Thursday, March 9, 2023

Cast Iron Girl


Wendall—every other Thursday


When the kind writers of Murder is Everywhere invited me to join them, they probably didn’t know how many posts they were going to wind up with about London. This will be the first of many. . .but I will try to control myself and space them out.


I love London. A lot.

I first visited the United Kingdom in the summer of 1982, a year into my teaching career, and on a tiny budget, which meant mostly hostels and hitchhiking, and almost no time in The Big Smoke, since even then it was too expensive.


I fell in love with Bath, York, Oxford, and western coast of Ireland. By accident, my friend and I wound up traveling to Belfast by train on the anniversary of Bobby Sands’s death, and found a city full of barbed wire and chaos, where we were hustled off the train by a cab driver and told it would be best to take the night ferry from Larne to Stranraer.


Our luck changed once we reached Scotland, since, also by accident, we arrived on the first day of the Edinburgh Festival, were lucky enough to find a B&B, and I got my first taste of that wonderful city and “real” theatre. As we passed through London again on our way home, I vowed to return when I could really spend time in the city I’d only glimpsed on this trip.


By some miracle, my next visit was on a producer’s dime, to research a pitch I’d sold. I was not only able to stay in London for two weeks (!) which gave me the time to wander where I would, rather than hurry around on the Tube. I stayed above ground. And, since I knew absolutely no one there, I was free every evening go on a series of London Walks.


Me and Emily Richard walking in London

On my first free night, I wanted to go on a walking tour of the East End of London, but only had time to make it to the one in South Kensington, which was led by, as the pamphlet promised, “smokey-voiced” actor Emily Richard. I was so impressed with Emily’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for the city, I went on several of her walks and after I left, we continued to correspond and become friends through our airmail letters—remember those, the almost transparent blue missives from the old days—and an occasional phone call.


Emily and Edward in their back garden, after they met and married on the set of Nicholas Nickleby

The next time I was headed to the city, she and her husband, actor Edward Petherbridge—some of you might remember him as Lord Peter Wimsey in the 1987 BBC adaptation of the Dorothy L. Sayers’s novels—invited me to use their guest room and that’s where I stayed on all my trips for the next ten years.


Edward doing one of his walking tours

They not only gave me their guest room and endless cups of tea, they gave me an entrée into the dressing rooms, cast parties, disappointments, and gossip of the West End. From them, I also learned about the down and dirty “backstage” of the walking tour world, filled largely with out-of-work actors, and backbiting retired academics. I was fascinated by the drama and spite behind the guides seen leading groups on every corner in the city. This world became the inspiration for my most recent Cyd Redondo mystery, Fogged Off, set in the world of the Jack the Ripper walks, so many years later.


Many Jack the Ripper walk guides dress in period costume

The way Emily taught me to look at the city has informed every trip since and led me to find so many magical bits beyond the theoretical Angophile list I arrived with. Now, after probably twenty-five trips over the years—and the credit card bills to prove it—I have my own London, filled with places I visit on every trip and that delight me every time.


The stairs leading up to the Cast Iron Gallery in the V&A

One view down the gallery

One of those is the Cast Iron gallery, found on the second  (or in London vernacular, first) floor of the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. For some reason, my early visits must have so amazed me, that I couldn’t keep my camera level, so apologies for the photos that are somewhat askew.



A few views of the central section of the gallery

I don’t know what it is about cast iron that just makes my heart ache. Perhaps it's the idea of iron becoming something so decorative, with a touch of whimsy. The way it is displayed in this gallery, stark and gorgeous against the white walls, just kills me every time. Happily, the gallery is filled with benches and has become a place where I often go and sit to make notes on whatever I’m writing. 




A few details from the gallery

The images above are some I’ve managed to capture there over the years, but they can’t really convey the glory of the long corridor or the imagination of the curators who laid it out. If you haven’t stumbled into this part of the V&A, I highly recommend a visit.



The whole gallery is diffused with a blue light



I will be attending next week’s Left Coast Crime Conference and appearing on the “Creating Memorable Characters” panel, moderated by Naomi Hirahara, on Friday March 17, at 9am.


My husband James Bartlett and I will also be participating in the new event “Continuing Conversations,” and will be at the round table together from 4 to 4:30pm on Saturday the 18th.


Otherwise, please find me at meals or in the bar and say hello.


--- Wendall






  1. It's amazing (or actually not given that we're talking about London) that every time I read something about the city I discover a gallery or a scene or a whole museum I didn't even know existed. The cast iron gallery at V&A must be on the list for my next visit!

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  3. Michael, I feel the same way about London. There are so many astounding things you can miss, or in this case, happen onto completely by chance. It's like the whole city is a big treasure hunt.

  4. I adore the cast iron gallery. Discovered it when I was working in South Kensington many years ago 😊

    1. I'm so glad you know about it. It's one of the best things I ever stumbled into and that first view of it, when it's unexpected, is truly something.

  5. I love London. I took my children there during "the rainy season" when they were both in college and the first thing I did was buy Barbour coats (and matching caps) at Harrods for all, and we wore them every day, everywhere, so as not to be denied the joys of exploring London by foot. It would have been much easier -- and drier -- had I then had access to your photos and thoughts on its delights, Wendall :)I look forward to your next London Post!

  6. That last Anonymos was ME...Jeff

    1. Jeff! I love that you were all walking around in the rain in your Harrod's "outergear." I bought a raincoat at Harrod's on that second trip, myself, and then left it in the cab home from LAX...

  7. Thank you, this was a lovely look at a side of London I've been totally unaware of till now!