More Unseen London Books



A quick roundup of new and reprinted books on forgotten London today.

‘Lost London: An A-Z Of Forgotten Landmarks’ by Richard Guard is a too-short snapshot of lost buildings, but  includes a mention of James Farr, who introduced the Arabic beverage of coffee to London in the 1650s at the Rainbow Coffee House. It also has some good slang; apparently ‘Beggar’s Bullets’ were stones for throwing at the wealthy, and ‘Sucking The Monkey’ was to draw off booze from a barrel with a straw. Who knew?

‘Scene/Unseen: London’s West End Theatres’ is a trot around some surprising backstage and front-of-house areas of theatreland. These brightly lit pictures reveal something you never notice in the dark – the baroque ornamentation of most theatres abruptly ends where the cheap seats start. Tourists – especially New Yorkers – make the cardinal mistake of booking the most expensive seats in London theatres, not realising that unlike theatres in their home towns  the better view is very often from the Dress Circle or even the Upper Circle, because the West End buildings are tall and very narrow, so the distance from the stage is the same wherever you sit, but the view from the stalls seats is often hampered by the ceiling of the floor above and the height of the stage.

Morris Kaplan’s ‘Sodom On The Thames’ takes a frank and eye-opening look at sex, love and scandal in the 19th century. During those notoriously conservative times there were still transgender and transvestite men and women (including Fanny and Stella, left, who were followed by crowds of admirers) parading in central London, although they eventually risked flogging and the treadmill for their ‘crimes’.

There’s also a study of the Cleveland Street Affair, in which London’s telegraph boys were caught moonlighting as prostitutes for prominent gentlemen. The book points out the knock-on effect of the case for Oscar Wilde. London has always had a complex and paradoxical attitude to illicit sexual activity, which was both condemned and promoted on a large scale.

6 comments on “More Unseen London Books”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    Gosh darn it! Another one for my reading pile!

  2. Janet Wilson says:

    Shldn’t that b ‘Sodom up the Thames’, fnaar fnaar? Sorry… Joke current at time of Wilde trial: Hosky is caught with page boy. ‘Mr Wilde! I thought you were turning over a new leaf!’ ‘I am, I am; just as soon as I get to the bottom of this page…’ Now have you all got the App ‘London Remembers’? Well recommended!

  3. jan says:

    the cleveland street affair is very interesting for quite a few reasons again Poor old PRINCE ALBERT VICTOR who is believed by some to be the reason for the Jack the Ripper murders was believed to be caught up in the scandal. and more interesingly Inps Frank ABBERLINE was the investigating officer who raided and closed the male brothel. the place only came to light after a theft of cash from the royal mail was investigated and a young telegraph boy was suspected. The young lads cash turned out to have come from elsewhere……….

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Grown, more interesting London books. Me cash drawer can’t it. I’m holding back for the U.K edition of the March Bryant & May with the fancy postal fee.

  5. Janet Wilson says:

    Well, I finally paid an honest hours wage for Mr F.’s efforts- cldn’t wait for library to get ‘B&M and the Invisible Code’, bought the only copy in Hereford Waterstones.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Particularly apt item today, the day after our Pride Parade which went over our unique pedestrian crossing – rainbow stripes on all 4 corners.

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