New London Books


9780752482873_1 I know I said I wouldn’t cover any more London non-fiction books because there were simply too many coming out, but I’ve ended up buying several, and found a couple of good’uns.

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.

6 comments on “New London Books”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Like the ruler-exact mechanical drawing on the cover of London Urban Legends. Nice suggestions of speed.
    The name Gilly Pickup I will mull over during the day.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    That is a name that is so unbelievable it must be true.
    I have been asked by a friend to recommend a book here. I haven’t read it but the friend usually has good judgement. “Becoming a Londoner” by David Plante is the story of the author’s relationship with Stephen Spender. Mr. Plante is writing from his diary.

  3. snowy says:

    There can be a problem when authors cover the same narrow geographical region and the same tales get retold. [I remain sure that all the authors above did their research and have produced excellent guides.]

    But in the wider sphere there is something ‘not quite right’ going on.

    Rather than make anyone suffer me explaining, I’ll pass you over to someone else to expand on this, [perhaps a little more passionately than I would allow myself to be].

  4. m says:

    Interesting books! Will have to add to my list with London guidebooks.
    Were there Bryant and May London maps? I saw some references in posts from 2009 about a map but they did not include links. ty

  5. Jo W says:

    Oh dear, Admin, another trip to the bookshops in town! This is not helping my ‘saving up to be a rich woman’ fund. Oh well!

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Make sure you follow Snowy’s links. The photo of people punished for publishing uncited pictures is wonderful. It is worth reading the summary of the week’s deaths from 1665, too, where there were 3800 deaths from plague, two drownings, and one fatal fall, to say nothing of the 21 childbed deaths.

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