London Undercurrents

Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire

The hidden histories of London’s unsung heroines, north and south of the river

Sample Passages

  • Permitted to Play

    Arsenal Football Stadium, Home End, 1991

    Dad, when I grow up I will be
    First Division, midfield, score
    the winning goal. On this turf,
    Arsenal Stadium, Gillespie Road.
    Teacher says I’m better than the boys.
    Dad, Dad, I can beat them on this pitch.
    With you and mum eating hotdogs
    in the red seats, waving scarves.
    On telly, they only show the men’s.
    Dad, when can I play for Arsenal? When?

    by Joolz north of the river

  • All She Desires

    Refreshment Kiosk, Battersea Park, Summer, 1895

    A girl can dream.
    She can dream all day
    while serving teas
    and clearing tables
    and taking orders
    from ladies wilting pleasantly
    under shady trees,
    their covetable bicycles
    propped and resting
    after so many circuits round the park.

    A girl can dream
    of how many miles she’d ride,
    out to Richmond and beyond
    into countryside and sootless air.
    How boundless then her horizons.

    So, off you go, ladies,
    refreshed, aglow, tootling blithely
    to your Mayfair homes.
    This girl has to hoof it
    up the Junction, weary of limb,
    and longing for her very own
    freedom machine.

    Sandwiched between little sis and big ’un,
    a girl can dream of spokes and pedals,
    two flashing wheels,
    the unstoppable momentum
    of her journey out
    into the world.

    by Hilaire south of the river

Sample Information


London Undercurrents is a collaboration by two London-based female poets Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire. This poetry cycle gives a voice to women who often go unheard, or are self-sacrificing in order not to upset the apple cart.

There are thousands of women, extraordinary, ordinary, famous or forgotten who have plenty to say and deserve to be heard. The authors want to share the hidden histories of London’s unsung heroines that they have uncovered in their neighbourhoods north and south of the river.


Permitted to Play
Arsenal Football Stadium, home end, 1991

Dad, when I grow up I will be
First Division, midfield, score
the winning goal. On this turf,
Arsenal Stadium, Gillespie Road.



All She Desires
Refreshment kiosk, Battersea Park, summer, 1895

A girl can dream.
She can dream all day
while serving teas
and clearing tables
and taking orders


London Undercurrents shows that the personal is also universal and casts women as the central characters of their own story.

The poems form a rich tapestry full of local colour throughout the ages viewed from both sides of the Thames.

Some of the poems are free verse, others have a rhyme scheme or a playful layout to emphasize a point and both poets have written contributions to each of the twelve sections of the book.

London Undercurrents is one of a kind, fascinating and well researched. It really captures the spirit, image and diversity of London.

Joolz and Hilaire were featured on London Live News. If you missed it you can watch it on this page.


Paved with Gold
First Crop

9 to 5
For All Fountain Pens
Regular Service
Dodging the Doctor
A 13-Year-Old Girl’s to Do List
In the Ether
Marking the Sheets

Everybody OUT!
Shame, Shame, Shame
Oh I Say, I’m Striking for Fair Pay!

The Great Escape
Hollywood Comes to Holloway
Eloping in a Bread Basket
Permitted to Play
All She Desires

The Female Gaze
Dido Belle Sits for Her Portrait
Battersea Pre-Raphaelite Diptych

A River Runs Through It
Getting Her Ladyship Ready for the Frost Fair
Thames Crossing, Second Attempt

What You Staring At?
Kicking Back in the Black House
On the Way to See The Sex Pistols Play at the Hope and Anchor
Mary Kingsley Arrives Without a Husband
Lady Cyclist

Lavender Harvest
Paying for the Poor House
He Was a Lovely Boy
An Easy Evening’s Work

War – What Is It Good For?
What Did You Do in the War Granny?
Clippie, Top Deck
The Cook Sisters Contemplate a Final Trip to Nazi Germany
At 65, Miss Lancaster Is Still at the Wheel
Knitting for Spain in the People’s Bookshop

We Don’t Need No Education
On Being Taught by Mary Wollstonecraft
On the Marriage of Catherine Boucher to William Blake

Deeds Not Words
What’s Mrs Despard Ever Done for Us?
Cat and Mouse

Battersea Women’s Pub Outing
A lock-In with Widow Liquorish

Joolz and Hilaire reading at Wandsworth Heritage Festival

London Undercurrents from Carol Rahn on Vimeo.

Joolz reads Dodging the Doctor

Hilaire reads Wickers

For more background information visit the book’s blog.

For more information or review copies please contact the publisher:, +44(0)7792611929.

ISBN: 9781907320828
Number of pages: 152
Price: £0

Published: 28 March 2019


‘In Hidden Histories Sparkes and Hilaire plumb the depths of London’s past giving voices back to the women who lived there. We are introduced to the geography of female lives over the centuries: hear the cries of street sellers; the click and lock of the knees of lavender harvesters and the purr of the wheels of the lady cyclist. The poets complement each other with startling, fresh poems exploring these forgotten lives, and following Wollstonecraft’s lead, they “restore them to their lost dignity” with deft pens inked by the Thames itself.’ – Abegail Morley

‘Thanks to in-depth archival research (partly funded by an Arts Council Grant) London Undercurrents offers a cornucopia of female experience across four centuries, from spirited cockneys and land girls, to factory workers and women in service. The result is both fascinating and educational.

The design is vivid and inviting – and at £10, London Undercurrents is surely ludicrously good value. Exactly the kind of book you can give friends and know it’ll be a hit. ’ – Claire Booker on ink sweat and tears

‘This collection scores highly because of its unusual subject matter, its slice of social history, striking vocabulary and clever wordplay. Above all, it fills a gap in our understanding of the conditions under which women worked north and south of the river. Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire have not only come up with a brilliant idea, they have executed it with panache.’ – Neil Leadbeater on WriteOutLoud

London Undercurrents is an intriguing, worthy collaboration that focuses on histories in two specific areas of London. Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes, have distinct but complementary voices, and share the ability to use selective details to bring their subjects to life in an engaging manner.’ – Emma Lee on her blog

The richness and variety, intrigue and emotion, together provides an illustration of London as a tumultuous and exhilarating place, occupied by women throughout its history who have built and shaped its terrain from the bottom up and from the top down. And that’s possibly what’s so remarkable about this collection: the appetite it engenders for more. ’ – Laura Tansley in Litro Magazine

‘What emerges through these evocative and accessible poems is a unique urban chronicle that is a joy to engage with.’ – Karina Szczurek  on her blog and in the Cape Times

‘This volume of poetry kindles curiosity, as it sheds light on the underground lives of women, their determination and humble struggles, across different periods and places in London’ –  Jennifer Wong in Magma Poetry

London Undercurrents is one of the most unique concepts for a poetry collection that I’ve ever come across. It’s sort of historical fiction in the form of poetry. I loved how original this was. ’ – Pamela Scott on Book Lover’s Boudoir

‘And it is in provoking thought that these poems find their strength. Individually they are structured and written impressively. Put together, as they are in this collection, and they are powerful. They provide a social history of the city from an angle rarely considered. The voices of all these women deserve to be heard.’ – Jackie Law on her Never Imitate Blog