A year later Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square appeared. This remarkable novel, set in the period between the Munich agreement and the declaration of war on September 3rd 1939, focusses on the doings of a group of Londoners who drift from pub to pub, habitually drunk or hungover, shiftless, hollow, enervate, their poisonous lack of care for anyone or anything diluted by the kind of ennui that would have made even St Augustine blink, and who are, though they lack the wit to know it, waiting for the end – not merely theirs but the way of life they lackadaisically embody. Among them, though not really of them, is George Harvey Bone, a large, melancholy man, whose innate good feelings are made soggy by drink and a hopeless infatuation for Netta Longdon. Netta has film-star good looks and exudes a tawdry glamour which she uses to exploit Bone’s devotion to her in order to get from him what little money he has. She needs the cash in order to buy herself more drink and she needs Bone himself in order to gain an introduction to men he knows, men who may be able to help her in what she occasionally allows herself to think of as her career.
Searching for Hangover Square - A.W.
‘A story of darkest Earl’s Court’ - the sub-title Patrick Hamilton gave to Hangover Square. It’s a glancing reference to the ‘darkest London’ school of writing about the East End, suggesting that despair at least as great can be found within the superficially much more imposing streets of west London.
Patrick Hamilton knew Earl’s Court well, and when George Bone saunters up and down Earl’s Court Road, crosses Cromwell Road to see if the lights are on in Netta Longdon’s rooms, and ventures into pubs and cafes by the station, all this would have been familiar ground to the author.
Walks are often plotted with precision - ‘They went past the Post Office and the A.B.C. and then turned down a narrow road on their right …’ – not that Hamilton suggests any affection for ‘the hard, frozen plains of Earl’s Court’. Indeed he conjures up one of the most memorable, miserable, sentences in London fiction: ‘To those whom God has forsaken, is given a gas-fire in Earl’s Court.’
George Bone’s residential hotel – the Fauconberg Hotel, a ‘large, glorified boarding-house’ – harks back to the White House Hotel in Earl’s Court Square, where Hamilton spent a year in his teens while studying at a crammer close by. Hamilton’s sister lived in Earl’s Court, and it was while staying with her in 1932 that he was struck by a car and nearly killed. He was permanently scarred and lost the use of one arm – he later suggested that the incident pushed him towards dependency on alcohol.
One of Hamilton’s biographers, Sean French, suggests that the novelist locates Netta’s flat at exactly the spot of his life-changing road accident - at the junction of Logan Place and Earl’s Court Road. Logan Place has been redeveloped, but Lexham Gardens just across the road is largely untouched, terraces of tall late Victorian or Edwardian town houses, now comfortable flats.
After the war, Earl’s Court was home to waves of immigrants – first Poles, later Australians. As befits an area adjoining both Kensington and Chelsea, it’s now more gentrified. But stretches of Earl’s Court Road are still twenty doorbells to the building.
Parts of Warwick Road remain determinedly down-at-heel. Some of the streets running between the two are home to small, at best mid-market, hotels. Now as then, much of Earl’s Court is given over to people living on their own.The transient, largely young population of Earl’s Court has helped the pubs – they keep changing to fit their clientele, but stay in business. There are still five within a three minute stroll of Earl’s Court Station. All would probably have been there in Bone’s time.
Although a lot of Hangover Square takes place in Earl’s Court bars, only two are named. The Rockingham ‘opposite Earl’s Court station’, where Bone first falls in with Netta and her crowd, is the Courtfield. The Black Hart is the gang’s main local drinking spot – not located more precisely that ‘near the station’, but by implication not far from Netta’s furnished rooms. The Earl’s Court Tavern is the best fit.
An unnamed pub where Bone drinks with his old friend Johnnie Littlejohn can be matched with more confidence. It’s described as a small pub on a narrow road leading indirectly from Earl’s Court Road to Cromwell Road. That sounds like the King’s Head on Hogarth Place, the most comfortable of contemporary Earl’s Court’s drinking holes.
The square of the title is not a place, of course, but a condition. “What’s the matter – our old friend Hangover Square?”