Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Great London Literary Bench Hunt Part 1

I am a sucker for a challenge.  I hasten to add that the challenge must be achievable and not require herculean feats of physical strength.  If we view our days retrospectively, we begin to learn that the systems and rituals we undertake or maintain allow little opportunity for novelty or improvement.  As such, breaking the patterns that dominate our lives, allow us to breathe a little more freely.

Enough of the prelude...  I was reading some publication or other and they made reference to fifty literary themed benches that were scattered around London and there was also a link to a website.  I mentally noted the website address and checked it out.  Thoughtfully, the website provides maps so that you can focus on certain areas to try find these benches (as I have discovered today, at least one or potentially two benches are not on these maps, so to get a complete list you need to look at the list of benches provided by the website).  The maps are the Greenwich Trail Map, the Bloomsbury Trail Map, the City Trail Map and the Riverside Trail Map.  I have no sense of direction, so the maps are quite useful although the 'BookBenches' as they are known on the site are not always easy to locate if you rely on the maps.  Certain benches are not on named roads or locations, so you have to rely on intuition and just plain guess work to find them.  As you may have gathered, I have decided to find all of the benches and also to photograph them.

The 'BookBenches' are part of a collaborative project between the National Literacy Trust and Wild In Art to encourage reading and also to suggest London's many literary connections.  For example, the so-called Bloomsbury Group used to live, study and work around the Bloomsbury area.  The Books about Town project will culminate with an auction of the 'BookBenches' on 7th October 2014 at the Southbank Centre and the money will be donated to the National Literacy Trust to encourage reading amongst disadvantaged children and young people around the UK.  The 'BookBenches' (hereafter known simply as benches in the blog entries on my bench hunt) have been in their respective locations since the 2nd July 2014 and will be there until 15th September 2014.  They have a uniform look, so if you are looking for them, their shape remains the same even though the art work that adorns them varies greatly, which makes the process of finding them more enjoyable.  Also the art work continues on the backs of the benches and on the sides.  As a quick aside, one of the pleasant aspects of finding the benches is to discover areas of London, you may not have seen or spent any time in.

I started my bench hunt on the 6th July 2014 as I had some time spare between visiting an art exhibition and going to see a film in the evening.  I armed myself with the City Trail Map and the Riverside Trail Map.  I was aware and continue to remain so that the geographical spread of the benches make it highly unlikely that you could find them all in one day unless your sense of direction is miraculous or you have someone with you who can smell the trails of the benches as a hunter may sniff the ground for traces of an animal's scent.  I lack both of these skills unfortunately.  Also it is more fun to focus on the areas.  I will let you know up front that I still haven't found them all as I haven't touched the Bloomsbury Trail Map and some of them I simply can't find (yet).  But I have found and photographed thirty one of them, so here are the ones I found on the 6th July 2014...  There is no particular order and the numbers I have allocated the benches is based simply on the order I photographed them.

Shakespeare's London (Bench Number 1) (Located near to the Globe Theatre, London)

Front of bench.  A pictorial depiction of the buildings that had some significance to the Bard.

Back of bench.  A representation of a London very different to the one we take for granted.  Bear in mind that properties used to exist on London Bridge.

That's Not My Meerkat (Actually titled Usborne's That's Not My... Bench (Bench Number Two) (Located very near to the Millennium Bridge and just before you get to St Paul's Cathedral)

Front of bench.  Wee Meerkats doing what they do.  Looking cute.

                                                  Back of bench.  Panda eating whilst a little mouse looks on.  If you look 
                                                  closely you can spot the logo of the publishing house, Usborne (Hot air 
                                                  balloon in the corner).

Mary Poppins (Actually titled The Extraordinary East Wind) (Bench Number Three) (located near to St Paul's Cathedral)

Front of bench depicted the arrival of the eponymous Mary Poppins on the East Wind.

The back of the bench revealing some of the exciting things that happen in the novel.

Fever Pitch (Bench Number Four) (Located near to the previous bench and as such quite close to St Paul's Cathedral)

Front of bench and a representation of the opinion of the protagonist in Nick Hornby's novel.

Back of bench.  The importance of football to the main protagonist in the novel.

The Capital of the Imagination (Bench Number 5) (Located close to the previous two benches and once again, near to St Paul's Cathedral)

Front of bench.  Peter Pan and Tinkerbell flying over London.  I particularly like Peter's shadow.

Back of bench.  Peter Pan in Never Land.

The Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt BookBench (Bench Number Six) (Located very near to St Paul's Cathedral, not far from the previous three benches)

Back of bench with a child's leg inadvertently captured.  This bench is unsurprisingly
popular with children.  I can't help you with any of the characters' names.

Front of bench and photo taken very quickly prior to the arrival of yet more children.
I believe that the image on the right of the bench is a caricature of the author, Jacqueline Wilson.

Bridget Jones's Diary (Bench Number Seven) (Located somewhere in the region of Paternoster Square)

The front of the bench representing Bridget Jones doing what she does best, living for the moment and 
writing about her experiences and frustrations.

I guess the back of the bench is supposed to play up the romantic qualities of the novel.
Also reminds me of a playing card.

Regeneration - Dickens In Liverpool (Bench Number Eight) (Located near to St. Paul's Churchyard)

Dickens spent some time in Liverpool.  Very colourful bench designed by Hillside High School in Bootle.

Back of the bench focusing on aspects of Liverpool's cultural history in recent times.  Note the Superlambanana on the left hand side of the bench.

Brick Lane (Bench Number Nine) (Located in the Postman's Park or near there)

Front of the 'Brick Lane' bench.  Again includes elements of the novel.  Letters play an important part in the novel.

Back of bench.  Beautifully abstract portrayal of London and the novel and its characters.

The Laura Marlin Mysteries (Bench Number Ten) (Located in the very secluded and oddly beautiful Love Lane)

I know absolutely nothing about 'The Laura Marlin Mysteries'.  There is a very neat Joker card hidden in the foliage and rocks.

Back of the bench clearly journeying to the island depicted on the front of the bench.

Wisden - Wisden Cricketers' Almanack (Bench Number Eleven) (Guildhall)

Front of bench.  Lengthy quote on the bench, pertaining to the noble art of cricket (if you like that kind of thing).

Back of bench (taken from an odd angle as it is very close to a wall)

The Wind In The Willows (Bench Number Twelve) (Located near Bank)

Front of bench.  Again, beautifully done representing elements of the novel and pastoral scenes.

Back of bench with all of the lovely characters from the novel.

Alex Rider - Stormbreaker: The Graphic Novels (Bench Number Thirteen) (Located near Bank and close to the above bench)

Back of bench.  Not familiar with the source material.  Kid secret agent or something like that,

Quite snazzy front of bench.  Secret agents for kids.

Sit Here At Your Own Risk - A Brief History Of Time (Bench Number Fourteen) (Located near the Bank of England Museum (ish))

Very wild and amazingly eye catching representation of a black hole.

Back of bench.  Cosmic anomalies rock, don't they?

So this ends my first entry documenting my at times slightly frustrating hunt for the literary benches.  One area will become a new focal point if I require quiet time to reflect.  The area around the Guildhall, Barbican and the Museum of London is both an area out of time and also as potent as a good book.  I will find all of the benches even if I can't get all of the photos.  I am a man of my word.

Barry Watt - Saturday 16th August 2014.  


Please check out for more information about the 'Book Benches' and the artists who have contributed their work.  Copyrights for all of the books etc belong to the authors, artists and publishers etc.

Please see the Wiki link for more information of the Superlambanana:


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