Placecloud Interview #2: Face Marks

In our interview series, Placecloud’s founder talks with Placecloud experts using voice notes sent back and forth via WhatsApp over a period of several days or weeks. These voice notes are then stitched together into a single podcast for your listening pleasure.

George talks to Tom Bolton. Tom is a writer, researcher and photographer, who lives in Streatham. He is the author of five books: London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide Volumes 1 and 2 (Strange Attractor, 2011 & 2019), Vanished City: London’s Lost Neighbourhoods (Strange Attractor, 2013), Camden Town: Dreams of Another London (British Library Publications, 2017) and Low Country: Brexit on the Essex Coast (Penned in the Margins, 2018). He works in urban design and policy, and has a PhD from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, on London’s railway terminals. He leads walks, gives talks and has written for publications including Caught By The River, The Wellcome Collection website, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian. He also writes on theatre and music for his own website and for The Quietus.

In our interview, we range across the ways in which the face of London is perpetually marked by those who live in it, generation after generation. Tom discusses his way of working, which is to learn the language of these marks, and glean narratives from them that have been left behind or unnoticed by official histories of the city. We discuss Tom’s delight at finding fascination in his own stomping ground of Streatham during the pandemic, and the satisfaction of seeing familiar places made new by the discovery of hidden histories. We talk about Mike Leigh’s ‘wild’ film Naked, set in a real-but-not-real ’90s London, and how it documents that the city is always both eternal and ever-changing. Finally, Tom tantalises us with hints at his next projects: a voyage around UK’s nuclear power stations, and a new book about the ‘plague walks’ he made during lockdown in 2020.

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