Vanished City: London’s Lost Neighbourhoods by Tom Bolton
Or Tales from Topographical Streetscapes. This excellent little book is a real scales-from-the-eyes job: full of interesting stuff you didn’t know, but should. I say little, but to be clear, while its physical form is a 4″x5″ handy pocket-size, the book is 253 pages of rich, multi-layered yet economical text and a pleasure to read.
Arranged in 10 chapters of about 25 pages apiece, the author tells us the story of pockets of London whose names, buildings, streets and populations have utterly transmogrified. Each has a different tale: Clare Market and its surrounding streets were swept away in the name of progress and replaced by the semi-circular, cosmopolitan, 20C Aldwych, a name meaningless to Londoners for a millennium; yet Cripplegate was obliterated by the Luftwaffe: the Barbican district took a full 40 years to rise from its ashes; Ratcliff and old Limehouse both withered on the vine with the decline London’s docklands and maritime industries; and so on. For completeness we also have Horsleydown, Norton Folgate, Old St Pancras, Agar Town, Streatham Spa, Wellclose and White City, the last of which has meaning to most of us, fading as it has within our living memories.
Each story is fascinating and complicated; the author does a great job of assembling, arranging and delivering his material as an excellent narrative.
You can tell by by his apposite use of quotations and the occasional casual yet pertinent commentary that he is familiar with not only the streetscapes of which he writes, but also other giants past and present. Ian Nairn and Iain Sinclair but a couple of favourites from our own times. But there is also plenty of Stype, Pepys, Thornbury and other wise old anoraks of the past. All are used in a pertinent yet unforced manner which adds to the reading pleasure. So it’s clear that Vanished City is not – like so many – scaffolded in dusty research: Tom Bolton knows his stuff too.
The book is nicely illustrated by photos in both colour and black-and-white by the author and S.F. Said. There are unburdonsome footnotes at the end of each chapter and a good bibliography at the back of the book. But no index. This I can live with, but the one thing that the book lacks, I feel, is a wee map to go with each chapter. The text is necessarily very geographically specific, so I found myself having to refer to my London A to Z while reading.
No other criticisms: thoroughly recommended.
Vanished City (253pp) is published by Strange Attractor Press with a cover price of £11.99 but available for less.
London Historians members will be interested to know that a signed copy of this book is the prize draw in your March newsletter, out Monday.