New London Books
One of the problems is that many London books rehash old material that’s been out there for years, adding nothing new. This is what appears at first glance to be wrong with David Long’s ‘Bizarre London’, another tromp around the unusual suspects, but it does turn out to have some nuggets of juicy trivia for even the most hardened Londonist, including, it says here, ‘A Museum of Magical Curiosities; The City’s Lost Tunnels and Citadels; The Ghost of a “She-Wolf; The Bawdy House Riots; The Story of ‘Jack the Stripper’; The Atmospheric Railway; The Thames Ringway Bicycle Race; A Banker Hanged at Newgate; The Crossdressing Highwayman; Bluebottles, Rozzers and Woodentops; The Hidden Statue of a Beaver; The ‘Belgravia of Death’; Whitehall’s Licensed Brothel; Pin-Makers, Mole-Takers and Rat Catchers; Drinking in ‘The Bucket of Blood’; London’s Most Haunted House.’
Well, five of those are new to me and that’s probably enough to qualify for a purchase – it’s inexpensive, and Long is a safe pair of hands when it comes to assembling this kind of book.
The perils of buying online when you can’t check the contents of a book; ‘The Epicure’s Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London, The Original 1815 Guidebook’ was the world’s first good food guide, and describes dining and customs in hundreds of Regency restaurants and pubs. It should have been a joy to read, but turns out to be a flatly written slog that desperately needed editing. Simply chucking the book out there with a few trims is not good enough. It makes for incredibly repetitive reading, except for the month-by-month food year, which makes you realise that Britain had an incredible;e wealth of native food before Tesco and other supermarkets came along and dumped our home produce for Star Anise and other air-miles delicacies.
Better is the initially unpromising-looking ‘London Urban Legends’ by Scott Wood, an idiosyncratic look at the stories and myths that have grown up around London places and figures. What’s refreshing about this is that Wood had done his own research rather than rehashing other people’s, and is quite happy to destroy treasured tales with a little spadework. It’s also far more up-to-date than most volumes, covering the story that Alexander McQueen supposedly stitched insults into the back Prince Charles’s jacket and whether Bob Dylan really did end up sitting in a plumber’s house in Crouch End having tea by mistake.
To complete this round-up, Geoffrey Fletcher’s 1962 ‘The London Nobody Knows’ has just been reprinted, although it’s still better to watch the film version with James Mason climbing through Jack the Ripper sites, and there’s something called ‘The A-Z of Curious London’ by Gilly Pickup that I’ve yet to check out.