Egad! Still More London Books!
Popping into St Pancras Station this morning to sign some books (tip; if you ever want a signed Bryant & May, that’s the place to go), I remind myself that this is simply the nicest station in the world (although the one in Cairo is kind of fun in a scary, let’s-get-out-of-here way). For a start it still has its piano, and it seems that everyone in the world except me can play it beautifully. This gent was knocking out waltzes like no tomorrow.
In the station itself, along with the French patisseries and organic food stores, Foyles is one of the country’s great bookshop success stories, proof that it’s not all doom ‘n’ gloom in literary circles. The chain is about to reinvent its flagship store in CXR with a huge new space, and its individual branches are superb. In fact, it’s quite tricky entering one and NOT buying anything, such is the excellent and often quirky choice. Their selection of London books in the St Pancras branch is, for a small store, simply astonishing and the shop possesses Tardis-like qualities that make it appear bigger on the inside.
Latest in their selection to add to various grisly historical murder guides of London is another ‘London’s Hidden Secrets’ volume, filled with even more arcane and forgotten places to visit. Then, to celebrate 150 years of the London Underground, there are 12 new books set on different tube lines by 12 different authors. The books are coloured-coded like the lines, and can also be bought in a box set. I picked up two by Danny Dorling and John O’Farrell, and they’re excellent. Also shown here is ‘The Spirit of London’ – my battered copy dates from 1935 but there’s a spiffing new version with a beautiful cover, and it’s filled with evocative photographs.
On a darker note, I found a copy of a book by Christopher Booker & Candida Lycett Green called ‘Goodbye London’. Printed in 1973, it’s a guide to some of the idiotic schemes the GLC had planned for London, including knocking down every old building it could get its hands on to build endless swathes of tarmac and car parks. It turns out that the much-reviled Camden Council planned to turn the now stunningly restored St Pancras Grand into a ‘leisure centre’, whatever that might be, and was going to demolish every remaining old house in the King’s Cross area to make a giant motorway.
There are stories here about the buildings that councils were prevented from wantonly destroying, but far sadder are the many photographs of the spectacularly baroque and evocative edifices they succeeded in pulling down and replacing with blank concrete office blocks in order to turn a quick buck. The photographs of the losses are more startling than any book on pre-Blitz architecture, because preservation orders were deliberately rescinded or ignored. And this was in 1973. Bravely, the book concludes by naming and shaming some of the planners and developers responsible for trying to wreck the city.
There were at least half a dozen new large-format books of London photography, but I have enough of those for now. Spring flowers by Aflorum in King’s Cross, by the way, ‘spring’ being optimistic as it’s snowing hard today.