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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

A guest post by LH Member Laurence Scales, @LWalksLondon. 

Review: The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science by Adrian Tinniswood.

royal society_I possess another book about the Royal Society (RS) but it is a bit of a doorstop and more of a collection of essays. I have been surprised not to find before this moment a clear and straightforward book on its history because even my most unscientific of London Historians friends would probably put the Royal Society or, to give it its full title, the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge on a pedestal with the label: National Treasure. Why? – because, well… Sir Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton, innit? Nice to know it’s there. Wonderful heritage, and all that.

Not many of us know why it is still here today. Is the RS a fresh flower or a crumbling fossil in the modern world? Since the late 1700s there have grown up many learned societies devoted to scientific specialisms which supplant the original role of the RS to gather knowledge from experiments and invigorate understanding of the natural world. The RS claims today that it promotes excellence in science. Few of us who are not professional scientists can judge it on this territory. It does stage some public events, outstanding among which is their Summer Science Exhibition held in their modern headquarters and then, beside the new research, you may get to see a few relics on display.

So, Adrian Tinniswood has given us something handy. Books, such as this one, in the Landmark Library series are placed in the market perhaps as a more giftable alternative to the spartan but, in my sampling, excellent Very Short Introduction series (but that series has no equivalent book about the RS). I stage my own unofficial and mildly iconoclastic Royal Society Unofficial Tour and Tinniswood has added some detail and nuance to the knowledge that, without such a book, I have gathered for myself over the years.

Tinniswood is a historian and writer without a previous track record in science history (he has previously tackled Sir Christopher Wren) but that might be an advantage for the general reader. Look what Bill Bryson (RS Fellow), neither an academic historian nor a scientist, did to popularize science with A Short History of Nearly Everything. But historians discussing science, and indeed scientists writing history, are inevitably breaking cover.

We are given some of the RS’ cultural and human back story including Francis Bacon and the ‘invisible college’ of natural philosophers, some of whom eventually founded the RS. There is a useful appendix on the founding individuals. I was amused to deduce from this book that despite the emergence of coffee house culture at this time, the early RS perhaps owed more to the beer house. London Historians members who attend its pub meet-ups may take heart.

There is a colourful chapter on experiments, and an appendix including a handful of write-ups of early experiments and curious observations like Robert Boyle’s encounter with a neck of veal which, in the absence of a refrigerator, had become luminously putrid.

One difficulty that the RS presents to our judgement is that because some individual did some good work and was rewarded by election to this club, that might just be a case of the club basking in some reflected glory. Was the RS more than the sum of its gifted fellows? The RS has been attentive to PR in its 360 years, such as when honoring Humphry Davy with a Rumford Medal for his miners’ safety lamp, as if it was some triumph of natural philosophy. George Stephenson, unschooled, less clubbable, came up with something very similar at the same time. In the distant past the RS has had its National Treasure status periodically called into question by detractors as illustrious as Jonathan Swift and Charles Babbage. Happily, Adrian Tinniswood gives us a chapter on those entertaining spats.

What did the institution achieve in its 360 years? The book has a subtitle, ‘The invention of modern science’ which could both focus us on (1) what we now know, but it should also concern itself with (2) the evolution of the process by which we came to know it. The book is compact and, probably wisely, Tinniswood does not attempt to address the first point, and he deals with the second quite briefly, dealing with the publication of the scientific record, Philosophical Transactions, but not really later improvements such as peer review. The RS did much to help to invent the scientific method, a considerable legacy, as it provides our comforts and protects us from snake oil salesmen, if we care to listen. But it took hundreds of years about it. Its first female fellow was only enrolled in 1945.

So, we have a useful, attractive and entertaining book, and not one of those rather dull administrative histories that sometimes emerge from august institutions from the pen of a devoted insider. I would like to have seen more context, comparison and insight. We had our Francis Bacon, but it was Rene Descartes who influenced the course of science on the other side of the channel. Rather than just assume that the RS’s National Treasure status is deserved, we could be told what happened in other countries and in other younger British institutions such as the Royal Institution and the Society of Arts. What role, if any, did the RS play in the industrial revolution? There we have subject matter enough to fill another book.


The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science, 208 pages, by Adrian Tinniswood, is published by Head of Zeus, lavishly illustrated. 

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Review: London Vagabond – the Life of Henry Mayhew by Christopher Anderson. 

lvApologies, this review is almost a year late. More overdue than this by far is a proper treatment of the life of Henry Mayhew (1812 – 1887). Thankfully Christopher Anderson spotted this sorry oversight on everyone’s part and set to the task almost 10 years ago resulting in this biography.

Mayhew was a prolific writer, most famously of his magnum opus London Labour and the London Poor (1861). That was a book derived of journalism, but ‘Harry’ Mayhew was also a begetter of comedy, satire, novel and play. In his pomp, he was as well known as his exact contemporaries Dickens and Thackeray. But ultimately – like Dr Johnson – he was remembered more or less for one work when there was so much more. Frequently impecunious, he would often complain that his early play The Wandering Minstrel attracted £200 per annum in royalties for decades after he sold the rights for £20.

punch1The one other thing for which Mayhew is well known (if at all), is as the founder of Punch magazine, in 1841. Some would add founding editor too, though this is something which some of his contemporaries dispute. Certainly, it was his brainchild, having a few years earlier also started its less successful predecessor Figaro in London, with his friend Gilbert à Becket. His relationship with Punch was short but fascinating. When moneyed, respectable owners had to be found to save the magazine, one of the conditions was that Mayhew was jettisoned; he was just too unpredictable, too much of a loose cannon: the magazine needed stability, a word nobody could associate with the mercurial writer.

A constant theme in Mayhew’s life was trouble with money. While he knew what he was worth as a writer and frequently pulled down substantial earnings, more often he was in debt, a bankrupt. He spent at least three spells in debtors’ prisons, others in the sponge house (the staging post to debtor’s prison). Self-imposed exile in Wales, Paris and Germany to avoid his creditors, the bailiffs and the law. Sometimes but not always, he was bailed out by family, friends or – humiliatingly – The Royal Literary Fund (he applied to them twice). His long-suffering wife Jane and children Amy and Athol had perforce to share these hardships. Worse, on one occasion he allowed his younger brother Gus to take the rap in the debtor’s prison on his behalf.

Clearly, Henry Mayhew was a careless man, irresponsible to say the least, amoral even. But talented, hardworking, naïve, deeply amusing and the object of devotion from a very small group of friends and admirers. He always had a plan up his sleeve to get him out of the soup. More often than not, these failed. One is reminded a little of Mr Toad.

Something of a polymath and like many Victorian men of affairs, Mayhew was deeply interested in science. A devotee of Humphry Davy and in particular Michael Faraday, he conduced many a dangerous experiments at home, primarily in the pursuit of creating artificial diamonds. Like many a Mayhew pursuit, these literally turned to dust.

I hope you can see so far that this is a lively biography which succeeds in bringing the real Henry Mayhew into our lives. We are also introduced to his rather large family of siblings, in-laws, wife and children, interesting individuals themselves, in particular brothers Horace (Ponny) and Augustus (Gus), who both became writers like Henry, much to the chagrin of their terrifying father Joshua (like Dickens, Mayhew bore a deep antipathy towards the legal profession). Ponny carved out a long and successful career at Punch while Gus frequently wrote in partnership with Henry as the Brothers Mayhew: the name was a strong brand at the time.

London Vagabond connects us to the creative world of the mid 19th Century London intellectual scene. Mayhew worked directly or rubbed shoulders with writers, illustrators, publishers, printers, actors, playwrights, radicals, Chartists; Dickens and Thackeray as we have seen, but also Douglas Jerrold, George Cruickshank, Mark Lemon, George Sala, Henry Vizetelly, Joseph Paxton and dozens more; plotting, scheming, drinking, laughing, networking. The titles for which Mayhew wrote at one time or another were almost uncountable, but the author’s meticulous research has revealed them, along with Mayhew’s improving books for children (e.g. biography of Martin Luther) and unclassifiable genres all his own. I found particularly interesting some of his late stuff on Germany: 1) Hilariously intemperate travel guide involving living among the Saxons 2) Dangerous reportage of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war – Mayhew was a fearless reporter.

henrymayhew

Portrait of Mayhew from London Labour and the London Poor, 1st Ed, 1851, aged about 39.

One senses that the author has read every piece of Mayhew writing he could lay his hands on, both by the man himself and other parties. He quotes substantially and frequently. I would estimate that possibly as much as 20% of the text is quotations. They are always apposite and enriching.

Sometime I hope to catch up with Mayhew’s other major London work, the Great World of London and indeed some other of his now forgotten writing which sound marvellous.

This is an excellent Life and I would warmly recommend it to all, whether established Mayhew fans like myself or indeed those coming across him for the first time.


London Vagabond – the Life of Henry Mayhew is written and published by Christopher Gangadin Anderson. 409 pp (of which 46 pp are index, bibliography, end notes etc.). It costs around £10.

 

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A Year of Turner & the Thames by Roger Williams – guest review by LH Member Jane Young.

turnerthamesIt is almost enough to simply say this little book is absolutely enchanting and you should certainly rush out and buy it.

It is a journey, but also a journal, of a year spent tracing the footsteps of Joseph Mallord William Turner. The beautiful narration draws together several threads, charting the life and times of Turner and visits made in pursuit of this, interwoven with entertaining accounts of encounters on the way.

A Tardis of a book, measuring just 15cm square, packed to brimming with inventories and insightful descriptions of collections pertaining to the work of Turner across England. The reader travels with the author, visiting the haunts of Turner and his contemporaries, taking in galleries, museums, archives, stately homes and some rather nice public houses alongside some that are no longer what they were.

An added bonus are the author’s own illustrations. Described on the frontispiece as ‘drawings are attempted’ the finely executed sketches and watercolours contained within are accomplished and delightful.

In part biography, part catalogue and part history, all meticulously researched, this story of a year is immensely readable in exquisite attention to detail enhanced with snippets of personal memories that resonate with the places visited.

turner stuff

A book for anyone interested in an introduction to JMW Turner; for anyone who already knows about Turner; for anyone interested in London History; for anyone interested in Art History; for anyone interested in art and illustration; for anyone interested in the Thames; for anyone who would just like something delightful to read and pleasing to look at: This little book is enchanting and you should certainly rush out and buy it.


A Year of Turner & the Thames (216pp) by Roger Williams is published by Bristol Book Publishing with a cover price of £15.

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Books of 2018

I hope this will help you with some late-ish Christmas gift choices.

First of all, here are our Members’ newsletter book prizes of the year. All were author-signed and many are by fellow London Historians members.

January: Convicted by Gary Powell (LH Member)
February: Up in Smoke by Peter Watts (2016)
March: London Vagabond: The Life of Henry Mayhew by Chris Anderson (LH Member)
April: Municipal Dreams by John Boughton (LH Member)
May: Sir Thomas Gresham by Valerie Shrimplin (2017)
June: London’s 100 Strangest Places & London’s 100 Most Extraordinary Buildings, both David Long (LH Member)
July: Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann (LH Member)
August: The Civil War in London by Robin Rowles (LH Member)
September: Mr Barry’s War by Caroline Shenton (LH Member) (2016)
October: Handel in London by Jane Glover
November: Trico, a Victory to Remember by Sally Groves and Vernon Merrick
December: London’s Docklands by Geoff Marshall (LH Member) and Guildhall, City of London by Graham Greenglass and Stephen Dinsdale (both LH Members).

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Here are the books we reviewed this year. My thanks to LH members who kindly pitched in, the beginning of a review programme which will bloom in the coming years, I’m sure.

Miranda Kaufmann. Black Tudors: The Untold Story (OneWorld Publications 2017)
Stephen Alford. London’s Triumph: Merchant Adventurers and the Tudor City (Penguin 2018)
Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson. A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (Yale, 2017).
All reviewed by LH Member Prof Sheila Cavanagh. 

tudors and triumph

London Docklands: An Illustrated History by Geoff Marshall.
Review by LH Member Roger Williams

The King’s Cross Story by Peter Darley (LH Member)
Review by LH Member Laurence Scales

Bus Fare: Collected Writings, edited by Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr.
Review by Mike Paterson

1st row

London Railway Stations by Chris Heather
Review by LH Member Laurence Scales

Guildhall: City of London. History Guide Companion by Graham Greenglass and Stephen Dinsdale.
Review by LH Member Mark Ackerman.

The River’s Tale: Archaeology on the Thames foreshore in Greater London by Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg.
Review by Mike Paterson

A Year of Turner & the Thames by Roger Williams.
Review by Jane Young

 

second row

Finally, here are some titles which we’ve enjoyed enormously but not managed as yet to review properly. Recommended without hesitation. 

Death, Disease and Dissection. The Life of a Surgeon Apothecary 1750 – 1850 (2017) by LH Member Suzie Grogan.
Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era by LH Member Mike Rendell.
Trading in War. London’ Maritime World in the age of Cook and Nelson by Margarette Lincoln.
Zeppelin Onslaught: The Forgotten Blitz 1914-1915 by LH Member Ian Castle (review pending!)
The Ravenmaster. My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skalfe.
Behind the Throne. A Domestic History of the Royal Household by LH Member Adrian Tinniswood. (already shaping up to be a bestseller, this one).

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gunnersburyFinally (I think), earlier this year Gunnersbury Park and Mansion re-opened following several years of HLF-funded extensive restoration work. LH Members and leading spirits of the Friends of Gunnersbury Val Bott and James Wisdom produced the official house history, Gunnersbury. It’s excellently researched and beautifully illustrated. You don’t have to visit the house (but do!) to buy a copy.

 

city jaggerStop Press: And how’s this for a stocking filler if you’re really quick? City of London: Secrets of the Square Mile by LH Member Paul Jagger, a man who know the ins and outs of City institutions like no other. Also an expert on heraldry, incidentally. A mere fiver!

 

 

 

 

Plenty there to sink  your teeth into. If there are any glaring omissions, particularly by authors who are LH members, please let me know.

Happy shopping!

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The River’s Tale: Archaeology on the Thames foreshore in Greater London by Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg.


MoL Docklands One Colour LogoI am somewhat late with this. A year late, to be precise. In mitigation, a year ago I wasn’t a trained FROG (Foreshore Recording and Observation Group) operative, hadn’t been on several related outings, nor joined in the Thames Discovery Programme‘s 10th anniversary celebrations in October.

The Thames Discovery Programme is the organisation primarily responsible for observing, measuring and recording the archaeology of the foreshore of the tidal Thames. Put simply, this runs from Teddington in the west to well into the estuary in the east. Hence it is a massive site, managed by a mere four full-time staff at the most (it has often been just two or three). Through most of TDP’s  short but already illustrious history, two of those have been the authors of this book. The group’s additional responsibility involves – among other things – public outreach and engagement with schools and children’s groups. An impossible task for so few, you may think, except for the aforementioned FROGs – trained volunteers – of whom there are around 500, with about 35 new additions each year.

But interest in exploring the foreshore is not a recent thing. Famously, the Victorian mudlarkers of Henry Mayhew’s acquaintance searched for anything sellable for a living. Their better-off near contemporaries – antiquaries like Sir Montagu Sharp and collectors such as Thomas Layton – paid close attention to the clues which Thames shared with them. But the father and early guiding spirit of modern Thames archaeology has to be Ivor Noel Hume, who from the early 1950s and off his own bat began systematically to observe, survey and map the foreshore, albeit on a short piece of it in the City. ‘Proper’ archaeology of the Thames sites began in the 1990s by the Thames Archaeological Survey (TAS) which ran from 1996 to 1999. After this various organisations, including UCL and the Richmond Archaeological Society, kept the flame alive until the advent of the TDP in 2008.

It’s important to note – as the authors do – that there are other organisations involved in related activity, notably the Thames Explorer Trust ; also a huge and constant presence in the person of Dr Gustav Milne who has been intimately involved in riverside archaeological projects for over three decades, written, broadcast and talked about them and to this day spread the good word with infectious enthusiasm.

Since its genesis a decade ago, TDP has organised hundreds of field trips and guided walks. The discoveries, finds and observations have added immeasurably to our understanding of the historic peoples of London – their buildings, their diet, their lifestyles and habits. Samples and objects include human and animal remains, building materials, clay pipes, domestic objects, tools, nails, wire, crockery, coins etc.

The book continues, chapter by chapter, examining the many different roles of the river. Nathalie Cohen covers fish and fishing; also the Thames as a vast sacred site, both of burial and ritual deposits. Eliot Wragg addresses the river’s industrial role as both a busy port and a centre for shipbuilding, ship repair, chandlery etc. Both writers address the historical topography of the Thames: embankments, bridges, wharves, stairs, jetties and slipways.

The book is richly illustrated with photos of sites, site activities, objects, maps old and new, aerial photos as well as maritime paintings and engravings. There is a good list at the back of Sources and Further Reading.

Thanks to organisations such as MOLA and the TDP, London’s ‘liquid highway’ is giving up some of its secrets. Acquaint yourself with these vitally important programmes through this excellent introduction.


The River’s Tale, (116pp) by Natalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg is published by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has a cover price of £15. You can buy it online at MOLA,

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Guildhall: City of London. History Guide Companion by Graham Greenglass and Stephen Dinsdale. Guest review by LH Member Mark Ackerman.  

ghThe authors, both LH members and City of London guides, have produced a detailed and comprehensive book on the central area of the City of London and its seat of governance, Guildhall, oddly never ‘the Guildhall’ when used in this context. The introduction says the work’s aim is to provide ‘a history, a guide and a companion’ and it ticks all those boxes admirably.

It is full of fascinating facts and stories and I’m ashamed to say, as a Londoner born and bred, I was ignorant of many of them, so it also serves as an educational tool for the likes of me.

The oldest part of the building we still see today, the Great Hall of the Guildhall itself, was begun by master mason John Croxtone in 1411 and largely completed by 1430. It was probably the third such building on the site, a central area first used in Saxon times as a ‘folkmoot’ where citizens gathered.

Croxtone designed his hall in the English Perpendicular Gothic style and it is the oldest non-ecclesiastical building in the City of London. It owed its cathedral-like appearance to Croxtone’s own master, Henry Yevele, with whom he had worked previously on the rebuilding of Westminster Hall. A pitched timber roof topped off the stone fabric but the building was not finally completed until 1499 with the addition of turrets. It also contained the Mayor’s Court and Court of Aldermen but it was felt necessary, even before final completion, to include two cells to restrain unruly apprentices.

049 Guildhall 15C

15C Guildhall. Artist’s impression.

This was a huge and costly construction project for the early fifteenth century with the guilds putting up the money. However, just as today the City is (and is likely to remain) the international centre for many financial dealings, so its earlier counterpart wanted to demonstrate to its continental rivals that it too was a major commercial capital.

051 Ogilby & Morgan1677

Post-fire Ogilby and Morgan map of the area, 1677.

The Great Fire of 1666 spared the stone fabric of Guildhall but, as Pepys wrote, ‘the horrid, malicious, bloody flame’ destroyed the roof. A ‘temporary’ flat wooden roof replaced it for the next two hundred years until Sir Horace Jones, Surveyor to the City, began renovation work in 1860. As the favoured style of his day was Gothic revivalism, Jones could get to work on a building which had been overlaid with Baroque and neo-classical elements by Wren and others after the Great Fire and, as the authors have it, he set about ‘re-Gothicising’ the edifice.

005 Porch, Chapel & Blackwell Hall 1820

Porch, chapel and Blackwell Hall, 1820. 

Today, only the old museum and library buildings remain from Jones’s renovation work and Guildhall Yard would have to wait until after the Second World War for the next major rebuild when Giles Gilbert Scott, of the famous architectural dynasty, began the task he had hoped to start before the war when he had advised on renovations to the area. Now the job was a major rebuild including that of the Great Hall itself, badly damaged in a 1940 air raid. It was repaired by October 1954 and welcomed the new Lord Mayor for his banquet the following month.

Sir Giles’s son Richard continued his father’s work in the ’60s and, as the book states, ‘led the way for a contemporary Guildhall Yard and proposed five new construction projects which externally dominate the Guildhall we see today.’ These were an enlarged yard, a new West Wing office complex, a new library and art gallery and the restoration of the crypts below the hall.

The book offers an excellent résumé of the monuments and statuary both outside and within the Great Hall. Of the latter, many are dedicated to obvious heroes such as Nelson, Wellington and Churchill and it is perhaps no surprise to see Pitt the Younger there, our youngest Prime Minster at the age of only 24. Mercury, representing commerce, stands over him but perhaps the Winged Messenger, who also oversaw good fortune, could have kept better watch during Pitt’s lifetime as the alcoholic gambler racked up debts of £40,000 by the time he died. The government eventually paid these off but it is difficult to see that ever happening now as the amount is the equivalent of £3.5 million today.

Another memorial commemorates former Lord Mayor William Beckford, who twice held the post and was MP for the City of London. The son of a Jamaican plantation and slave owner he himself became one of the wealthiest men in the country through these activities. In fact, it was said of him that ‘to see a slave he could not bear….unless it was his own’ and, given the current anti-Colston campaign, one wonders if the activists will next turn their attention to Beckford. Being less prominent, he may be spared.

The banners of the Great Twelve City Guilds hang below the roof of the Great Hall with the Mercers taking pre-eminence as they had provided the most Lord Mayors when the ranking system was decided upon in 1515 after many disagreements, some of which even resulted in fighting and the deaths of guild members. The Merchant Taylors and Skinners were among the most disputatious, fighting over sixth and seventh place, which probably led to the phrase ‘at sixes and sevens’.

The Great Hall was also used for ‘show’ trials such as that of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen, who was unwillingly manoeuvred into place by her devious father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland. She and her husband were executed for high treason in 1554 with the devious duke, who also coerced her into marrying his son in the first place, soon suffering the same fate.

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Guildhall today. Pic: M Paterson.

The book covers the Lord Mayor’s office in detail and relates how little the true story of Richard Whittington, who held the office four times, has in common with his panto counterpart. But as the fable has it, he did indeed marry an Alice, Alice Fitzwarin, and in reality performed many charitable works including the provision of a large public lavatory, flushed by the Thames. His seventeenth century successor, however, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, would live on in infamy. He it was who, when arriving in Pudding Lane to see the start of the conflagration in 1666, said it was not serious and ‘a maid might piss it out’. He also refused to demolish neighbouring buildings to create a firebreak in case he became personally liable. Pepys described seeing him later that night ‘like a man spent, with a hankercher about his neck’ and bemoaning the fact that he had been up all night although he apparently went back to bed after first being called out. He was an object of public vilification ever after, even while continuing to sit as an MP.

Everything you might wish to know about Guildhall and its environs is here, including chapters on the City parish church, St Lawrence Jewry; the Roman Amphitheatre below the art gallery; the City of London Police Museum and public events held in Guildhall Yard such as the Cart Marking Ceremony every July and the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Parade in September.

The book has now inspired me to revisit the whole precinct under its expert guidance. It also makes a thoughtful gift for any LH member and for friends and family, and all in good time for the festive season.


GUILDHALL: CITY OF LONDON, A History Guide Companion
Authors: Graham Greenglass and Stephen Dinsdale
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Price: £16.99ISBN: 9781526715418

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London Railway Stations by Chris Heather. A guest review by Laurence Scales @LWalksLondon.

rsA softly spoken subtext of this book is to show off some of the holdings of The National Archives on the theme of London’s thirteen mainline railway passenger termini and their associated hotels. So, importantly, for most of London’s wayside railway stations you will look here in vain. The history of each terminus is surveyed in order of opening. Did you know that London Bridge was the first in 1836? Of course you did.
The fact that ‘The British Government saw no need to provide an overall plan for the railway network’ will strike a chord with every experienced traveler, but it makes for a rich history and diversity in infrastructure. The author continues. ‘Each [terminus] has its own personality, and its own charm and idiosyncrasies.’ You can explore some of them in these pages.

This is not a book that is intended to be full of pictures of trains, although there are many. Some of the termini are better served by photographs than others, Liverpool Street and Marylebone being particularly light on images. There are maps, posters, letters, illustrations and advertisements here, some of which are in colour, and many are pleasingly unusual.

I regard myself as a softcore railway enthusiast. You folk who just think that trains are sometimes useful for taking you from Alvechurch to Barnstable probably have no conception what that means! The hardcore, for example, would probably want to know how the Great Western Railway’s points and crossing work was enhanced over the years since Paddington Station’s temporary predecessor was opened in 1838. What this book does, and it suits me, is to explain that the food court at Paddington, mysteriously known as The Lawn, was formerly a plot for the cultivation of rhubarb and that flowers might be picked there, though that would likely land you in trouble with the railway constabulary. If you want to know about the design of trackwork, then I am sure that there is a hardcore tome out there, not this one, that will enlighten you.

This book could well be enjoyed by the railway history completist, but would principally inform and entertain the curious Londoner who either commutes through one of these termini, or occasionally exits London for diverse points of the compass through one of its grand Victorian gateways. It aims to be interesting not encyclopaedic. Chris Heather cherry-picks historical incidents to feature. He provides a brief history of each main line and he (thankfully) highlights human interest rather than, say, the shareholdings of the principal proprietors (hardcore). George Landmann engineered the 878 brick arches which formed the London and Greenwich Railway. But whom did he buy for six bottles of rum? Enquire within.


London Railway Stations by Chris Heather (The National Archives), 160 pages, hardback, illustrated, with index.

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