Anyone who has trampled through the streets of London will know of the endless fascination of the capital. However the sheer scale can often be overwhelming and we often take the remarkable variety of buildings, monuments and open spaces for granted. One particular period, many people ignore because it is so commonplace is the Victorian era.
Fortunately, this book Walk through History : Victorian London seeks to rectify this oversight by taking readers on a series of original walks through different areas of central London whilst focusing on one particular period of history, the Victorian.
The author is Christopher Winn, bestselling author of I Never Knew That About London and a self-confessed trivia collector for over 20 years. He makes the point that much of London is Victorian and many of the organisations and institutions that we take for granted originated in this period. Over the course of Queen Victoria’s reign form 1837 to 1901, London’s population grew sevenfold and the capital became the centre of a British empire where the sun never set. To befit this new status, architects and engineers transformed London with churches, schools, hospitals, financial institutions, theatres, residential buildings, bridges, sewers, roads and railways.
Many of the iconic buildings and structures from this period are well-known like the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, St Pancras station , the Royal Albert Hall and the London Underground. However, the author states that “Victorian London is all around us. And yet much of it goes unappreciated, hidden from view by familiarity and everyday life.”
The book provides a guide to appreciating some of London’s Victorian delights with a series of seven walks in different areas of the city. The seven chapters include Walking in Victorian South Kensington, Walking in Victorian Kensington, Walking in the Victorian City, Walking in the Victorian East End, Walking in Victorian Holborn, St Pancras & Bloomsbury, Walking in the Victorian West End and Walking in Victorian Mayfair, St James’s, Victoria, Whitehall & Westminster.
A map at the beginning of each chapter provides a visual look at the route with a series of small sections providing more detail of places of interest. Most of the walks start and finish near an underground station and there are a number of recommended places for refreshments.
In many ways, the format is similar to many books, however it is the book’s design, breadth of knowledge and writing style that sets this book apart from its competitors. The author takes the reader on a walk through Victorian London with a sense of history and wonder, describing the Coalbrookdale Gates, one of the last surviving structures of the Great Exhibition, he suggests that it is “spine tingling to think that they are a product of the workshop that triggered the Industrial Revolution.”
The author is excited by the “fantastical world” of George and Peto’s Collingham Gardens, London’s “finest Victorian lavatories” at the Wesley Chapel, the “rather wonderful, if somewhat forbidding” King’s Cross Police Station, James Smith & Sons is considered “London’s best preserved high-class Victorian shop.”
These are just a few of the many buildings and structures that attract the author’s attention as the reader is taken around Victorian London. If you are unfamiliar with the architects, engineers and philanthropists of Victorian London, more information is given at the end of the book.
This fascinating and attractive book reminds us that Victorian London is often the foundation of the modern city. The design and structure of the book is delightfully old-fashioned with wonderful illustrations by Mai Osawa. In many ways, this book is similar to the Alfred Wainwright guides to the Lake District, both share an idiosyncratic style that is permeated with their affection for their subject matter.
If you are a London obsessive or a visitor who would like to find out more about Victorian London whilst enjoying walking the urban landscapes of the capital, this book will be an invaluable companion.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the Penguin website here
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