Primrose Hill Literary Quiz

By Bernard George

1. Which artist, poet and former resident of Fitzroy Road (1757–1827) wrote this?

“The fields from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold,
And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.”

2. Which writer of a classic horror story (1797–1851) used to sail paper fire boats on a pond on Primrose Hill in 1814? She was accompanied by her poet lover, who was then married to another. They wed two years later after his first wife’s suicide.

3. What farmyard name was commonly given to collections of nursery rhymes, one of which included the following?

“As I was going up Primrose Hill,
Primrose Hill was dirty;
There I met a pretty Miss,
And she dropped me a curtsey.
Little Miss, pretty Miss,
Blessings light upon you;
If I had a half-a-crown a day,
I’d spend it all upon you.”

4. Which humorous novelist (1859–1927), most famous for his tale of a boating trip down the Thames, used to get to school at St Marylebone Grammar as follows?

“My way led by Primrose Hill and across Regent’s Park. Primrose Hill was then on the outskirts of London, and behind it lay cottages and fields. Sometimes of a morning I was lucky enough to strike a carriage going round the outer circle of the park, and would run after it and jump on to the axle-bar. But clinging on was ticklish work, especially when handicapped by a satchel and an umbrella; added to which there was always the danger of some mean little cuss pointing from the pavement and screaming ‘Whip behind’, when one had to spring off quickly, taking one’s chance of arriving upon one’s feet or one’s sitting apparatus.”

5. Who was the hugely successful author (1866–1946) who lived at 13 Hanover Terrace from 1937 until his death? Primrose Hill featured in several of his works, including this passage:

“I looked about me at the hillside, with children playing and girls watching them, and tried to think of all the fantastic advantages an invisible man would have in the world.”

6. Who was the British poet (1907–1973) who obtained US citizenship in 1946 to be with his lover Chester Kallman? One of his earliest poems, published in his school magazine, was this: 

“Splendid to be on Primrose Hill
At evening when the world is still!
And City men, in bowler hats, return now day is done,
Rejoicing in embers of the sun.

The City men they come, they go,
Some quick, some slow.
Then silence; the twinkling lights are lit upon the hill,
The moon stands over Primrose Hill.”

7. Which Irish modernist poet (1907–1963), an associate of the above, lectured in classics at Bedford College for Women (now Regent’s College) and lived at 16A Primrose Hill Road? A 1939 poem included this:

“They are cutting down the trees on Primrose Hill.
The wood is white like the roast flesh of chicken,
Each tree falling like a closing fan;
No more looking at the view from seats beneath the branches,
Everything is going to plan;
They want the crest of this hill for anti-aircraft,
The guns will take the view
And searchlights probe the heavens for bacilli
With narrow wands of blue.”

8. Who is this American beat poet (1926–1997)? On a trip to England in 1965 he had a nap on Primrose Hill, and then wrote this poem, entitled ‘Primrose Hill Guru’:

“It is the moon who disappears
It is the stars that hide not I
It’s the City that vanishes, I stay
with my forgotten shoes,
my invisible stocking
It is the call of a bell”

9. Which much-loved humourist and columnist (1938–2007) wrote this in his Times column, as a spoof of the Crufts awards?

“Always hotly contested, this year’s Golden Bootscraper, sponsored by the Doormats’R’Us chain, went to Spot of Camden Town, a mongrel who, though completely untrained, not only succeeded in making two-thirds of Primrose Hill unfit for human use but also wiped out four beds in the Regent’s Park Rose Gardens, fused 11 Camden street-lamps, and was responsible for having a Baker Street phone-box melted down for scrap.”

10. Which prolific comedian and writer (born 1959) wrote a novel entitled Inconceivable, which included a couple having sex at midnight on top of the Hill? They thought that this would enable conception since “the most positively powerful ley line within this, our ancient and magical land of Albany, runs right across Primrose Hill!”


1. William Blake, whose words “I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill” are inscribed at the top of the hill.

2. Mary Shelley. According to diaries they sailed fire boats on Primrose Hill at least three times in October 1814. The last pond on Primrose Hill was filled in in 1902.

3. Mother Goose. The first printed edition bearing the name was Mother Goose’s Melodies, or Sonnets for the Cradle, published in London in 1780 and described as ‘a compilation of traditional English nonsense songs and rhymes’.

4. HG Wells. The quote is from The Invisible Man (1897). Primrose Hill also features in The War of the Worlds in which Primrose Hill is made into a ‘huge redoubt’ by the Martians.

5. Jerome K Jerome. The quote is from his memoirs.

6. WH Auden. He wrote two poems about Primrose Hill, one about dawn and this one about the evening.

7. Louis MacNeice. He wrote several times about wartime on the hill, including reservists drilling, and the erection of anti-aircraft guns. “Primrose Hill was embarrassingly naked, as if one’s grandfather had shaved his beard off. Propped on tree trunks on the top of it were two or three little museum-piece guns, ingenuously gaping at the sky.

8. Allen Ginsberg. In 1948, in Harlem, on reading the poetry of William Blake, Ginsberg had a vision in which he believed he heard the voice of Blake himself.

9. Alan Coren, father of Victoria and Giles.

10. Ben Elton. The book was turned into a movie in 2000 entitled Maybe Baby, starring Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson.


7–10 “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright.” (William Blake)

2–6 “What really matters is what you do with what you have.” (HG Wells)

0–1 “I sometimes wonder if the manufacturers of fool-proof items keep a fool or two on their payroll to test things.” (Alan Coren)

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