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Peter Murray

 

High Buildings, Low Morals. Another sideways look at twentieth-century London.

by Rob Baker

Reviewed by Don Brown

 

Fans of Rob Baker’s blog ‘Another Nickel in the Machine‘ and his earlier collection of tales of the West End of the 20th century, ‘Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics‘ will not need any further recommendation to buy his new selection of stories of the characters – performers, club owners, crooks and hangers on – from London’s night life.

The title comes from a Noel Coward quote (and Coward is a recurrent visitor throughout the book) “I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings, the lower the morals.” and provides a dozen cause celebres of the last century – huge stories in their time that filled acres of newsprint – which have now been completely forgotten.

There’s Tallulah Bankhead seducing schoolboys at Eton (“We don’t at all mind you taking some of the senior boys over for a smoke or drink or a little sex on a Sunday afternoon. That doesn’t upset me. What does upset me is you giving them cocaine before chapel.“) Or Lord Boothby – formerly Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill – and his deeply suspect ‘friendship’ with Ronnie Kray, or the drug-related death of the actress Billie Carleton in 1918.

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Peter Murray

 

Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the present day

by Peter Ackroyd

Vintage Publishing

Reviewed by David Michon

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

 

As I write this, it’s been just shy of a year since an attack on Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, killed 49 people – the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in US history. Shock at the murders reverberated throughout the United States and much of the world, inciting vigils in dozens of major cities. However, for gay people it was not only concern over yet another major shooting. As theories swirled of the gunman’s intentions, it came to be considered as an attack on the gay community, more precisely.

Gay venues in the US, just as in the UK and in London, are hard-won achievements of the gay community – legal, publicly known places of gay communion. For decades they have served not only as important places of socialising for LGBTQ communities, but also as safe spaces where an oft -misunderstood minority population can feel at ease. They serve a vital and unique function in supporting a marginal group (recall that it was only in 2003 that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation was officially forbidden).

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Peter Murray

 

Hackney Studios: East London creatives and their spaces

by Jenny Lewis

Hoxton Mini Press

Reviewed by Jessica Cargill Thompson

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

Hackney boasts more artists than any other part of the city, with Hackney Wick reputed to be the largest artists’ community in Europe. But street art and craft markets aside, much of the activity takes place behind closed doors.

This photo essay explores the challenges of working alone, and the need to feel connected to other human beings, but it is also a trail along the network of relationships across this creative hub, with each subject recommending the next. Photographer Jenny Lewis, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years, leads us on a highly personal tour, meeting animators, costume designers, sculptors, screenprinters, performance artists, musicians, and more. (Pictured on the cover is props and accessories designer Rosy Nichols who makes ‘things that sparkle’.)

The book has added poignancy, wondering how much longer East London’s artists and makers will be able to stay.

(This review originally appeared in edition 471 of the Journal of the London Society)

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Peter Murray

how to read london

How to Read London: A crash course in London architecture

by Chris Rogers

Reviewed by Don Brown

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

This rather wonderful little book looks at some 100 buildings in London from the 17th century to the 21st and, with short, pertinent text and photos, sketches and drawings of details, explains the architectural significance of each, and how they fit into the building heritage of the capital.

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Peter Murray

 

Reviews by Society member Darren Leftwich of two recent books that have come into the office.

These can be ordered from our bookseller partner John Sandoe Books – click here to find out more.

A great selection of books about London can be found on the John Sandoe London Society page here.

Maps of London’s Transport: Design variety in the first half of the Twentieth Century, John Dodd, Capital History, 2016, HB, £35, 156pp 9781854144003

This large format hardback book covers the developments of all modes of public transport offered in London between 1900 through to 1950. It boasts that it is the first book to cover this topic and time period in this way, and therefore will be a welcome volume on the shelf for those interested in the evolution of the capital’s transport infrastructure as well as those with a more general interest in the more recent growth and development of London.

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Peter Murray

 

john-sandoe-image-for-london-societyWe’re delighted to announce that the Society has partnered with John Sandoe Books to make available the books that we review on this site and in the Journal.

We will also be putting together lists of new books that will be of interest to members, sending out a quarterly email newsletter featuring new titles and selling new editions of classic works.

The aim is to give members a convenient way to acquire the books we recommend while supporting one of London’s independent booksellers. And the London Society will also receive around 10% from the sales – so you can build your library and support the Society at the same time!

You can see the current list of recommended titles here, and we will be working through previous reviews to link directly to the bookshop pages.

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Peter Murray

 

c5v3euswcaabio6The Society’s “Writing London” event last month saw Tom Bolton, Rachel Holdsworth and Andrew Humphreys discussing with London Society Journal editor Jessica Cargill Thompson just what made “great” London writing.

As part of the evening, we asked the audience, and our social media followers, to tell us their favourite London books. We deliberately left it wide open – these could be fiction or non-fiction, biographies, photo books, history, diaries, guide books – whatever.

Given the knowledge and interests of Society members, I was half-expecting a list of worthy history books, architectural monographs and obscure antiquarian oddities, so the first surprise was the number of novels that featured. The second was the breadth of titles mentioned – although a few books were mentioned more than once, no clear ‘winner’ could be said to exist; proof, perhaps of the sheer number of works that continue to be written about or to feature the capital (and the eclectic taste of Society members).

Here are some of those that London Society members recommend. We have now partnered with John Sandoe Books of Chelsea to offer a range of London books direct to members. Click here for more information

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Peter Murray

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This is London

by Ben Judah

Reviewed by Louis Wilkins

Available from the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

[This review appeared in the Journal of the London Society, edition 470. More details here.]

Ben Judah’s eye-opening account of London’s hidden population of Roma beggars and street musicians, of West Indian cocaine dealers, Filipina maids, of pimps and prostitutes and African carers is a timely reminder of the changing make-up of the capital, its increasing levels of inequality as well as the wider pressures of economic migration which, Brexit or no, will continue to have a major impact on our economy and society.

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Peter Murray

9781472479020

The Radical and Socialist Tradition in British Planning: From Puritan colonies to garden cities

by Duncan Bowie

Reviewed by Jonathan Manns

This book can be ordered from our bookseller partner John Sandoe Books – click here to find out more.

[This review appeared in the Journal of the London Society, edition 470. More details here.]

Duncan Bowie is well known within London’s urban-planning circles and his new book, The Radical and Socialist Tradition in British Planning, is a timely and useful contribution to the profession’s history. Set out as a chronological narrative of radical and socialist planning from the late-18th to early-20th century, it’s intended to redress a historiographical imbalance which has traditionally focussed heavily on the influence of middle-class philanthropists.

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Peter Murray

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Zac versus Sadiq: the fight to become London mayor

by Dave Hill

Reviewed by Peter Murray

For dozens of recommended London Books, check out the London Society Book Service in association with John Sandoe Bookshop

[This review appeared in the Journal of the London Society, edition 470. More details here.]

Dave Hill is one of the most perceptive and passionate chroniclers of London and this book, completed 10 days after the mayoral election, is not just a tale of two politicians fighting over one of the best (or, at least, most high-profile) jobs in the business, but a succinct summary of the London issues that politicians find important, or think that we find important.

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