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Book Review – London: Architecture, Building and Social Change by Paul L. Knox (Merrell Publishers)


London: Architecture, Building and Social Change by Paul L. Knox (Merrell Publishers)

London’s diversity is truly remarkable, not just in its population but also its urban landscape with buildings of different centuries and architectural styles often occupying the same district. It is this unique distinctiveness of London that provides the focus of this book, London: Architecture, Building and Social Change. However to fully understand London’s development, the author contends  you must consider its economic, social and architectural history.

Fundamental to any understanding of London’s development is its rather unique history, as the author points out  ‘London did not grow from a single commercial, ecclesiastical or administrative centre’ but rather ‘ has grown piecemeal from an archipelago of villages and town centres to become a conglomerate metropolis of interdependent districts with twin cores.” Over time every district within this metropolis developed its own distinctive cityscape and instantly recognisable landmarks.

To illustrate this point, the twin cores of London, the City of London and Westminster developed over time to take on particular functions, The City of London was a commercial centre from Roman times whereas it was not until the 11th Century that Westminster became the centre of royal justice and administration.

The author considers in London’s development, a series of events had a major effects on the course of that development. First of all was Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, which took land away from the church which was transferred into private hands, therefore establishing the Great Estates. The Great Fire of 1666 swept away much of medieval London and bought about considerable building works. The coming of the Railways in the 1830s and 1840s bought a disruptive technology which tore up some London suburbs and bought access to large areas of the suburbs. Just as disruptive was the Blitz and bombings of the 1940s which decimated certain areas that often took decades to recover from.

If major events changed the face of London, so did individuals and the author suggest that a particular cast of characters were mainly responsible for widespread change. Amongst this cast were landowners, developers, architects, engineers, reformers, philanthropists and mayors.

To illustrate this interplay between events, people and architectural styles in real life, the author selects twenty-seven districts to discover their own distinctive character and pedigree. In the context of London’s general development, the book then considers the district’s specific developments that highlights the continuities and change within the specific areas.

A number of the districts show little change especially those built by the great landowners of London, areas such as Belgravia, Mayfair, Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge were built for the elites and due to their status managed to avoid much of the destructiveness of the railways and industrialisation. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Camden and  Paddington whose initial rural status was decimated by the canals and railways.

If money and influence were mainly situated in the West London, there is little doubt that for much of the nineteen century, the negative effects of industrialisation such as  poverty, crime, disease and unemployment were concentrated in East London. The sections on Whitechapel, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green pay testament to the role that reformers and philanthropists played in these areas to create a safer and healthier environment.

In many ways the south bank of the Thames has been the poorer relation to the north and the sections on Borough, Southwark, Bankside and Lambeth illustrate that they were for centuries populated by industry and working class residential areas. However, the South Bank and Bankside’s more recent riverfront transformation as a location of entertainments is actually a return to the area’s function in medieval times onwards.

It is perhaps the areas between the extremes of wealth and poverty that show the greatest diversity, districts like Bloomsbury, Notting Hill, Bayswater and Clerkenwell have veered between various degrees of respectability and often attracted the artists, writers and academics who have documented the changing times. The same could said of Soho and Covent Garden, which became locations of respectable and not so respectable entertainments.

This is a remarkably readable and interesting book for anyone interested in the changing urban landscape of one of the world’s most enigmatic cities. It manages to be authoritative without being overly academic, the profile of the development of 27 distinctive districts, illustrated with over 500 original photographs provides a number of insights into the past, present and possible future developments of London. One of the major insights is related to the ongoing gentrification of London areas and the creation of London as a Global city.

This book is an essential reference book for anyone interested in London, written by a leading expert on urbanization. It offers a comprehensive overview of many of the major buildings and landmarks of the city  and provides the context to understand their importance in London’s general development.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended 

If you would like more information or buy a copy of the book , visit the Merrell website here.

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London Department Stores – Harvey Nichols


Harvey Nichols

Location – 109 – 125 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7RJ

Harvey Nichols is a luxury department store in Knightsbridge, the origin of the company began when Benjamin Harvey opened a small linen shop on the corner od Knightsbridge and Sloane Street.

In 1835 the shop was extended, in 1841 Harvey employed James Nichols who became a manager in the company. When Harvey died in 1850, his wife went into partnership with Nichols and the company was renamed Harvey Nichols and Co.

In the late 19th century the original shops were demolished to build a new purpose built department store.

In the late 20th century  Harvey Nichols became known for its luxury items and award winning restaurants. Harvey Nichols has a small amount of stores in the UK and overseas, and in  1996  launched its first stand-alone restaurant in London, the OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar, and Brassiere.

Opening Times

Mon – Sat: 10am – 8pm

Sun: 11:30am* – 6pm (*browsing only between 11:30am – 12 noon)

Store Guide

Floor 5

Foodmarket & Restaurants  Foodmarket, Wine Shop, Fifth Floor Restaurant, Bar & Café, Yo! Sushi, Outdoor Cafe Terrace

Floor 4

Womenswear, Lifestyle & Beauty Services Contemporary Collections, Sneaker Wall, Accessories, Daniel Hersheson Salon, Beyond MediSpa, Customer Services

Floor 3

WOMENSWEAR  Leisurewear, Contemporary Collections, Denim Gallery, Lingerie, Hosiery, Swimwear, Shoes, Click + Collect, Style Advisors

Floor 2

WOMENSWEAR  Designer Collections, Childrenswear and Children’s Shoes, Personal Shopping

Floor 1

WOMENSWEAR  International Collections, Contemporary Collections, Designer Shoes, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin

Ground Floor

BEAUTY & ACCESSORIES Beauty, Perfumery, Beyond Beauty, International Handbags, Contemporary Handbags, Accessories, Jewellery, Sunglasses, Blink Brow Bar, Champagne Nail Bar

Lower Ground Floor

MENSWEAR  International Collections, Casualwear, Formalwear, Shirts, Ties, Accessories, Shoes, Wagamama Restaurant

Lower Ground Floor 2

MENSWEAR  Contemporary Collections, Denim, T-Shirt and Sneaker Galleries,

London Department Stores – Harrods



Location – 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1RT

Harrods is one of the most famous department stores in the world, it is located in Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. The store occupies a 5 acre site and has over a million square feet of selling space in over 330 departments, it is the largest department store in Europe.

Harrods was founded in 1834 by Charles Henry Harrod who had run a number of businesses all over London.

In 1849 he relocated to Brompton and took over a small shop on the site of the present store. Harrod’s son Charles Digby Harrod developed the business selling medicines, perfumes, stationary, fruit and vegetables. The great success of the store enables the store to expand as adjoining buildings were acquired. However the success was dampened by a fire in 1883 when the store burnt down, however this did not deter Charles Harrod who made sure all his orders were fulfilled on time.

A new building was built on the site and the store gained a reputation for being the local shop for the rich and famous. The store was the site of the first moving staircase or escalator in London 1898 although it was not an instant success as many customers were scared to use it.

In 1959 Harrods was bought by the House of Fraser group, and in 1985 the Fayed brothers bought the store.

From 1985 to 2010 Mohamed Al Fayed worked hard to consolidate Harrods position as one of the most famous stores in the world and make good its boast that it will provide the customer will almost any service for a price.

In 2010 Harrods was sold to Qatar Holdings for an estimated 1.5 Billion pounds.

Harrods has been the victim of a bomb attack when six people died in 1983 and has a high security presence due to the luxury goods on the premises.

Up to 300,000 customers visit the store on busy days, they are served 5000 staff in 330 departments. There are 32 restaurants, personal shopping, a bank, a barbers shop, amongst numerous other services.

Opening Hours

Mon to Sat 10am-8pm

Sun 12pm-6pm