Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street


First paperback edition of Titus Groan, 1968.

If you’re British then, no, it isn’t what you think. Having mentioned my hometown of Blackpool yesterday there’s one detail about the town I usually regard as an annex of Hell which, if not quite a saving grace, raises it into some lesser locus of perdition.

There are many Coronation Streets in Britain (and Coronation Roads, Terraces, etc), Manchester has several real ones besides the fake one which provides the setting for the world’s longest-running soap opera. Most are named after a royal event, of course, although I don’t know when the one in Blackpool was built, possibly around 1911 which would mean it takes its name from the coronation of George V. I remember it as being a very undistinguished street of shops, and had no idea all the time I was in Blackpool that Mervyn Peake had lived for a short period in that street (no. 62) with wife Maeve Peake (later Gilmore) and son Sebastian in 1940. Mervyn was in the Royal Artillery in the early years of the war, and was posted to Blackpool as part of an Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment. Once established he found there was little for him to do so he continued work on the manuscript of Titus Groan, still at that point being referred to as Goremenghast (with an extra “e”). Later on the family moved to Bloomfield Road, the home of Blackpool’s football club, before Maeve and Sebastian returned to London.

All this detail can be found in G. Peter Winnington’s Peake biography, Vast Alchemies (2000), and came as something of a shock to me. One thinks of Peake as an inhabitant of Sarke and London, not Blackpool, however brief his stay. But I was stunned most of all to hear about him writing there as well. Peake noted on his manuscript where the chapters were written so Winnington can tell us that some of Titus Groan was set down on the town’s North Pier. The piers are one of the few things I liked about Blackpool, North Pier most of all for being the longest structure with the best views of the sea. It’s also notable for me in being the place where I began my first (and strongest) acid trip in 1980. That’s nothing to do with Peake, of course, but the significance of these separate events tangles in a curious and unexpected way, so that I can’t think of that pier now, or of the early chapters of the Gormenghast trilogy, without this knowledge coming to the surface.

This year is the Peake centenary, and I wrote at the beginning of the month about some of the events and exhibitions being staged in the UK. One of these, Mervyn Peake: A Celebration, will take place at the British Library, London, on Tuesday, 26th July. Described as “an evening of words, memories and images with Peake’s associates, experts and family members”, the speakers will include Fabian Peake, Sebastian Peake, Clare Penate, Brian Sibley, Hilary Spurling and others, with a specially filmed contribution by Michael Moorcock. Further details here. Don’t expect Peake’s presence in Blackpool to be acknowledged this year; the philistine nature of the place is one reason I escaped as soon as I could.

Update: Mervyn Peake’s war paintings unveiled by National Archives.

• G. Peter Winnington’s Peake Studies

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake
A profusion of Peake
Joseph Cavalieri’s stained glass
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice

5 thoughts on “Mervyn Peake in Coronation Street”

  1. I can’t think of a worse place to take acid than Blackpool, although I suppose you might be all right if you kept looking out to sea.

  2. I read the new novel Titus Awakes this morning and even though it lacks the supreme mastery of prose of the originals, it’s actually not bad, and is very moving. A worthy tribute to Peake by his wife.

    I discovered Peake’s writing with the publication of the Penguin paperbacks in the late 60’s and still have my original copies of the trilogy. Needless to say I was blown away by the books at the time and remain so.

  3. AlyxL: Blackpool itself wasn’t so bad, it’s the people holidaying there that you didn’t want to be around. Some friends of mine once took a load of mushrooms then went to the Pleasure Beach where they spent some time in the giant teacups on the Alice in Wonderland ride.

    Anne: And that’s my copy at the top of this post. I’m going to get the new illustrated edition, however.

  4. I did mushrooms on holiday in Bali with a friend. Shared an omelette of them with him. Took about about 24 hours for the effect to wear off. They must have been pretty strong. Still remember standing waist deep in the ocean at Kuta beach swaying my arms from side to side and discovering the meaning of life.

  5. The problem with illicit chemicals is you’ve not idea what you’re ingesting. Mushrooms are always better since you know they’re the genuine article (well…if you know what they look like) and you can control the dosage a lot easier.

    Bali sounds like a far better place to get stoned than one of our dismal seaside towns.

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