Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘War’

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.

Read Full Post »

A Guest Post by Stephen Cooper.

In research for my book of the Great War told through the experiences of men from one London rugby club, I stumbled across a neglected landmark with a poignant tale. In 2010 I wrote these opening words for a chapter:

“Head south over London Bridge, towards Borough High Street, the old coaching road to Kent. Southwark cathedral crouches to the right and the clumsy bulk of the station’s viaduct looms ahead. Look for a once-splendid, once-white façade: an elaborate blend of arch, balustrade and ornament, with carved swags of hops, grapes and even a stag’s head. Now grey with soot, this, like Miss Havisham’s wedding-cake, is a ghost of a building.

The hands of its clock with black Roman numerals are fixed at 11.47 as they have been since the early 1960s. Ragged shrubs sprout from crevices where no plant should grow, and the faïence frontage offers a tempting canvas to the graffiti artist. This wan face among grimy walls and thrusting plate-glass neighbours like the Shard is a ghostly survivor from another era. It is a corner of the capital where time has indeed stopped.

For over a century, Findlater’s Corner has been a familiar sight to the southbound City worker, ‘passed or seen by more persons every day than any other spot in London’*. The current structure is shrunken from its Victorian original by the encroachments of railway and advertising hoardings. Peter Ackroyd’s London the Biography observes the lingering spirit of place that binds many capital landmarks to their past. Call this instead a ‘place of spirit’, for today it is a branch of an eccentric national wine-seller, evoking its first incarnation in 1856 as headquarters of Findlater, Mackie, Todd & Co. Ltd, Wine & Spirit Merchants.

In the cruellest month of April 1915, a boy brings a curt telegram from the War Office to these same premises, addressed to the Chairman. Its formulaic words, by now dreaded in households across the country, regret a death in the family. A brother, husband and father are all fallen in one man. Since that day another spirit has haunted this corner: the gregarious wine-merchant, soldier and international rugby player, Alec Todd.”

The chapter goes on to tell of Todd’s experience as a British Lion rugby player in South Arica in 1896, of his fighting the Boer War there four years later and of his death near Ypres in 1915. He had nominated his brother, James, as Next of Kin (NOK) so that wife Alice would not hear the fateful knock at her Ascot door. He was shot through the neck at Hill 60 east of Ypres on April 18. The National Archive shows a flurry of telegrams from the War Office to the Norfolk Regiment depot to ascertain the correct NOK. By the time the ‘serious wounding’ telegram arrives at Findlater’s Corner three days later, CaptainTodd is dead in a Casualty Clearing Station near Poperinghe.

clock findlater's corner

Picture: Stephen May.

The stopped clock was much photographed and internet searches revealed a history of graffiti headaches for the Council. The romantic in me speculated whether the telegram had arrived at 11:47 that April morning in 1915. Had the clock stopped perhaps on the 50th anniversary of Alec’s death? No way of knowing, but it made a good story. That is, until October 27, 2012.

This was the afternoon, three months after the book’s publication, when riding over London Bridge on my trusty Vespa, I glanced up to find the hands at 02:30. Aghast, I enquired inside: ‘Ah, that would be Boris’, I was told. Turns out our esteemed Mayor, bicycling to a meeting at his nearby City Hall, had trusted the clock’s time, only to arrive late. In a fit of civic efficiency, he commanded that a Derby clockmaker be summoned to restore the clock and change the ‘hands of time’. Thanks, Boris. The story is too good to lose, but I have relegated the Mayor’s intervention to a footnote – by way of revenge.
Todd maintains his mystique even in death. He is buried in ‘Pop’ but is also named on the Menin Gate, memorial to those with no known grave. Better that he is doubly remembered than he, or any man, be forgotten.

The full story and many other London nuggets can be discovered in ‘The Final Whistle: the Great War in Fifteen Players’ by Stephen Cooper, (Spellmount ) £14.99 from all the usual sources and also this month’s LH Members’ prize draw, don’t forget to enter.

*The Wine Trade Review  9 November 1934.

Read Full Post »