Reviewed by Jo East
I picked up this book wondering if it might simply be an addition to that large and ever-growing pile of planned walks of London but was delighted to find a much cleverer and more engaging guide. As a long-time “Curious Wanderer” myself I both know a lot of London’s famous quirks and curios as well as know that there is always more to be discovered. Wandering through the guide I found much that was new to me and where I did know it the description was engaging and often added in some new facts.
Jack is a tour guide who came up through Open City’s Golden Key Academy and if this book is anything to go by his tours must be a complete joy. With a conversational but lucid style the book is arranged in 4 sections. ‘Stepping Through Time’ is a “gallop through 2000 years” pulling out some key London architectural styles and features. ‘Cracking the Capital’s Code’ adds to this by looking at street names and marks that can be found throughout. Part of the ‘Street Furniture’ sparks insight into all the paraphernalia that makes wandering our streets so rewarding. With ‘It’s Only Natural’ Jack gives some fine sites to decipher London’s lost rivers and looks at a few of London’s green spaces. Each section does finish with a walk that nicely echoes its theme, but the book works equally well as a “dip and see” of “what do I know and what’s new.”
In its 165 pages, the book manages to pack in a heap of information and Jack is sensible in acknowledging that some things may be urban myths or that we simply don’t know their true origins. As well as a standard index, there is a listing by postcode which I think is a splendid idea in these days of phone maps.
Beautifully illustrated by Katherine Fraser this book is at home on a table in a boutique hotel in Chelsea to be picked up by the enlightened visitor as it is added to the shelf of any London-phile. It has a great knack for not only giving specific examples but making you think about similar things you might find on your wanderings around this endlessly fascinating City of ours.
A great addition to the library of London loves.