No. 7, Polworth Road

I sometimes feel that Aleister Crowley is following me around, but it is probably more the case that I cannot help following him. He also moved a lot, which means his tracks can be picked up in many different parts of London. He is present, at different times in his itinerant life, in Brompton, Chancery Lane, Earl’s Court, Finsbury Park, Fitzrovia, Fulham, Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Piccadilly, Victoria and Streatham. He was born, like me, in Leamington Spa and lived on the same Streatham street as I do. He spent a year or so living there before going away to boarding school at the age of 14, part of a chaotic childhood following his father’s death. The house where he lived with his mother, at 7 Polworth Road, is an apparently innocuous location for the man who redefined notoriety, although its front porch contains bells, symbols and the remains of a faintly sinister disused pulley. There is no plaque. Crowley’s mother had become increasingly religious after her husband’s death and between her, his step-father and the schools he attended Alick, as he was then known, found more than enough to fuel his epic, lifelong rebellion against social norms.

In 2018 Jo and I visited the ruins of the Abbey of Thelema, Crowley’s drug and sex-fuelled 1920s commune, in Cefalù, on the north coast of Sicily. The house is away from the centre, in edge territory next to a local football ground. As we examined the map to find the right route from the station, a small sandy dog appeared and stood waiting for us a little way up what we judged to be the correct road. We walked towards our destination, the dog preceding several yards ahead, all the way to the house. Having led us to the house, which was in a very bad state, fenced off, next to a car park busy with people arriving for a game, she walked off back into town looking for other visitors in need of guidance.