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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 : London by Design by London Transport Museum ( Ebury Press )

design trans

Unlike many major cities, London has a fully integrated transport system which is run by Transport for London (TfL ) and includes the London Underground ( Tube ), buses, rail, tram, river services, taxis, cycling and major roads throughout the capital. This book is part of TfL’s Transported by Design celebrations especially relating to the exhibition named ‘designology’ at the London Transport Museum which takes place throughout 2016.

The Design icons in the book have been voted upon by Londoners to produce a top 10 in a collection that is curated by experts at the London Transport Museum and showcases London’s 100 greatest transport design icons from the past 150 years. Each entry in the book includes a quote from a member of the public who nominated the icon, information from a curator about the design and details where the icon can be seen.

The initial top ten present many of the most famous icons including the black cabs, Harry Beck’s tube map, the Roundel, the Routemaster bus, the RT type bus from the 1930s and the modern S stock trains on the underground. The work of legendary designer Frank Pick is celebrated by many people, however the inclusion of the Baker Street Station Platforms, the Labyrinth artwork and Westminster Station in the top ten may surprise a few readers.

Many of the designs are so familiar to Londoners that they can be often hidden in plain sight, TfL’s exclusive Johnston font illustrates how a simple design introduced in 1916 has been adapted for use for over a century. A number of the entries provide evidence of the remarkable number of innovations that been introduced in the network over the last 150 years. The distinctive Moquette fabric used all over the system was first introduced in the 1920s, Oyster cards arrived in 2003, the Legible London Wayfinding system has been helping lost Londoners and visitors since 2007, the Docklands Light Railway open in 1987, Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Lights began in 2011, Cycle Hire Bikes were introduced in 2010 and the Emirates Air Line cable car took flight in 2012.

Eye-catching posters have often decorated the walls of tube stations, the book includes the jazzy Brightest London poster of 1924, the surreal Man Ray poster of 1938 and the artistic Tate gallery by Tube poster of 1987. Art both inside and outside underground stations have for decades have been a feature of the system, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics at Tottenham Court Road, the Charing Cross murals by David Gentleman, the Leslie Green tiles from 1906, the East Finchley Archer and the Wrapper artwork at Edgware Road all make it into the top 100 icons.

The rest of the entries are a mix of interesting station buildings, different types of vehicles, signage and equipment. Perhaps some of the bizarre entries are the regulator dials at Broadway, the lift grilles at Mornington Crescent Station, the Routemaster Window winder of 1954 and Wilfred the Rabbit which was perched on the radiator cap of some buses in 1922.

Although many Londoners have a love/hate relationship with the transport system depending if it is working or not, this book illustrates why both Londoners and visitors are fascinated by the system. London by Design takes a closer look at many of the iconic designs from London Transport using stunning images, drawings, artwork and photography from the London Transport Museum’s archive to tell some of the remarkable stories behind their creation.

This attractive and entertaining book will appeal to a wide range of people with an interest in transport, design, art or architecture. Spotting many of the wide range of design icons will also provide plenty of entertainment for both Londoners and visitors as they travel around London’s extensive transport system.

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 : London on Two Wheels – 25 Handpicked Rides to Make the Most out of the City ( Ebury Press )

cycle two222

London’s cycle hire scheme sponsored by Santander is one of the capital’s great success stories, in 2014 over 10 million journeys were made and there are now more than 10,000 bikes available from over 700 docking stations. Many of the journeys may have been over a relatively short distance but the cycles are a familiar sight on London streets and are popular with Londoners and visitors. This pocket guide is produced to introduce people to the scheme and provide practical information to encourage the use of cycling in London.

The guide begins with a clear explanation of the scheme and a quick look at cycling safety and etiquette which illustrates some of the tips that will help people enjoy their ride and avoid some of the pitfalls. Next is a quick resume of some of the reasons for using cycling as a fresh and healthy alternative to public transport to explore the city.

The rest of the guide offers 25 routes across the city which include maps detailing each route, highlighting landmarks and points of interest along the way. Whilst many guides may offer cycling routes, this guide offers specific routes that take in the particular specification of the bicycles in the TFL ‘Bike for Hire’ scheme. Therefore the distance for routes tend to be within the 5km (3 miles) to 10km (6 miles) range which allows plenty of time to discover some the cultural treasures and hidden gems of the city.

The routes cover Central, North, South, East and West London and provide the distance, profile ( flat or hilly ), pick up docking station and drop off docking station. There are detailed written instructions for the route accompanied by a full colour map on the following page. Interesting snippets of information for places of interest complete each route.

One of the  first routes, The Sites of the Southbank offer an incredible diverse array of attractions in a relatively short ride. Starting from near the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, you cross the river at Westminster bridge to explore the full delights of the Southbank. A number of top attractions come in quick succession before passing centres of music, art and theatre finishing near Tower Bridge.

The rest of the routes offer endless variety with The Wild West End, London’s Burning and the West Bank of the Fleet River telling the story of the capital’s historic centre. If you want to explore London’s famous parks, follow the Gardens, Parks, Monuments and Memorials and Green to Green by Old Mary Le Bone routes.
One of the major changes on London in the last decade has been in the East of the city, The Old East End, Tower to Tower and New Hackney will introduce you to this new vibrant area. Old meets new with the canals and the Olympic Park, the Victoria, Elizabeth and Lea and Inland Cruising routes will take you off the beaten track to find some of the lesser known delights of the city.

The River Thames has been the lifeblood of the city for centuries and the Bermondsey Spa and Rotherhithe Coast, Round the Bend ( Hammersmith ) and Barnes, Birds, Boats and Beaches routes  show the different character of the river. For those who want to get away from the crowds, the To the Heights of Hampstead Heath and Deer Watching at Richmond Park routes offer large areas of parks to explore. The guide-book provides 25 routes, however it is possible to join some of the routes together to create other routes that will take you all over the capital.

This wonderfully compact, informative  and practical guide provides all you need to know to use the TFL ‘Bike for Hire’ scheme and will help you safely explore the multifaceted attractions of London. Although ideal for visitors, the guide-book will be also very useful for Londoners who would like to explore the city on two wheels. The short distances of many of the routes mean that they are ideal for children to undertake to enable the whole family to take part. For all the popularity of cycling in London, some of the roads in the city are not particularly ‘bike friendly’ and the guide steers the cyclist away from these routes to safer and more pleasant routes.

Whether you are visiting London on a short visit or here for a longer stay, cycling is one of the options to get around the city. Using this comprehensive guide will clarify the hire process and provide plenty of options to get the most out of your time in London.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a copy, visit the Random House website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the 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 : Sherlock Holmes, The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die ( Ebury Press / Museum of London)

sherlock front page

Sherlock Holmes is one of the great fictional characters of British literature, whose popularity has endured for over the last 100 years. Part of the character’s popularity is his appearance in the numerous film, TV and theatre adaptations.
For the first time in over 60 years, the character becomes the subject of a major exhibition at the Museum of London. To accompanying the exhibition, the curator Alex Werner has compiled this book which explores how Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes can only be fully understood in the context of the transformation of London into a centre of Empire. The book features articles written by leading experts, headed by Sir David Cannadine, and offers some new insights into the famous detective and explores some of the real life characters and events that influenced the fiction.

The first article in the book is entitled “A Case of Mistaken Identity” written by Sir David Cannadine which considers ” how the late 1880s were a remarkable and transformative era in the history of London. ”  This transformation consolidated London’s position as not just a national capital but also the centre of the British Empire. However for all the wealth being accrued, it was the concerns of the poverty and crime that made many of the headlines. It is out of this crucible of wealth and poverty that Conan Doyle developed the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sir David Cannadine makes the important point that it is important to distinguish between Holmes supposed encyclopaedic knowledge of London and Conan Doyle’s limited knowledge of the capital city. In many ways it is ” misleading literary sleight of hand” because Conan Doyle only lived in London for a total of four years and Holmes knowledge is inferred rather than proved by numerous evidence of actual places. Many people have pointed out that many of the Holmes stories took place outside of the London often in Surrey and Sussex, areas that Conan Doyle was very familiar with.

John Stokes in his contribution ” The Bohemian Habits of Sherlock Holmes ” suggests that Holmes’ complex and idiosyncratic behaviour was part of a wider Bohemian movement which cherished individualism, freedom from family responsibilities and playing around with different identities. Stokes also points out that the Holmes often followed the bohemian habit of lounging, loafing and idling which contrasted with his other periods of intense action when he was on a case.

Alex Werner , the curator of the Museum of London exhibition explores ” Sherlock Holmes, Sidney Paget and the Strand Magazine ” and suggests that although ” The detective story was all the rage by the 1880s ” it was the combination of the character, Sidney Paget and the Strand magazine that elevated Sherlock Holmes to the status of the ‘Great Detective’. Sidney Paget’s illustrations in the Strand provided the visual interpretations of Holmes and Watson that would provide the template for the many subsequent interpretations.

If Sidney Paget provides the characters visual template, Pat Hardy in her section called ‘The Art of Sherlock Holmes” investigates how artists and photographers began to record their impressions of London and how these began to be associated with the Holmes stories themselves. The abiding impression of the Holmes stories was “the atmospheric fog and mist, which seems to envelop the city”. Artists such as Monet, Whistler, Pennell and the photography of  Alvin Langdon Coburn produced visual interpretations that illustrate atmosphere and mood rather than straightforward representations.

The success of Sherlock Holmes was a double-edged sword for Conan Doyle, it provided financial security but did not satisfy his ambition to considered ‘a serious writer’. Clare Pettit in the section ‘Throwaway Holmes’ considers this dilemma and how Conan Doyle’s solution to kill off Holmes was to backfire by increasing interest in the character rather than diminish it. When Conan Doyle brings Holmes back to life, it is within the pages of the Strand magazine in self-contained short stories as opposed to the more common serial. In the increasingly information heavy age, this fitted perfectly into the craze for the light reading of Newspapers and Magazines.
Many thought this information was disposable but Holmes himself builds up scrapbooks of information garnered from newspapers. Paradoxically for Conan Doyle it was the success of the Holmes stories in the magazines that was taking readers away from ‘serious writing’.

However the success of Sherlock Holmes did not just rely on the printed work, at the beginning of the twentieth century the embryonic Film industry began to use the stories. Nathalie Morris in the section entitled ‘Silent Sherlocks : Holmes and Early Cinema charts this relationship, the first known film to feature the character of Sherlock Holmes was the 1900 American Film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled. Many others followed but were generally parodies or sketches but more serious versions began to appear which often pitted Holmes against other fictional characters.
In 1911, Conan Doyle sold the Holmes film rights to French Company Eclair but other companies still used the stories, William Gillette who had played Holmes successfully on stage starred in a version in 1915. However it was when British Company Stoll bought the rights to some of the stories that a number of featured length film  were produced.
Most of the versions stayed more or less true to the stories but it was to be a theme up to the present day that many interpretations gave the characters modern settings and modern dilemma’s. Television followed the same path illustrating that Holmes and Watson could not be tied down into one era or even country but became global icons.

Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes have been the subject of countless books, films and television programmes but rarely the subject of an exhibition that bring many of these elements together. Both the exhibition and the book offer new insights into one of the most enduring fictional characters. Calling on the work of experts in the field, this book is full of interesting narratives and a wide range of stunning illustrations which attempt to discover some of the key elements in the character’s development  and the environment that was crucial to its success.

This book will appeal both to Holmes’ aficionado’s and those who would like to find out more about the ‘Great Detective’. It is an authoritative  and highly readable investigation into one of literatures most enigmatic characters.

 Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the Ebury Press 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, we attract 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 : A London Pub For Every Occasion by Herb Lester Associates

london pub

One of the pleasures of living in London is the range of London Pubs that are available, even the most ardent pub crawler would hardy make a dent on covering the estimated 7000 pubs in the Greater London area.

Pub guides are nothing new but are generally concerned with the quality of the beer or  the architecture and history of the pub itself.

A London Pub for Every Occasion is concerned with such things but is more concerned by whether the pub suits your particular mood or needs.

So we get recommendations for pubs to go to on a sunny or a rainy day, somewhere to meet before a show or a trip to a museum, somewhere to chat with friends or if you want to be on your own.

The writer confess his preference for “pubs with real ale, real fires and little or no music; for friendly staff ,dim light and a couple of animals roaming around” but suggest that the selections are based on “dogged research filtered through these prejudices.”

If you get the impression that it was written by a grumpy old man in a quiet pub who likes to stare at his pint and glowers at anyone enjoying themselves, you will be relieved to learn that the reviews of the pubs are actually light and whimsical.

In the section, It’s not too early is it ?, the writer recommends the Simpson Tavern because ” if breakfast in a tavern appeals, but perhaps without the aroma of last night’s slops, at this remarkably unaltered 18th century establishment you can tuck into a full English.”

In the section, When you just want to be alone, our intrepid drinker is in the Fox and Hounds in Chelsea it is “a single room hostelry decorated with junk shop finds. From somewhere above comes the sound of barking dogs, on the top of a bookcase stands a stuffed fox, the barmaid politely but firmly informs a family peering though the door that their licence forbids children. All is serene.”

In the nearest thing to a favourites section, Because there’s nowhere you’d rather be,  we find ourselves at the Three Kings near Farringdon ” it is remarkably ramshackle ,with outlandish décor (the rhino head is unmissable), quiz nights and an air of bonhomie.”

It is within this tone, that the book sweeps though 161 London Pubs giving snapshots of history, quality of beer, ambience  and habits of the locals . The amusing and slightly offbeat illustrations match the text with their attention to many of the pubs interiors and exteriors.

At the back of the book there is a handy fold up map which charts the areas and locations of the pubs.

If any London visitor wants to understand the British or London character they perhaps should study this book and then visit some of the pubs and meet the locals.

This unusual and entertaining guide is the type of book in which to read in a quiet pub, smiling to yourself whilst occasionally staring at your pint and glowering at anyone enjoying themselves.

Visiting London Guide Rating  – Highly Recommended

If you would like to buy a copy of the book visit the Ebury press website here