The story of Hackney’s infamous so called ‘Mole Man’ is celebrated in a series of songs based on folk tales from the five Olympic boroughs.
The song, titled ‘Always the Same’ is by Ruairidh Anderson, the musician behind the ‘Songs of The Howling Sea’ blog. Anderson has posted songs written about East London through the blog since June 2010.
The ‘Mole Man’ was William Lyttle, a retired civil engineer, who over a period of 40 years, dug a series of deep tunnels under his home in De Beauvoir Town, for no apparent reason. He explained away constant banging as home improvements and his obsessive digging managed to go largely unnoticed until the pavement in front of his house collapsed in 2001.
The council was eventually forced to act and evict Lyttle in 2006 in order to fill the holes due to public safety risks. It was predicted that the tunnels spread up to twenty miles in every direction. Over thirty-three tons of debris, including three cars and a boat, were removed from the property and garden.
This is the latest in a new series titled ‘Folk Olympics’ and is hosted on website The Londonist. Starting in October 2011, the series aims to explore the boroughs through a new tale posted every fortnight leading up to the Games.
In the video posted on the website, Anderson tells the story of Lyttle, ending with his death aged 79 in 2010 in a flat provided by the council. Following the narrative is the song inspired by the tale.
Speaking to Eastlondonlines, Anderson said, “Any odd London tale interests me but the ‘Mole Man’ story was different because it was a fairly recent happening and one that many people would already be aware of.”
“I liked the idea that he gave no explanation as to his reason for tunnelling and the fact that on being unable to tunnel he died within the year, giving the whole thing a twist. As a songwriter I wanted to present him not as some eccentric lunatic but perhaps someone who cared little for the things of this world.”
Other stories brought to life by the songwriter are equally fascinating. One tells the story of a native American Indian who, in the 19th century, broke the then 10-mile world record running on the former race course at Hackney Wick, while sporting full traditional dress. Another illustrates the life of Eliza Marchpane, a woman from Tower Hamlets who escaped poverty by faking her way to the top of 18th Century French society. Later she moved onto Vienna where she is said to have had a relationship with Mozart.
He added: “In a year that is all about London I am surprised to find that I am the only songwriter writing about the stories and lives that make up this great city. I see my task as not only in keeping these tales alive but by presenting them in a fresh and emotive context.”
You can view the video and listen to the song here:
By Tomas Jivanda