By Peter Dazeley and Mark Daley
Reviewed by Liz Gwinnell
This is the sort of book you might hope to find in the lobby of a hotel or anywhere you might find yourself with time on your hands.
Beautifully illustrated with Peter Dazely’s photographs and brought to life with Mark Daly’s words, London Explored is a follow-up to their two previously co-authored books and reveals over 60 lesser-known attractions in London.
Whilst the book does pay homage to some of the more well-known venues and illustrious figures from history, it is far more than stately homes and museums. There is something for everyone in this beautiful, sumptuous hardback of a book.
From Annabel’s Club in Berkeley Square with its pink onyx hand basins and gold swan taps in the Ladies’ restrooms, to houses that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, a dip into any section of this book will open a door to a world which fascinates and enthrals.
Divided into six sections, the book gives a unique guided tour through the different areas of London and its environs. All life is celebrated here: from the revival of gin production in East London to God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow which pays homage to all things neon. The book is a tribute to a city which, in many examples, has blended the old and the new and breathed new life into buildings often left in ruins or overtaken by progress.
Keats’s house in Hampstead, for example - where he is said to have composed Ode to a Nightingale under a plum tree in the garden - was saved from demolition by a dedicated committee and restored in the 1970s. Raqib Shaw’s Sausage Factory in Peckham is home to the artist of the same name who has created a living world of fantastical art from a former brick and cement sausage factory. The soiree room is particularly enchanting with its grand piano, oriental carpets and chandelier surrounded with vibrant flowers and luxurious green foliage.
The authors seek out, find and capture in gorgeous photographs, the unusual in the heart of a city that holds many secrets: Southside House, a Tudor-Georgian residence with its Alice in Wonderland chessboard floor, quirky collection of curiosities and gardens that were dug up and used as allotments in World War II; the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill presenting art in a commercial form with its cornucopia of toys, games, puzzles and product packaging which create a colourful and quirky social history of British consumer society.
The book represents all aspects of London life from the industrial to the ecclesiastical; the Bronze Age to the Roman; from iconic music studios to the sombre halls of Bentley Priory Museum in Stanmore used as RAF Fighter Command’s headquarters from July 1936.
But it is not all wars and distant history: the Ace Café on the Old North Circular Road at Stonebridge is a tribute to the leather-clad rockers, jukeboxes and hanging out of the 1960s; the Metropolitan Police Historic Collection has an iconic collection of old police vehicles including panda cars from the 1970s; the City of London Police Museum at Guildhall chronicles the history of the police force operating within the square mile and exhibits items such as a police helmet damaged by the car bomb which exploded outside the Old Bailey in 1973.
Readers could pick out places that they might decide to visit for themselves, or they could just lose themselves in the pages of this beautiful book and let the glossy, sumptuous photographs and descriptive words of the authors take them on a magical mystery tour without ever having to leave their armchairs.