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Book Review: Bloomsbury – A Square Mile by Edward Arnold

Bloomsbury is home to the British Museum and numerous educational institutions, including the University College London and the University of London. The location is also known for being the home of the Bloomsbury Set, a group of famous British intellectuals, including author Virginia Woolf and economist John Maynard Keynes. However for many visitors to the area, despite the Georgian streets and attractive garden squares, Bloomsbury is not really considered a place to explore.

A new book by Edward Arnold entitled Bloomsbury, A Square Mile challenges many assumptions about Bloomsbury and explores the area’s rich past and its dynamic present. The author in his introduction considers the book as a history and present day guide of the Bloomsbury area. The book is also a personal journey for the author who was born and spent his early years in the area.

One of the early questions in the book is where is Bloomsbury? This is a good question because like many London neighbourhoods, there are often debates around boundaries. The author decides to create his own boundaries with Euston Road in the north, Gray’s Inn Road in the east, Holborn to the south and Fitzrovia to the west.

The book features a short history of the area that gives some insights into its unique development. For centuries, Bloomsbury was a rural area before development started in the 17th century, the Russell family in particular owned considerable parts of the estate. The founding of the British Museum in the 18th century and the development of education and medical institutions in the 19th century gave the area its particular character and attracted residents from the upper or middle classes. The book includes a section on the Bloomsbury Group who fascinated and shocked British social attitudes at the beginning of the 20th century.

The main part of the book takes the reader through various distinct areas within Bloomsbury to explore some of the well known and not so well known stories. The fascinating story of the Foundling Hospital includes the Sad Tale of the Marchmont Street Tokens. Sections on the development of the Great Ormond Street Hospital and other medical institutions illustrate the pioneering spirit of the area, it is hardly surprising that Charles Dickens lived and prospered when he lived in Doughty Street.

The author makes the valid point that the entire central part of Bloomsbury can be described as one large university campus with the various education institutions including the University of London and University College London. Where there are students, there is usually a lively social scene and the book includes a number of pubs and shops of interest.

Modern Bloomsbury is not ignored, with sections on the Brunswick shopping centre and many of the quirky bookshops in the area.  Many of the famous squares in the area that are welcome oasis of peace for students and visitors have their own interesting stories.

One of the strange aspects of Bloomsbury is that it is familiar yet little understood, this fascinating and informative book gives the reader considerable insight into one of London’s more enigmatic areas. This comprehensive book with plenty of illustrations and photographs is useful to those who want to explore the area for the first time and seasoned London explorers who wish to find many of its hidden delights.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and buy a copy, visit the Amazon website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide.com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

Book Review – Walk through History: Victorian London by Christopher Winn (Ebury Press)

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

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide.com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

Book Review – Only in London by Duncan J. D. Smith (The Urban Explorer)

Only in London is one of a series of guidebooks written by Duncan J.D .Smith who is known as ‘The Urban Explorer’. The author is a travel writer, historian, and photographer who had worked for many years in the publishing industry dealing with travel writers‘  books.  In 2003, Duncan decided to start writing and publishing his own guides which have seen him writing books about Berlin, Budapest, Cologne, Edinburgh, Hamburg, Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna, and Zurich.

This particular book finds the author exploring some of the hidden gems of London and searching for “Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects”. The intention of the author “is to enable readers to acquaint themselves not only with the surviving treasures of old London but also to savour the delights of the new”.

Unusually, the author uses postcodes to create the different sections of the book with each section including a series of articles that range from The Ruins of Roman Londinium to Banksy’s Falling Shopper.

In the last decade or so, there have been a large number of guidebooks that have followed a similar format exploring Secret or Hidden London. However, this book is more concerned about telling the ‘stories’ behind the location or object. Therefore we have a series of imaginative titles such as Pickled Toads and Dodo Bones, Sustenance in Strange Places, The Horse Hospital and Other Galleries, Foundlings and the Messiah, Bolt-holes for Bookworms and Walking on Greta Garbo.

Some articles are themed, so the reader can look for Hawksmoor’s Rockets, go on a Historic Pub Crawl, find Medieval Church Survivors, explore Theatreland and enjoy Waters, Walks and Gardens Green. 

In many of these ‘stories’, the author considers the historical, cultural and social context to understand a building, object or location. It is this level of detail that takes this book to a different level in comparison with its competitors. The book includes maps and colour photographs to illustrate particular aspects of the narrative that provide the reader with a visual as well as a written reference point. The book also includes a useful list of opening times and a bibliography for those readers who would to take their London related reading further.

Only in London is a fascinating introduction for the first time visitor or the experienced London explorer, the author manages to be authoritative without being overly academic and takes the reader on an enjoyable wander through some of London’s lesser known sights and provides some interesting fresh perspectives on well-known sights. The author impressively weaves the past and present together to give a sense of change in the capital but also highlights the sense of continuity in London.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information , visit the Only in Guides website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

Book Review – Secret London (An Unusual Guide) by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash (Jonglez Publishing)

The Jonglez range of guides reflect the founder’s interest in the curious and the offbeat, Thomas Jonglez after finishing a Business degree decided to travel around the world, hitchhiking through South America was followed by trips to China, Tibet, India, Pakistan and many other countries.

When he arrived back in Paris he decided to write his first guidebook “Paris 300 lieux pour les curieux” , the first guidebook he published himself was Bruxelles insolite et secret (Secret Brussels)(2003), and its success led him to set up a partnership with Michelin who distributed the guides throughout most of Europe. The early success of the guides proved that the model worked and Jonglez Publishing has steadily expanded publishing guides and other books in a number of languages.

Secret London (An Unusual Guide) written by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash works on the Jonglez philosophy of Local Guides by Local people, both the authors are London ‘obsessives’ with an eye for the strange and unusual.

The guide lists a large number (over 300) of unusual and little known aspects of the city listed in nine distinct areas, many of the “secrets” are described in detail accompanied by a full-page photograph. The writing is informative but with a sense of humour which keeps within the overall ethos of the Jonglez Guides, it is interesting that many of the “secrets” are not necessary hidden in out of way places but are in full view of thousands who pass by them every day.

Falling in this category is York House Watergate, Britain’s Smallest Police Station in Trafalgar Square, London’s First Drinking Fountain in Holborn, London Wall on Tower Hill and Cab Shelters.

Some of the more unusual London museums are featured including The Foundling Museum, The British Optical Museum, The Garden Museum, The Clown’s Gallery and Museum, The Ragged House Museum and The Florence Nightingale Museum.

The guide provides plenty of opportunities for visitors to explore the darker side of London with the macabre delights of the Hunterian Museum, the Dead House, The Cornhill Devils and Relics of the Elephant Man.

On the lighter side, visitors can search for Min’s Penis, Boris Anrep’s Mosiacs, The Fortnum and Mason Clock, The Golden Boy of Pye Corner and the Puppet Barge.

Many cities have places that are only known to locals, guides like these allow these ‘secret’ locations to be more widely known and enjoyed. London is especially fortunate to have a wide range of locations that help to illustrate the history of this remarkable city.

This fascinating and attractive guide will certainly appeal to visitors who wish to go off the well-trodden paths of most London Guides, it will also appeal to Londoners who wish to explore some of the obscure nooks and crannies of the city.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to buy a copy of the book, visit the Publishers website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

 

Book Review – London Theatres by Michael Coveney and Peter Dazeley (Frances Lincoln)

Few would argue that London is the undisputed theatre capital of the world. However most theatregoers focus on the action on the stage and often pay scant regard to their surroundings. This new book ‘London Theatres’ takes readers on a tour of forty-six London theatres with stories of the architecture, the people and the productions by leading theatre critic Michael Coveney and a series of stunning photographs of the public areas, auditorium and backstage by acclaimed photographer Peter Dazeley.

Award winning actor Mark Rylance writes the foreword for the book, describing the interaction between the actor and the theatre space. One of the first actions he takes when entering a theatre is to look up at the ceiling, if there is some kind of circular device, he is convinced that the theatre experience will be fine.

The book considers 46 London Theatres as they stand in the 21st Century, ranging from the grand Royal Opera House to the lesser known delights of Wilton’s Music Hall. The theatres are divided into chapters that illustrate some of the remarkable diversity of London Theatres, these include  Grandes Dames, Palaces of Pleasure, Popular Landmarks, Informal Delights, Legends Alive, Hidden Gems, Eastward Ho! and West End Jewels.

Michael Coveney in the book’s introduction considers that to understand many of London’s theatres development, it is important to study the architectural and cultural context. Although for centuries, theatre was a favourite British national pastime, by the 1980s thousands of theatres around the country have been lost. Remarkably, the West End of London has been resilient and constantly reinventing itself, even new theatres have sprung up to provide a platform for different types of drama. Although many of the large theatres are owned by large concerns, they have often spent millions of pounds to restore the decaying fabric of many old theatres.

The book begins with the opulence of the Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Haymarket and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, these ‘Grand Dames’ provide evidence of intriguing history, decorative splendour and more rustic back stage. One of the themes of the book is the contrast between the front and back of house with grandiose design schemes and often Heath Robinson contraptions that create the atmospheric magic from back stage.  Peter Dazeley’s remarkable range of photographs take us on a journey in the theatres where often things are not what they seem to be and the glitz and glamour is often a mere façade.

One theatre that has redefined the theatre going experience is Shakespeare’s Globe, the wooden recreation of one of the famous theatres from the time of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson illustrate that the connection between actors and audience was not always as clearly defined as modern theatres and the more basic seating or standing can provide a wonderfully different theatrical experience.

The connection between audience and actors has been one of the guiding lights of the more modern theatres which have often gone back to basics, Donmar Warehouse, the Young Vic and the Almeida Theatre suggest that it is important to concentrate on the quality of the drama rather than worrying too much about ornate splendour of the surroundings.

The book is full of wonderful stories and anecdotes from the theatrical world with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane holding the record for the number of ghosts stalking the building. Often it is the ghosts of the past that make a meaningful connection between theatre and theatregoer. Many of the great actors and actresses of the past have trod the London theatre boards and it often is considered their presence is still there in the memories of the audience and fellow actors.

This fascinating and important book puts the selected London Theatres centre stage with the illuminating photographs by Peter Dazeley  and intelligent commentary by Michael Cloveley. Generally, because so much time is focused on the action upon the stage, relatively little is written or shown about the part the actual theatre plays in creating the right environment for a successful performance.  The nature of theatre and drama is often about illusion and make-believe and this book illustrates the interesting part the theatre plays in this process. Walking into an opulent building indulges the fantasy that you are entering something extraordinary and amazing things will happen on stage. Even the theatres that have gone back to basics are creating a different kind of illusion that draws the audience into the make-believe world of theatre. This intriguing book provides plenty of evidence that the whole structure of a theatre is often as much part of the performance as the action on the stage.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a copy of the book, visit the Publishers website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : Australia’s Impressionists – edited by Christopher Riopelle (National Gallery)

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Impressionism is considered a European art movement, however this book and the National Gallery’s new exhibition Australian Impressionists due to open in December 2016 provide evidence that the movement had a wider global influence and inspired a group of Australian artists who became known as the ‘Australian Impressionists’.

The first chapter in the book entitled Australia’s Impressionists in a World Context by Christopher Riopelle considers how the rise of national self-consciousness in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led to artists in Scandinavia, America, Japan and other countries to explore new ways of self-expression. The rise of the Impressionist movement encouraged artists to move outside their studios and paint the world around them. The practice of painting en plein air (in the open air) was often linked to ideas of national identity in many countries.

The complex interaction of these forces is illustrated by looking at the paintings of Tom Roberts (1856–1931), Arthur Streeton (1867–1943), Charles Conder (1868–1909) and John Russell (1858–1930). All of these artists were key players in creating a distinct Australian art movement which although influenced by the European tradition of plein-air painting developed a new Australian landscape style. Three of the artists worked mainly in Australia, however John Russell lived in France for most of his life, and was friends with Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet.  

The second chapter, The Sunny South by Tim Bonyhady charts how Roberts, Condor and Streeton embraced ‘plein-air’ painting to illustrate some of unique qualities of  Australian landscapes. Many of these landscapes portrayed the vastness of the land and oceans and the power of the sun that created a dazzling glare.

The chapter about the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition looks in detail at the exhibition of 1889 which promoted the works of Roberts, Streeton, and Conder. It was staged in Melbourne and provided Australians with their first look at a local variant of the Impressionist movement. The exhibition was the subject of considerable press interest, however the critical reception was mixed with many critics influenced by John Ruskin’s unflattering views on the Impressionist movement. Despite the criticism, Australian Impressionist painters were in the vanguard of asserting a distinctive Australian identity. The chapter Creating a National Identity by Sarah Thomas discusses this process and how a shared new national identity was developed that paid homage to the hard working pioneers such as stockmen, drovers, gold miners and shearers.

Away from the nation building in Australia, John Russell was discovering the landscape of Brittany. Russell’s relationship with Tom Roberts in particular provided a bridge between the latest developments in Europe and the Australian movement. Russell tried to communicate to Roberts some of the techniques of French Impressionism especially in the use of colour. What effect these views had on Roberts and the other Australian impressionists is difficult to know but they did provide a direct link between artists thousands of miles apart.

This fascinating book explores the little known works of Australia’s Impressionists within the wider context of Impressionism as an international phenomenon.  The late 19th and 20th centuries were times of great political and social movements that sought to challenge the ‘old order’, art often played a part in these movements by creating images that portrayed favourable aspects of a particular identity. Looking through the stunning illustrations in the book, it is possible to identify how the ‘modern image of Australia’ was being gradually created by the artists which was vastly different from concepts of the British empire. Tom Roberts’ A Break Away and Arthur Streeton’s Fire On are reminiscent of images of the American Wild West, evoking ideas of pioneers creating a new land. It was these types of images that gained in popularity in Australia in the early  20th century. 

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to buy a copy, visit the National Gallery website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review – Mathematics : How it Shaped Our World by David Rooney (Scala Arts and Heritage Publishers Ltd)

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Mathematics is often accused of being remote from everyday life, however this book and  the Science Museum’s landmark new Mathematics: The Winton Gallery due to open in December 2016 provide evidence that mathematical work underpins some of our most fundamental human concerns.

Mathematics : How it Shaped Our World by David Rooney explores the collections of the Science Museum to understand how 400 years of mathematical practice have shaped  human activities including war, peace, money and trade.

The author considers that Mathematics is often too rigidly defined around theorems and practice which obscures the way that mathematical practice is fundamental in our everyday life. The author quotes historian Stephen Johnson who considers that recent specialisations in Mathematics  is at odds with the Renaissance concept of the discipline, ‘Mathematics then incorporated not only elements that we would now recognise as mathematics but a host of other activities and arts that today are seen belonging to science and technology’.

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The book adopts this wider concept in the first few chapters when exploring Trade and Travel, War and Peace, Money, Life and Death, Form and Beauty, Maps and Models.

Underlying many of these subjects is the idea of measurement, empires have been born and lost on the back of trade and central to many empires has been the standardisation of weights, volume and length. In the 17th,18th and 19th centuries, the increasing importance of international maritime trade depended on the ability to have accurate navigation and map making of new lands. Longitude in particular was a considerable problem which led to considerable loss of ships and lives.

Colonial conquest often led to conflict and it is often said that war provides many elements that favours innovation. The chapter on War and Peace illustrates how the technologies of war in the 20th century led to the development of computing and electronics.

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Money is central to all economies and mathematics is fundamental to the smooth running of many aspects of those economies. The chapter on Money looks at the tools of mathematics including the abacus, Samuel Morland’s calculating machine from the 17th century and the pocket calculator. However it was not just the tools but the mathematical models that have become central to understanding the economics of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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If you think Mathematics is not a matter of life and death, chapter four provides plenty of evidence that it has become central to the understanding of medical and insurance statistics. In the 19th century in particular, many reformers used statistics to expose many social problems. Whilst most of these reforms provided social benefits, the work of Francis Galton and the ‘eugenics’ movement exposed more disturbing elements of social engineering.

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Few would describe Mathematics ‘ beautiful’, however the chapter on Form and Beauty explores how the use of geometrical rules of proportion reveals the beauty of nature and have been a useful tool for designing buildings. Perspective has also played a major role in the history of art and the design of gardens, the major formal gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries were designed to express harmony with nature using mathematical symmetry.

The chapter on Maps and Models illustrates that human beings for thousands of years have attempted to map the heavens and the earth. Greek mathematician Euclid’s use of geometry was adopted by many and inspired a number of technological advances to refine the measurement of space and time. The power of computers have revolutionised the ability to apply mathematics to particular problems and develop models to provide solutions.

A series of essays at the end of the book by Jim Bennett, Patricia Fara, June Barrow –Brown, Dame Celia Hoyles and Helen Wilson attempt to consider the past of mathematics and look how the discipline may develop in the 21st century. Hoyles and Wilson in particular, point out that mathematics is a dynamic, ever-changing discipline that is at the forefront of the digital world.

This fascinating and entertaining book challenges a number of preconceptions of the nature of mathematics. Rather than being confined to the abstract margins of everyday life, the author places mathematics at the centre of the modern world. The large number of attractive illustrations and photographs in the book provide visual evidence that mathematics have been central to many technological advances which have transformed human society. It is difficult to argue with the author who suggests the role of mathematics and mathematicians should be celebrated in a wider cultural sense and not marginalised by a rigid definition.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or to buy a copy, visit the Science Museum website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in  2014 , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here