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Best London History Books of the Year 2016

For various reasons this year I didn’t get around to as much reading as I usually manage so have probably done someone an injustice of omission. However, our shortlist of favourite books of the year is as follows:

Benjamin Franklin in London by George Goodwin
Mr Barry’s War by Caroline Shenton
Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose
Mansions of Misery by Jerry White
The Boss of Bethnal Green by Julian Woodford

Our winner of London Historians Book of the Year for 2016 is Curiocity by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose. Unconventional format compared with “regular” titles, but so utterly brilliant, we couldn’t not. Thank you Henry and Matt, and congratulations to everyone for such outstanding work.

Previous winners:
2011 Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun
2012 Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly
2013 Beastly London by Hannah Velten
2014 Played in London by Simon Inglis
2015 The Street of Wonderful Possibilities by Devon Cox

A tad late, but there are still four shopping days left till Christmas. Any one of these will get you brownie points on Sunday morning. Merry Christmas.

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2015 saw our busiest events programme ever, at least 43 in all. The main theme was livery and livery halls: we visited ten altogether. Highlights included our annual lecture in September; our Samuel Pepys day out in the City and Greenwich in November; tours of Fuller’s brewery and Hogarth’s House next door; and our unforgettable Christmas visit to the Ancient House in Walthamstow: magical. These images represent some of our outings, by no means all. Somehow I failed to take pictures at our three History in the Pub talks evenings, which focussed on Sport, Policing London and the history of Print in London.

college of arms

8 January. College of Arms. Tour and talk by the Windsor Herald.

Merchant Taylors' Hall

16 January. Merchant Taylors’ Hall.

cutlers' hall

24 February. Cutlers’ Hall.

drapers' hall

6 March. Drapers’ Hall.

Stationers' Hall.

17 April. Stationers’ Hall.

21 April. Crossrail archaeological dig near Liverpool Street.

21 April. Crossrail archaeological dig near Liverpool Street.

derelict london paul talling

24 April. Derelict London walk with Paul Talling.

20 May. Heraldry and Regalia of the City of London. Talk by Paul Jagger at Information Technologists' Hall.

20 May. Heraldry and Regalia of the City of London. Talk by Paul Jagger at Information Technologists’ Hall.

5 June. Vintners' Hall.

5 June. Vintners’ Hall.

brixtonwindmill

12 June. Exploring Brixton: The Prison and the Mill.

woolwich

12 July. Walking tour of historic Woolwich with Laurence Scales.

 

24 July. Armourers' and Braziers' Hall.

24 July. Armourers’ and Braziers’ Hall.

doggett's coat and badge

1 August. 300 Anniversary of Doggett’s Coat and Badge.

7 September. Skinners' Hall.

7 September. Skinners’ Hall.

On 9 September we had our second annual lecture, once again at Gresham College’s wonderful Tudor period Barnard’s Inn Hall. In the 600th anniversary year of Agincourt, we heard Professor Caroline Barron talk about Henry V and his relationship with the City of London and its institutions.

19 September. Behind the scenes at Wood Street police station.

19 September. Behind the scenes at Wood Street police station.

26 September. History and Technology Conference at the National Archives, Kew.

26 September. History and Technology Conference at the National Archives, Kew.

30 November. Tallow Chandlers' Hall.

30 November. Tallow Chandlers’ Hall.

nowell parr

23 October. Pub tour on the trail of pub architect, Nowell Parr.

ancient house E17

12 December. Christmas cheer at the Ancient House, Walthamstow.

Finally, let’s not forget our monthly pub meet-ups on the first Wednesday of each month. This relaxed and convivial event is open to all, not just LH Members. There is no agenda, just friendship. Typically, about 30 folks turn up through the course of the evening.

monthly1

monthly2

monthly3

We have an equally busy programme in the pipeline for 2016. Please check our Events page for the latest. Some are exclusive to LH Members, who also get preferential pricing on most of the rest. Our Members themselves organise some outstanding events such as Georgian Dining Academy and the monthly Salon for the City for which generous discounts are available to LH Members..

 

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Here are some delightful things we did in the second half of the year.

In August, twelve of us went on an awayday to the Watts Gallery and nearby Memorial Chapel near Guildford, which included a curator-led tour of the fabulous Frank Holl (1845 – 1888) exhibition. And a jolly nice lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos until we got to the chapel bit.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Memorial Chapel

Tina, Peter, Caroline and the lovely well.

Max Gill (1884 – 1947) was the lesser known but no less talented sibling of sculptor and typographer Eric Gill. The biggest retrospective of his work to date was held in Ealing during October. We went for a curator-led tour, followed by a tour of John Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor, led by Georgian historian and author Lucy Inglis (LH Member). It was another delightful afternoon out.

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

The staircase at Pitzhanger Manor. Was it supposed to be for the Bank of England?

I bought some wellies and went mudlarking quite a few times this year. Tremendous. But we went out on an official London Historians outing in the late summer on the Thames shoreline in front of the City of London. It was organised with the excellent folks from Thames Discovery Programme.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

Finally (possibly!), two things with the National Archives (we work closely with their Friends group). First, a dedicated behind-the-scenes tour. I don’t have photos from this year, but see our report from 2012. Same thing.  Second, we co-hosted with TNA a talk during Know Your Archive week during November. LH Member Simon Fowler gave the presentation.

the national archives, kew

We all had a go on The Wall. Describing diagrammatically how archives are used for research.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

LH Member Simon Fowler

If you’ve got this far and also read my previous three posts, I thank you. If you are not a Member yet, I hope you now have a fairly decent idea of what London Historians is all about. We’d love to welcome you to the group. You can do this at any time here. Or if you’re reading this before Christmas Eve, we’re doing a special £10 discount via our friends at Londonist, here.

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Many people – with a little justification, I suppose – think that London Historians spend all their time in the pub. This post focuses on this side of our activities.

We have already covered History in the Pub: Tudor London in Part 1. After that, we did one in partnership with Wellcome Library entitled Sex and the City: the STDs of Old London, presented by Dr Lesley Hall.

wellcome library, history in the pub

Ross MacFarlane introduces the talk.

History in the Pub.

Dr Lesley Hall from the Wellcome Library with Matt Brown of Londonist.

history in the pub

During open mic session, LH Member Caroline Rance introduces her new book The Quack Doctor.

Our next History in the Pub addressed the topic of the London Street Poor and featured Professor Tim Hitchcock from University of Sussex, plus Simon Fowler (latterly National Archives) and David Thomas (National Archives).

history in the pub

Tim Hitchcock

History in the Pub

David Thomas

The Coroner’s Inquest and the Petty Sessions.

Probably the best pub-based event we’ve done to date were historic re-enactments of the Georgian magistrate’s court. They were held upstairs at the George in the Strand. We presented actual cases from history, researched and scripted by historians from the University of Hertfordshire, led by Professor Owen Davies, and then presented by professional actors. A triumph! Our report, but here are a few pictures. I’m especially proud of this project.

The Petty Sessions

Picture: Patrick Loftus.

The Petty Sessions

Picture: Patrick Loftus

 

This is entirely my fault, but some people get confused between History in the Pub – an evening of talks normally held in Spitalfields – and Monthly Pub Meet, which happens every first Wednesday of every month in Victoria (at time of writing). The latter is simply a social occasion at which Members and non-Members alike are welcome. A lot of networking, collaboration, friend-making and drinking goes on. Typically, we’ll get up to 40 folks turn up for that. The full schedule for 2014 is here, although note, we’ll be doing January 8th rather than 1st, for commonsense reasons.

Here are some pictures.

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

Young Americans. History students from the USA visiting London with their Prof.

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These are some guided walks we organised led by Members and friends of London Historians. We have about 30 London Guides among our Membership, some of whom are listed here.

First, Up the Cally. The Caledonian Road and environs with Rob Smith.

caledonian road, london

caledonian road, london

A fabulous walk one Summer Sunday of the Jewish East End, led by Clive Bettington of the Jewish East End Celebration Society (JEECS).

bevis marks, london

Outside Bevis Marks Synagogue.

jewish east london

jewsish east end, london

How many streets are there in Soho? Just 119, and one fine Saturday we walked all of them with specialist tour specialist Peter Berthoud, one of our long-standing Members. It took about seven hours with a break for lunch and was amazing.

so ho, london

soho, london

soho, london

Academic and City of London Guide Dr Will Pettigrew specialises in – among other things – London’s early overseas trading companies, including the Africa Company, responsible for the trans-Atlantic African slave trade. But that’s just part of the story. Will took us on a walk of the City that started with notorious slave-keepers: the Romans. Fascinating.

city of london, slavery

city of london, slavery

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I had forgotten, but while preparing this post I quickly realised quite how much we did this year. A  lot. So I’ll break this up into two, maybe three bits.

The idea is for Members to look back at what went on, for non-Members to get a better idea of what we get up to, and if they like what they see, to join us. If that’s you and you’re reading this before Christmas Eve, may I suggest you first visit our good friends at Londonist. <taps nose>

Tube 150. We kicked off the year with our panel talk at London Transport Museum on 10 January, the actual anniversary. Review. Later in the year, in August, we went on a behind-the-scenes at the museum’s storage warehouse at Acton Depot, led by LH Member and London Transport Museum volunteer David Burnell.

London Historians, Tube 150

Full House. Picture: Paul Davey

Tube150, London Historians

Mark Mason, Christian Wolmar, Matt Brown, Annie Mole, Gareth Edwards. Picture: Paul Davey

London Transport Museum, Acton Depot, London Historians

London Transport Museum, Acton Depot.

Our Old Bailey tour in March, conducted by  the magnificently-titled Charles Henty (Secondary of London and Under Sheriff, High Bailiff of Southwark), was tremendous. A complete sell-out, that one. Review.

Old Bailey Tour, London Historians

Old Bailey Tour, London Historians

Picture: Matt Brown / Londonist

History in the Pub: Tudor London.

Mathew Lyons

Speaker Mathew Lyons, LH Member, author of The Favourite (about Ralegh).

Andy Maginley

Andrew Maginley, LH Member, playing his lute.

Tudor London

Our final speaker was Tudor academic Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, here talking to Matt Brown of Londonist, who compered the evening.

history in the pub

A full house, as usual.

Behind the Scenes: Tower Bridge. Review.

tower bridge

London Historians group on an upper walkway.

tower bridge

…and the very opposite: in a bascule chamber.

Behind the Scenes: The Government Art Collection. There was a 15 month waiting list for this! Review.
N.B. We’re doing this again on 13 August 2014, likely to be Members only.

government art collection

Where the art is checked in, checked out, cleaned and restored.

government art collection

Deputy Director Julie Toppolo gave us a wonderful tour.

HMP Wandsworth. One of our Members is a serving prison officer who is also the honorary curator of the prison museum. He has organised three tours of the prison for London Historians so far. Photography extremely restricted, but here is one of our groups. We’ll plan do at least one of these in 2014.

hmp wandsworth

Behind the scenes at Middle Temple. We had a wonderful tour of the Middle Temple, one of the ancient four Inns of Court. Afterwards we had a superb lunch in the Tudor Great Hall. Lord Leveson was at high table. Review.

middle temple

middle temple

Coming Soon: Our Year in Review, Part Two.

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georgian london into the streetsA bit random this. Mostly London, mostly non-fiction, mostly by our talented Members, mostly 2013 (there’s some late 2012 stuff). But all History. And if it helps you to make informed choices on the Christmas pressie front, my work is done.

First, breaking news: Lucy Inglis’s excellent Georgian London, Into the Streets, published in September, has made it on the shortlist for  the Longman History Today book of the year. Lucy has many friends here at London Historians, and we’re all dead thrilled for her. The winner will be announced next month. Our review is here.

Fiction by LH Members.

novels

London Historians has numerous talented history novelists among its Members who had books out this year. In fact, Essie Fox’s latest – The Goddess and the Thief – was published only last week. Wendy Wallace’s second novel, The Sacred River, came out in August. More murder and mayhem from Lloyd Shepherd in The Poisoned Island, which hit the bookshops last February. His Last Mistress: The Duke of Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth by Andrea Zuvich concerns the man behind the hare-brained attempt to topple his uncle, James II. And just out in Kindle, attracting nice reviews: The Marrow Scoop and Other Ghost Stories by Suzie Grogan.

Non-fiction History by LH Members.

member books london historians

London’s Industrial Heritage by Geoff Marshall. A much-needed treatment of a neglected topic, excellent. Our review. Buy direct using the link, or LH Members can obtain a signed copy directly from Geoff for just £12 including shipping, see August Members’ newsletter or email me for details.
The Rainborowes by Adrian Tinniswood. Two generations of a puritan merchant family from Wapping and their adventures against Barbary pirates, their endeavours in early colonial New England, and – grippingly – their exploits in the Parliamentary interest in the English Civil War. Our Review.
Along similar lines to the wonderful Sugar Girls last year, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi have brought out GI Brides, featuring the real life stories of English girls from the war years and what became of them. Our review.
Defying Providence. Art Boylston tells the story of immunisation before Jenner, starting with the wonderful Lady Mary Montagu, and tracing developments on both sides of the Atlantic by physicians doing pioneering variolisation work often in the face of fierce opposition from the established orthodoxy.  Our review.
Georgian London by Lucy Inglis, as mentioned above.
Some very recent releases which we haven’t had time to review yet, but have dipped into and found all to be engaging and delightful.
Bizarre London by prolific David Long. Londonist review here. He also wrote London’s Big Day, a book of previously unpublished colour photos of the Queen’s coronation in 1953.
The Quack Doctor by Caroline Rance. Hilarious “medical” advertising and cures in the Victorian era.
Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census by Emma Jolly.
Move Along Please by Mark Mason. Not a history book as such, though plenty of  history snippets. The author’s voyage from Land’s End to John O’Groats by local bus.
Historic Streets and Squares by Melanie Backe-Hansen has been pulling very good reviews.

A 2012 book really, but the superb The Day Parliament Burned Down by Caroline Shenton has just been published in paperback so that counts. Plus it won the Political Book of the Year award 2013, oh yes. But get the hardback edition, hey. Our review.

Non-fiction History by non-LH Members (yet!).

non member booksInspector Minahan Makes a Stand by Bridget O’Donnell. Back end of 2012, this one. No matter. The true story of one policeman’s crusade against sex trafficking of teenaged girls in the 1880s. Tragic, sad, shocking. I regret that circumstances worked against my getting a review done of this outstanding book.
Banker, Traitor, Scapegoat, Spy?: The Troublesome Case of Sir Edgar Speyer by Antony Lentin. The financier and philanthropist who was hounded out of Britain for being German-born and Jewish. Our review.
The Profligate Son, by Nicola Phillips. Jaw-dropping account of the misadventures of an absolute wastrel at the turn of the 19C. Hugely enjoyable, and a valuable social history of fun, fashion and the striving (or not) middle classes in late Georgian London.  Our Review.
The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London By Hannah Greig  Scholarly, thoughtful and in many ways revisionist examination of the wafer thin upper crust of Georgian society. Time conspired against my writing a review.
Beastly London: A History of Animals in the City by Hannah Velten. From fleas to elephants, this book has it covered. An academic, entertaining and deeply absorbing examination of the life of animals in our city. Farms, zoos, pets, circuses, fighting, gambling, slaughterhouses, agents, beasts of burden. No review yet, I still have a chapter or two to go. This is simply an outstanding book. At time of writing, Amazon showing “out of stock” and I’m not surprised. Buy it in a shop.
Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 by Antonia Fraser. Here’s one of those topics – along with the Corn Laws – that is potentially so dull during school history lessons, that it loses potential historians for life. So full marks to Lady Antonia for stepping up, laying out the issues and telling this very important story with, well, drama. Racy, pacy with excellent pen-portraits of the leading players, importantly drawing Earl Grey out of the shadows.

 

Tube 150

underground books

As the 150th anniversary year of the London Underground draws to a close, I’ll mention some titles. One of the best, overall, dip-in, dip-out treatments of the history of the Tube is Underground to Everywhere by Stephen Halliday (LH Member). Originally published in 2001, it’s been updated and re-issued for the anniversary. The official book of the anniversary is Underground: How the Tube Shaped London by David Bownes, Oliver Green, Sam Mullins, three big beasts past and present from the London Transport Museum. Oliver Green also wrote Frank Pick’s London: Art, Design and the Modern City, a much-needed and deserved treatment of the great and visionary rail administrator. Finally, and related, I really enjoyed A Logo for London, by David Lawrence – all about the unified corporate identity of London’s transport system from its earliest days and through the 20th Century. Beautifully illustrated.

The Laurels.
beastly londonMy shortlist of History books for 2013 are London’s Industrial Heritage by Geoff Marshall, The Rainborowes by Adrian Tinniswood, Georgian London by Lucy Inglis and Beastly London by Hannah Velten. If you can imagine a swanky black tie dinner populated by drunk historians, please picture me ripping open a gold envelope to announce Hannah Velten’s effort for the London Historians Book of the Year 2013.

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