I recently had the opportunity to visit London and while there I visited some of the sites written about in the fiction of John le Carré, Mick Herron and Adam Hall. I thought I’d share some of what I found.
First up, Smiley locations that le Carré wrote about. The previously discussed Smiley map has been updated to include multiple fictional spies such as Quiller, Slough House, and Charlie Muffin. It’s still a work in progress with more sites added over time.
My first stop was, of course 9 Bywater Street. It’s located in a ritzy part of London called Chelsea and it’s hard to imagine frumpy Smiley walking past the high end stores on his way home from the Circus.
The actual street is quiet and quite secluded as it curves towards a dead end.
I bought a tea and croissant at the coffee shop at the end of the block and continued on my way. A short walk away, past a Waterstones window display promoting A Legacy of Spies, was Battersea Bridge. The bridge is where the climax of Call for the Dead occurs and Smiley tussles with Dieter Frey before tossing him in the river.
From there I visited 88 Lexham Gardens, the safe house where Smiley gets a crucial piece of information out of Toby Esterhaus. It was a quiet area with multiple places to make an exit and entrance. This particular house was at the end and if you were on the second or third floor you’d have a good view of the entire area.
Moving on, I visited my my favorite spot, the location of the climax of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 5 Lock Gardens, the safehouse where the mole is finally revealed. Located off of Camden Locks, the real life location is on a street called St. Mark’s Crescent which butts up against the canal.
From the towpath you can see where Peter Guillam would have watched for a flash of light and set off running to get back to the safe house. It’s a beautiful spot and was very exciting to see the inspiration for such a memorable scene.
No visit to Smiley locations would be complete with out a visit to the Circus. The fictional headquarters of MI6 created by le Carré is located on Cambridge Circus. As a testament to how anonymous the building is, before I set out looking for Smiley locations I’d walked past it several times without a second glance. It’s silhouette overlooks the bizarre London method of street layout whereby 5 or 6 streets seemingly converge within 50 feet of each other. Hell when you need to cross the street but perfect for the secret entrances and exits of spies.
The Stables is a huge presence in the book, practically another character, and although we have an address it doesn’t match up with any real location. It’s described as being close to Russell Square and the British Museum but like 5 Lock Gardens there is no Disraeli St in that area. I spent quite awhile wandering around looking for likely candidates without any luck.
After my visit and a recent reread, I think I see how I got put off the trail. The main clues cobbled alley and kissing gates are off limits to the public which I misunderstood. Back to Google maps to search out likely locations!
I also ran out of time to visit Dolphin Square where Gulliam is holed up and has a final confrontation with his nemesis in A Legacy of Spies.
All the more reason to get back to London. If you have any pictures or thoughts on other fictional spy locations, chime in below!
Part Two, looking at some other memorable fictional spy sites coming soon.