Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Launch of 'Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames' on the anniversary of the Siege of Sidney Street


 On 3 Jan 2017 a motley crew of East London enthusiasts and artists met for the launch of the book-series 'The Adventures of Young Alfred Hitchcock' through a trail of the sites of the siege of Sidney Street. 

The largest gun-battle on domestic streets in Britain, the siege drew in people of East London and beyond to witness the action. The crowd of spectators included the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, much criticised for his attendance.

We were lucky to have had a much warmer day, much sunnier than the day of the siege on 3 Jan 1911. But through our good moods we used readings and out imagination to identify with the extremity of the Latvian anarchists, holed up in the original tenement building (100 Sidney Street no longer exists), We also remembered  the fire-fighter who also lost his life that day as part of the the team recovering the corpses from the burning house.

You can watch the original Pathe footage here:

We watched it in the White Hart, a pub at the top of Sidney Street, on the Mile End Road. Alfred Hitchcock's sister Nellie and her husband Harry Lee managed this pub for a short time, some years after the siege.

Artists who joined me for the walk and readings making contributions from tracing the locations of the siege to reading anarchist literature were Calum F. Kerr, Matt Armstrong, Sooz Belnavis, Giles Abbott, Dominic Simpson, Debbie Elliot and Doug Haywood.

Channeling Alfred Hitchcock outside number 100 of a  tenement similar to the original house.

Inside 'The White Hart' at the top of Sidney Street.

Sidney Square. It was here that my boyfriend was squatting when I first came to London. He was a 1980s anarchist. We met here for some short readings from the novel and tracts of the time. Calum F. Kerr read an extract from Anselme Bellegarrigue's Anarchist Manifesto (April, 1850). 

Showing fellow artists Doug Haywood, Dominic Simpson and Debbie Elliot the book by Emanuel Litvinoff 'A Death out of Season'  recommended to me by the crime author Jim Kelly. It is the first volume in a trilogy following the character that Litvinoff created for Peter the Painter.

Friday, 14 October 2016

In the steps of Young Hitch's East End

When I was fresh out of university I lived near Salmon Lane where eleven-year-old Alfred Hitchcock lived above the family fishmongers. I revisited the street and nearby to connect as closely as possible with the area which is very important in the books.
Of course many things have changed in the hundred and more years since Alfred Hitchcock was a child and a teenager in Limehouse and it's interesting to see the old juxtaposed with the new.
When I lived nearby in the late 1980s I squatted in an old council block which has now been demolished, so I have my own sentimental connection with times gone by. It was quite run down in those days, but the development of the docks on the Isle of Dogs was already in progress. I even wrote a rather over-simplified song about listening to the pile-drivers putting in the new foundations for Canary Wharf called 'Docklands Blues'! Since then the area has been gentrified and cleaned up substantially. I remember how dirty it was and my parents were a little shocked I had chosen to live there.

In Alfred Hitchcock's day Salmon Lane was a bustling market street, very busy, and quite rough with a mixed clientele of Dockers, warehouse workers, pub owners, shopkeepers, former seamen and more. It had a strong maritime air and at the bottom of Salmon Lane there is a large Mission standing built to house those returning from the 1914-1918 war, I presume originally targeted at men who had served in the navy who were unable to cope back in civilian life without some institutional support.

outside 175 Salmon Lane
The site where the Hitchcocks ran a fishmongers was at 175 Salmon Lane. They lived together in a flat above the shop. The original building has been knocked down but at the same number there is still a shop with flats above.

outside 175 Salmon Lane

The Hitchcocks also ran a fish and chip shop on Salmon Lane. This does not feature in the early stories. I have plans to introduce it later in the novels as I did not want to clutter the narrative of the first books with too many Hitchcock businesses as I have imagined the family not only to run the fishmongers on Salmon Lane but to still be in charge of the original grocer's shop in Leytonstone. But it certainly would have made good business sense to fry the fish in the evening that had not been sold during the day. Fish and chips was a very dominant fast food in the market of the time and there will be a plot involving the new outlet that takes advantage of some of the interesting things we know about this area of retailing during the 1910s.

I looked around for a building to represent 130 Salmon Lane where the fish and chip shop had been located but I couldn't find one. It's hard to reimagine places that have vanished. You really need to use your imagination to reconstruct them in your head.

I took a walk down the Regent's Canal to Limehouse Basin, an area that Hitchcock knew well as he wanted to use it in his late film 'Frenzy' for the scene where a victim's body was washed up. But in the end 'Frenzy' used the iconic River Thames and the corpse was washed up at Tower Bridge.

Hitch liked to dramatise himself within his film's stories making regular cameo appearances in each movie. And for the trailer of Frenzy a dummy of the director was floated in the river.

Limehouse Basin connects the River Thames with the canal system. It is part of a navigable dock which was built to allow seagoing vessels to offload cargoes to barges for onward transport up the Regent's Canal. In the pictures above you can see the canal system and the seagoing vessels behind me. In the picture below you can see how close the tower of Canary Wharf is to the basin. The sailing vessel connects with the transport of Hitch's childhood which would have included sail, steam and manually powered boats.

Finally, the great lock gates lead impressively to the Thames, the longest river in England and the famous tidal river of London. This stretch of river, part of the Pool of London would have been incredibly busy while Hitch lived on Salmon Lane. Before the construction of the Thames Barrier it was possible to navigate to London Bridge on a tall-masted ship.

the great lock gates of Limehouse Basin - much more impressive in person!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Meet young Alfred Hitchcock in a new series of exciting short novels


Young Alfred Hitchcock is an odd kind of boy. Possibly the oddest ever eleven-year-old to come from a family of respectable shopkeepers.

The year is 1910. Young Hitch lives with his sister Nellie and brother Bill, who are far too old to play with him. He is a bit of a loner, with an awful knack for getting into trouble.

Home is a flat above the family fishmongers in Salmon Lane in the East End of London. All around him, menace is brewing. This is a time of social ferment, known as the Great Unrest by historians. Young Hitch, or Alf, as he is called by his family lives right in the heart of a world of upheaval, new technology, social injustice and crime.

Some might call Alf naïve. His sister Nellie would call him an idiot. His head is in the clouds and his nose sniffs out intrigue. He walks straight into lamp-posts and finds himself bang in the middle of difficulties ...

... as in the first novella in the series, Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames, in which our anti-hero finds himself in bed (not literally!) with the Latvian revolutionary socialists whose struggle against imperialism and capitalism led to battles with the British police. The terrible clash on the streets of London has gone down in history as the infamous Siege of Sidney Street.

Alf is driven by a love for stories, dramatic visions and himself. Through his eyes we can take a fresh look at these years just before the first world war and the rise of cinema in Britain far before the domination of Hollywood.

Bring history to life in your head, just like a movie! Read the Young Hitch novels, available soon as an e-book download.


written taking inspiration from real-life history, using newspapers and first-hand accounts

To register your interest, email me at judemontague at outlook dot com and I'll let you know when the books are out.


3 January 1911


A rattle shook the warmth of sleep. Fritz’s dreams dissolved in a handful of hailstones.

The young man, fully clothed, rolled beneath the blankets, burying his head down in the pillow.

 A grey light blurred through the curtains. The window glass convulsed in its unsealed frame. It was colder than it had ever been.

‘'Get up,’ a voice urged him. ‘Get up and die.’

Fritz's tongue felt thick as soft bread in his dry mouth. He needed water. He would have to drag his toes across the freezing floorboards down to the threadbare kitchen. He had to wake up. But he wanted to sleep forever.

‘Peter?’ he said.

He opened his eyes to look into the face of William Sokolov. His friend’s eyes were staring back at him, filled with anger. Fritz followed his finger. He was pointing to the window.

A flash of metal attracted him as it would a magpie. Catching its silver line, he glanced up. Scanning the rooftops Fritz became aware, with a horrible twist in his stomach, of a glinting forest. An army of metal rods poked from every roof, from behind chimney pots and round corners, trained directly on his soul.

Looking around for his gun, Fritz realised it was already in his hand.

He heard Sokolov screech and a missile shatter the glass. On the pavement opposite a young man clutched his chest. His head hit the ground immediately afterwards, and blood began to marking the light dust of snow on the cobbles. Instantly, gunshot had burst open from the clouds.

He was drenched in horizontal, killing rain. Bullets flew past his ears. The shot pocked the plaster of the walls, bringing down the ceiling in a shower of dust. Little metal enemies had smashed the bare light into splinters of frost. The final storm was breaking inside the dirty tenement.

He had been waiting for this moment forever. Once the war had come to his father’s home and now it had chased him here to his anonymous corner of East London, this dirty, nondescript tenement. He was going to die here.

The only other one of their band left, William Sokolov crouched beneath the broken pane, balancing the barrel on the sill, emptying his pistol pointlessly into the forest of rifle butts.

He was shooting, shooting, shooting. It was the only thing left to them to do.

Fritz, trying not to sob, crawled on all fours to the bedstead where he reached underneath to drag out a heavy case. Guns, guns, ammunition. Taking a deep breath he grabbed a loaded Mauser.

Sokolov was twitching, the red mist descended before his eyes. He was shooting like a madman. The January morning began to stink of cordite. They were already ghosts, swimming in the gas of sulphur.

It was a macabre dance with death and they needed music. Fritz started to croak for victory for his homeland in his high tones.

As they fired and sang, sang and fired, questions whirled around his head. Where was Peter? He had promised them a future and their band of believers had followed him through the gates of hell. Now he had abandoned them.

Peter had promised that that his film of the Fern Flower would save their dreams. And to save his hope, Fritz had given the Fern Flower to that strange boy, Alfred Hitchcock.

It had been their trump of trumps and without it, he and Sokolov had no more cards left to play. They had to die.

But the man was glad he had given the film to the boy. At the end it had been the only way to protect the world they believed in. Because the revolution was coming. It would burn them all.

But the future of Latvian socialism, of their anarchist hopes would prevail. So long as that odd eleven-year-old followed his instructions.


Heroes were dull. Very dull.

Alf liked villains. He liked their wild crazy eyes. He adored their mad shifty gestures.

Sitting in the red plush seats of the Picture Palace, Alfred Hitchcock, eleven years old and eager to grow up, shook as a snake of fear rose from his toes, wriggled through his socks and slid up his sweaty legs.

On the wide screen in front the hero squeezed through a hole and made off for the horizon. He looked back and laughing, in what Alf thought was in a rather superior manner. There was a smug and distasteful manner revealed by the close-up.

The bereft villain shook his fist, silhouetted against the sky. His victim had got away.

‘Curses!’ Alf mouthed, twirling an invisible moustache. 

Baron von Bingsten was not acting in his best interests by drawing attention with his gyrating gurning gymnastics. But then Alf had never met a real baron. Perhaps all nobs, as his father called them, had over-dramatic movements. But he doubted it. He couldn’t test his theory. Grocers’ sons didn’t have the opportunity to mingle with the nobility. If only his Da had a title. Lord Leytonstone? Could be? It seemed you had to be an aristocrat to have a real adventure, if you went by the stories he read.

If his father really thought about Alf’s needs, and wanted to give him all the best advantages in life, he would get himself a title. But despite the lip-service, parents did not think of their children enough. His Da was always thinking of his business.  That was why he had dragged Alf and the Hitchcocks from a perfectly good house in Leytonstone to a crummy place like Limehouse.

Alf felt a tear spring to his eye as he dwelt on this injustice. Through the rosy mists of memory he thought of the beloved house he had left behind. There were roses wreathed around a porch and a mother waiting at the garden gate in a checked apron, greeting him with a warm smile.

Or was that the cottage in ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’, on last week? It didn’t really matter. The point was the same.

He licked a salty tear away, smiling to himself and settling down for the next picture wishing he had some more peanuts.

He idly wondered if he had enough for an ice-cream, but he did not have to pull out the lining to know his pockets were empty apart from the sticky caramel sweet wrappers. And a dead pigeon’s wing.

He was out of luck and out of pennies. Soon it would be time to go home. Back to the real world.