book, priced £3.99.
April 11, 2013