Books by the dozen about London life

PUBLISHED: 09:52 04 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:33 07 September 2010

I DON T know how many books in total have been published about London, but if the number we get into this office every month is anything to go by, it must be several billion at least. Here are another five – all of them either already on the bookshelves o

I DON'T know how many books in total have been published about London, but if the number we get into this office every month is anything to go by, it must be several billion at least.

Here are another five - all of them either already on the bookshelves or coming before Christmas, and all of them well worth pointing out to you.

I'll start with my favourite, the wonderful London Lore by Steve Roud (Random House, £20). Subtitled the Legends and Traditions of the World's Most Vibrant City, it's a fantastic collection of ancient legends and deep-rooted customs. Folklorist Steve Roud brings together a wonderful selection of the capital's stories - fabled events, heroes and villains, ghosts and witches and so on - richly illustrated (the jacket is almost worth the money on its own) it'll keep you fascinated for hours.

On a similar subject The Folklore of London by Antony Clayton (Historical Publications, £18.95) also explores and explains the myths, legends and ceremonies that comprise part of London's history. The two books do, of course, tread the same ground but where they differ is that while Roud's book tackles the subject by area, Clayton's does it by subject. So if you're only interested in north London, it's easier to get your info from Roud but if you want to know all there is about legendary Londoners, say, Clayton does it better. You pay your money and take your choice.

Moving on, The London Cookbook by Jenny Linford (Metro Publications, £14.99) is a celebration of the capital's food culture with recipes, reminiscences and the like. Far more than just a cookbook, it's crammed full of entertaining pictures and stories from the classic fry-up (it made me hungry just looking at the picture) to Marine Ices' Knickerbocker Glory - here the picture made me want to run down to Haverstock Hill to get one and I don't even like ice cream.

The London We Have Lost by Richard Tames (Historical Publications, £22.50) is one of those books which features both fascination and disappointment on just about every page - fasination at the history, disappointment that we'll probably never see its like again. The Highgate Cable Tramway, opened in 1884, was Europe's first cable tramway and 50,000 people used it in its first 17 days of operation. Sadly in 1892 one of the cars broke loose with disastrous results and the system fairly rapidly closed down, running its last car in 1909 preceded by a man playing songs on a cornet. For a taste of the original cars, the book says, travel on one in San Francisco where the cable tramway system was invented by the man whose assistant installed the trams at Highgate.

If you found that interesting, remember that's just one paragraph from a book with more than 200 pages.

Last but not least, London The Autobiography by Jon E Lewis (Constable, £25) tells the story of the capital by those who lived it from Tacitus and The Venerable Bede through Pepys and Dostoevsky (with his heart-breaking eye-witness account of prostitution on the Haymarket in 1862) right up to survivors of the London Bombings of July 7, 2005. As you would expect, some bits are more interesting than others. But if you ever needed proof of Dr Johnson's famous quotation about the city, it's all here in spades.

David Crozier


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