The Metropolitan Police helicopter crew recently deleted a tweet. Their twitter account is followed as much for atmospheric photos of London-from-above as it is for crime fighting updates. But now it seems – for a few brief minutes – it was an unwitting source of evidence for a phenomena categorised as a multiverse infringement.
As far as we know the tweet wasn’t cached, so we make do with reports from those who saw it during its short life. The throwaway text – something like ‘Square Mile looking different from above the fog this morning’ – is of less interest than the image.
The photo is an aerial view of the City of London. Through gaps in the sun-lit morning mist, a strange configuration can be made out: a strict geometric street pattern; an unbroken City-wide grid stretching from west of an odd-looking St Paul’s Cathedral, to somewhere east of what appears to be the glint of a large bronze statue on top of an unfamiliar building where the Royal Exchange should be.
This description rang a bell with PoL, so we emailed a good friend of ours, Susan Macks, Professor of Gateways and the Multiverse at the University of Connecticut. She replied with characteristic enthusiasm:
“THE NEWCOURT CONTINUUM!! HOLY SHIT!”
Macks has been waiting for such evidence, it turns out, ever since she came across an interview with a sandwich-board carrier in a 1926 issue of The Daily Herald.
The article focussed on the working conditions and daily routine of the man, whose job it was, from dusk to dawn, to walk back and forth along Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street – between Monument and the Royal Courts of Justice – wearing sandwich-boards that advertised theatre shows.
But what interested Macks were the man’s claims – treated by the reporter as evidence that the job exacted an unreasonable toll on an older worker’s mental faculties – that on certain misty mornings he had paused at the top of Ludgate Hill, and seen, tapering into the fog in all directions around him, a vision of ‘another city’.
The report states that the man saw, ‘Long, unbending boulevards descending at right angles from an unfamiliar Cathedral square, each street thronged with obscure forms of automobiles and other mechanised transport, and each well populated by scurrying people in curious garb’.
Were these apparitions a trick of the London smog? Was the interviewer correct in dismissing them as the dawn-light delusions of a tired and poorly-paid human billboard?
Professor Macks doesn’t think so. She says that as an east-coast American with a passion for London history, she was well placed to see something in the description.
Her theory begins in the mid-17th Century.
“A well known consequence of the 1666 Fire of London was that it was a great day for Christopher Wren’s architectural practice, right?”
“And sure he built St Paul’s and a heap of other churches. But Wren didn’t get his whole way.”
Wren, in fact, had drawn up a plan for rebuilding the entire City of London along a classically-inspired grid structure, with wide boulevards connecting significant buildings. What’s more, his was only one of five such plans submitted to Charles II and the City authorities – the other four architects, Robert Hooke, John Evelyn, Valentine Knight and Richard Newcourt were, of course, even less successful.
But while London ultimately shunned the grid, parts of the then English colonial empire were, famously, set to embrace the style.
“First time I read the sandwich-board guy’s story I thought to myself: sounds like Philly. Sounds like Manhattan”, writes Macks. “And that set me thinking”.
To follow Mack’s reasoning we must leap from city planning to quantum mechanics. The ‘many-worlds’ theory states that each point in spacetime is the sum of its countless possibilities, and that many, perhaps infinite, alternative universes have forked from the differing outcomes of these possibilities, and exist parallel to our own.
Macks continues: “God/the Cosmos knows I’m only roughly half a quantum physicist. But what if something’s going on here?”
Property rights (and perhaps fondness for a layout that projects the financier’s self-image of pellmell thrust and labyrinthine intricacy) helped ensure the survival of London’s medieval street pattern.
But what if, in another reality, the precise and upright godliness of Richard Newcourt’s grid persuaded the plague and fire weary City to start afresh? What might that London look like today? Who lives there? For Macks, the answers to these questions are tantalisingly close.
But why the Newcourt Continuum? Why does Macks believe that this ghostly other London, unveiled from time to time within the sun-heated City haze, has grown from an implementation of the Newcourt plan, rather than one of his contemporaries?
Because, she says, of the churches. Newcourt put one at the centre of almost every perfectly uniform square. And it was one thing, according to the Daily Herald reporter, that the sandwich-board man wanted to impress on him:
‘Above the strange roofs, a relentless march of steeples. Steeple after steeple after steeple’.
- Candidate: The Newcourt Continuum
- Type: Multiverse infringement
- Staus: Active