'To those whom God has forsaken is given a gas-fire in Earl's Court.'
Patrick Hamilton's marvellous, miserable, boozed-up novel Hangover Square (1941) is sub-titled: 'a story of darkest Earl's Court'. That's a glancing reference to the 'darkest London' writing about a subterranean, sweated East End. Hamilton seems to be suggesting that there's as much despair behind the veneer of the much more imposing streets of west London.
Hamilton knew the area, and in this novel has nothing good to say of it. He writes of 'the hard, frozen plains of Earl's Court'. His central character, George Bone, comes to regard the locality as 'the bleak scenery of his disgrace and disorder' - a 'hateful neighbourhood'
It's hateful above all because of Netta Longdon, the hard-hearted, grasping, amoral woman about whom Bone is fixated. She lives in furnished rooms just north of Cromwell Road. Bone is forever walking up and down Earl's Court Road to call on her, to spy on her, to drink with her.
The Earl's Court Tavern
There are still five pubs within a short stroll of Earl's Court Station. All, I'd guess, were there in Bone's time. And for much of the novel, Bone is drinking in one or other.
He first comes across Netta and her crowd in the big bar at the Rockingham, just across from the station. That's the Courtfield, a bland, anonymous pub with little to commend it beyond its location. The gang drink more frequently at the Black Hart, never precisely located in the novel, but not far from the station, and by implication closer to Cromwell Road. The Earl's Court Tavern best fits the bill.
The King's Head
Bone has a drink with old buddy Johnnie Littlejohn 'down a narrow road ... which led indirectly towards the Cromwell Road'. That feels like the King's Head on Hogarth Place - from what I saw, the most comfortable and tradition minded of Earl's Court's bars.
Hangover Square, though, is even more about a moment than a place - the uneasy months leading up to the Second World War. Netta and her crowd, including her Mosleyite lover, cheer on Chamberlain with his umbrella, as he travels round Europe trying to appease Hitler.
As for the square of the novel's title - that's not a place, it's a condition. '"What's the matter - our old friend Hangover Square?"'
Earl's Court Station
Laura Forman has also blogged about the Earl's Court of Hangover Square - here's the link.