The novel is set in several of the areas that are on the fringes of Hampstead, London NW3, and having this setting in common has a unifying effect, drawing the two narratives intimately together across time.
Lexie's first bedsit is in Kentish Town, which always has been and still is a less affluent area than Haverstock Hill and Parliament Hill, but nowadays it has become more gentrified, and house prices will have increased disproportionately since the 1950s. It is an important transport link, and it has always had a reputation as a place of pubs, bars and music. It is also home to The Forum (a cinema in the 1950s but a famous music venue now). The houses are as tall and narrow as described in the novel.
Just north of Kentish Town is the Parliament Hill area, where it is likely that Ted and Elina live, in close proximity to Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill itself. The famous view of London from Parliament Hill is spectacular, but the beauty of the Heath really lies in its warren of paths and rugged, untamed stretches of rough heathland, which gives it a spirit often missing from a typical park in a city.
Haverstock Hill, where Innes Kent has his flat, is only about a mile away from Kentish Town, but it is one of the approach roads to the leafy sanctuary of Hampstead Village, and the houses there are larger and grander than in Kentish Town, or Chalk Farm, where Lexie lives a little later.
Chalk Farm itself is between Hampstead and Camden Town, and again it is artistically and culturally speaking a lively place. The Roundhouse theatre and music venue is in Chalk Farm, and it has hosted many experimental and cutting edge productions over the years.
Lexie buys a flat in the quieter Dartmouth Park area, up the hill towards Highgate, and this is also the area that Ted and Elina walk through on their way to their local health centre.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Soho was the stamping ground of many of the artists mentioned in the novel, and countless other musicians, writers, actors and people who loved the wild and irreverent side of life in the capital. Here is a brief sketch of just three of the venues in Soho mentioned in the novel.
The Colony Club
The Colony Club (or Colony Room) in Dean Street was founded and run by Muriel Belcher, who appears in The Hand That First Held Mine. It was one of the many drinking clubs in Soho that gave the artistic crowd somewhere to go after the pubs had shut in the evening, and between the lunch-time and evening pub sessions. On the Wikipedia Website, it is reported that 'the club had a certain notoriety for its decor as well as its clientele; its bilious green walls were as famous as the club itself. In addition to its vile colour, the staircase that led to the establishment was described as foul-smelling and flanked by dustbins. Indeed many members referred to it as “going up the dirty stairs.”'
The club was still open up until 2008, drawing modern-day artistic bohemians such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. There is much more detail about the Colony Club on a dedicated website, although be warned that content might offend those who don't enjoy bad language.
The French Pub
Victor Berlemont ran the York Minster pub, also on Dean Street, which was affectionately known as 'the French pub' or 'the French house' by its regulars. Gaston Berlemont succeeded Victor (his father), and would have been running the pub when Lexie and Innes were amongst its clientele. Dylan Thomas is said to have once left a copy of 'Under Milk Wood' under a chair there. Nowadays it is called The French House, and it is still a centre for those who enjoy conversation (it proudly has no televisions, machines or music), and still attracts writers and artists and similar types today.
The Coach and Horses
This famous Soho pub in Greek Street was recreated on stage for the biographical play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell starring Peter O'Toole when it first opened, and more recently Tom Conti. Jeffrey Bernard was a columnist who spent many hours at the bar of the Coach and Horses, along with other journalists such as the staff of Private Eye magazine. Norman Balon, the landlord, gave himself the title of the 'rudest landlord in London'. It was only in 2006 that Balon handed over to the current new landlord, Alastair Choat, who is still keen to keep the same literary and artistic crowd coming through the doors.