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Book Review: Bloody London by David Fathers.
’20 Walks in London, Tracing its Gruesome and Horrific History’

coverLondon’s history is nothing if not turbulent. Over the years, authors and historians in their dozens if not hundreds have latched onto this city’s violent past to produce books which are often sensationalised or speculative or both. Equally, there have been a shedload of guide books, also varying in quality. A sub-genre of this – becoming quite popular in recent times –  are the self-guided walk publications. This new book, by David Fathers, combines all of this in a volume which is of exceptionally high standard in all departments.

The book’s title and indeed his informative introduction, focuses strongly on death, murder and execution. I’ve always been quite interested in execution and even more so on duels. Yet there’s a lot here that’s new to me, for example the mid 18C axeman John Thrift who was particularly unpopular even by the standards of his trade; and on the very same page, the sword duel between Beau Wilson and John Law. All good, bloody stuff.  But actually you’ll find a huge diversity of topics. Riots, raids, disasters. The 1878 Princess Alice disaster is, of course covered. In the immediate aftermath of my previous review, it was pleasing to see a six page treatment of the first Zeppelin bombing of London on 31 May 1915 with the murderous route of LZ38 and every single one of its bombs mapped.

zeppelin page

So you’ll find both the familiar and a pleasing amount of the unfamiliar here, but the point is, all of it comes across as fresh.

The walks vary in distance from just under a kilometre to around 10K. Of course, one isn’t obliged to stay the distance. Each route is laid out by the author in elegant, easy-to-read maps which spread across the pages, skilfully integrated with the text descriptions and illustrations.

Bloody London is written in an interesting and matter-of-fact style, compelling material handled in a non-sensational way: as the reader, you feel in good hands. But for me the most impressive thing about this book is that the author has designed and illustrated it himself, and done it quite beautifully. Very few people indeed can do this. Ben Schott is the only other writer I can think of who does this successfully. The upshot is that the pages here are fit to bursting without seeming cluttered. And there are nice touches; every spread contains a tiny diagram telling you the exact distance of that part of the walk. Little additions which produce a very satisfactory whole.

At 174 x 150 mm the book is slightly larger than what one might call pocket size, but still small enough for easy handling and legibility on  your walks.
composite

This is definitely a book worth owning, whether you use it on the road or simply to have an enjoyable read.


Bloody London (128pp) by David Fathers is published by Conway in paperback, fully illustrated in full colour, with a cover price of £9.99.

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200_Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Attributed to John Riley, c.1680, The Clothworkers Company

Pepys, Attr to John Riley, c.1680, © The Clothworkers Company

Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.

Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.

A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!

The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © The National Maritime Museum.

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © National Maritime Museum.

Pepys's tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Pepys’s tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.

 

Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.

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