Tag Archives: London books

Bradshaw’s London Guide

CaptureBy the beginning of Victoria’s reign such was the fervour to build railways over 150 companies operated the thousands of miles of track that criss-crossed Britain. Greenwich Mean Time had established a uniform time across the rail network (before each town ran to its own version of time), but travelling across Britain trying to connect with different trains operated by separate companies had become well neigh impossible.

One publication, Bradshaw’s would become the indispensable companion for the traveller, giving timetables for every operator, to the extent that a ‘Bradshaw’ entered into common usage as the name for a reliable timetable.

As late as between the two world wars, the verb ‘to Bradshaw’ was a derogatory term used in the Royal Air Force to refer to pilots who could not navigate well, perhaps related to a perceived lack of ability shown by those who navigated by following railway lines.

[R]ecently Michael Portillo in his television series ‘Great Rail Journeys’ has revived this one-time handy companion and reproductions of this book back on to booksellers’ shelves.

So it was recently that I picked up a copy of the original Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs 1862 published by Conway.

The original volume was produced for visitors coming to the capital for the Great International Exhibition of 1862 and is written as a series of walking tours.

It gives an insight to a London unrecognisable to us today:

Newgate Market, which is productive of considerable inconvenience to the public, from its ill-chosen situation. On market-days it frequently happens that the streets in the vicinity are completely blocked up by the butchers’ carts. In thirteen slaughter houses here, there are as many as 600 sheep, and from 50 to 110 bullocks slaughtered every day. It will, certainly, be a great public convenience, of Old Smithfield, which is close at hand, as suggested, be converted into a dead meat market.

Bridewell a City house of correction . . . the prison affords accommodation for seventy male and thirty female prisoners, who are incarcerated in single cells. The sentences vary from three days to three months. The treadmill is kept in active operation.

Regent Street . . . A new building called the London Crystal Palace, to form a Bazaar, is just completed . . . there is a conservatory, aquarium, and aviary attached.

Soho Square . . . is chiefly tenanted by music publishers and those connected with the music profession. In the centre is a stable of Charles II, in whose reign the ground was principally built upon.

There is also advice for tourists on coping with London smog, avoiding pickpockets, dealing with London’s muddy streets and ferocious din, and many other topics including advice on the hiring of cabs.

Speed and Distance – When hired by distance the driver is bound to drive at a proper speed, not less than six miles an hour, except requested by the hirer to drive at a slower pace, or in cases of unavoidable delay. When hired by time to drive at the rate of four miles an hour, or if desired to drive at a greater speed, the driver shall be entitled to an additional fare of sixpence per mile over and above the four miles per hour.

But the biggest revelation is the table of cab fares:

Leicester Square to the Tower of London – 1s 6d

St. Paul’s Church to the Strand – 6d

Paddington Station (Great Western) to the Lyceum Theatre -2s 6d

This meticulously detailed and comprehensive book makes a fascinating read for anyone interested in London’s rich history.

London literature

[I]t’s that time of year again for when opening a magazine or newspaper you are given a list of suggestions for what to buy as presents at Christmas. So as not be left out here for your Londonophile loved one is a list of book recommendations:

The London Encyclopaedia: Ben Weinreb, Christopher Hibbert and Julia Keay


First published in 1983 this is the definitive reference book to London. The latest edition (2010) has been fully revised, if you need to know about any place or person connected with London this must be your starting point. No book (or website) comes close to the mine of information within this book’s covers. Comprising of 5,000 entries organised alphabetically and cross-referenced, 10,000 people are mentioned in the text and numerous illustrations. It includes everything that is important in the history and culture of the Capital. It should be purchased and studied by any student who undertakes The Knowledge.

London: The Biography: Peter Ackroyd


It was said that when Peter Ackroyd had just finished writing this massive 800-page tome he suffered a heart attack. Nevertheless don’t be put off by its size or scope, this tour-de-force takes you from the earliest settlement by the Thames – or even earlier if you count the geological data – up until near history treating London as if it were a living entity. I know of someone who had read it from cover to cover only to return and re-read it again, but with each chapter self contained the reader can dip in and out of it at will.

The House by the Thames: And the people who lived there: Gillian Tindall


Unlike Ackroyd’s London Gillian Tindall takes you to a single place by the Thames, to be precise a Queen Anne House opposite St. Paul’s which over the last 450 years has seen its fortunes ebb and flow. Reputed, incorrectly, to be the house Sir Christopher Wren had rented while overseeing the building of St. Paul’s the author takes you on a journey through time chronicling the people, trades and landscape of this small area on the South Bank. This is social history at its most enjoyable and last year I made it my Book of the Year.

Bleak House: Charles Dickens


Living at the time in Tavistock House on the site that is now the British Medical Association, Charles Dickens wrote this book filled with characters in London we would recognise today from the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn to the friendly John Jarndyce a party in the long-running litigation, the subject of the story, disputing a manor in South Yorkshire that has dragged on for generations. It is London at its most chaotic and apart from the dirty conditions and deprivation, a subject that Dickens excelled in bringing to a Nation’s attention, little seems to have changed in the Capital.

The Unequalled Self: Claire Tomalin


For 10 years Pepy’s kept a meticulous record of his life in London at a time described as: “a period as intellectually thrilling as it was dangerous and bloody”. He chronicled not just the big events, the Great Fire of London and the Restoration of the Monarchy, but the minutia of life: calling at the local ale house for lunch, groping the maid in his employment and having a kidney stone removed. Meticulously researched this book gives a valuable insight of the day-to-day life during the period by an author who has that rare ability to bring history alive with her enthusiasm.

On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Career of Sir Christopher Wren: Lisa Jardine


If you, like me, regard Christopher Wren as the man who most contributed to the London that we know today, you will want this expansive and scholarly biography to get to know about the man who was architect, mathematician, inventor, anatomist and astronomer. The book contains as much detail that any admirer of this man could ever need, and every time you drive past the glorious dome of St. Paul’s you will give a nod of satisfaction having learnt a lot more after reading this comprehensive work. It is quite simply the definitive life of Wren and his works.

The Little Book of London: David Long


If you want a funny fact-packed compendium of strange facts, loony laws, eccentric inhabitants, crazy trivia and information about London this is the book for you. The Times writer David Long who has written a number of London books gives such gems as: After Charles II’s son the Duke of Monmouth was executed for treason his head was sewn back on so he could sit for a royal portrait. Or that The Duke of Edinburgh collects cartoons of him and has them hanging in the Royal toilet.

Walk the Lines: Mark Mason

Walk The Lines

This is my Book of the Year. Mad he might be but Mark Mason embarked on a mission to truly discover the city on foot by walking the entire length of the London Underground – overground – passing all 269 stations on the way, walking 403 miles and 912,384 footsteps. Yes it is that detailed. Full of facts, anecdotes and personal musings this must be what every blogger aspires to write. It is, put simply, a love letter to a complicated friend, which he celebrates: the sights, sounds and soul of the greatest city on earth.

London Sight Unseen: Lord Snowdon


This beautifully illustrated book by the late Tony Armstrong-Jones is now sadly out of print. One of the greatest portrait photographers of his generation he travelled all over the capital photographing anything unusual that caught his inquisitive eye. The result is a surprising array of unique and varied aspects of architecture so frequently overlooked. With small descriptions on how they came to be built, and for whom and when, showing parts of London even overlooked by a cabbie. This really is a collector’s piece, if you see it in a booksellers snap it up.

The London Nobody Knows: Geoffrey Fletcher


Fletcher has an eye for the quirky, the long forgotten, and the wholly original. Written half a century ago unfortunately a lot of what he described back then is long gone, like the goldfish swimming in the glass toilet cisterns of a Holborn public toilets, but some things remain. The book is more than just a historical curio, the quality of his writing and illustrations make this a worthwhile read. Other books on London may be longer, more comprehensive and more fact-filled, but probably none are as charming, well-illustrated or as fitting a testament to the many eccentricities and quirks of the place we call London as Geoffrey Fletcher’s book.

Walk the Lines

Walk The Lines

As a departure from CabbieBlog’s usual cyber-diatribe, today’s post is a book review.

As a self-confessed Londonophile I bought Walk the Lines out of curiosity after hearing the author Mark Mason interviewed by Roberts Elms on BBC Radio London.

There are plenty of books published with facts about London (I should know my bookcase is full of them) and while accurate they are often as dull as ditch water. Then along comes a book with a simple premise – to walk across London relating facts, anecdotes and meeting people.

[T]his has been done before, but what Mark Mason’s genius twist on the old formula is that he follows the tube network on foot above ground all 403 miles of it. With the obsessive zeal of a man on a mission he begins his odyssey with:

“Sod it – who wants to be normal? The right foot moves forward, and I’m off”.

He knows the male trait of completing any project undertaken and he’s now committed.

The book is crammed with something every blogger should aspire to: personal reflections; observations of the human psyche; talking to people who have shaped the city; and with self deprecation he goes in quest for facts – hundreds of them. Did you know, for instance, that part of Harrow Road was planned on the New York grid: First Avenue, Second Avenue and so on with alphabetical streets intersecting the Avenues?

Now I have to admit that Mrs CabbieBlog was a little sniffy about a man wanting to walk the Tube network, commenting that in her opinion a Travel Card would have been a better and more productive alternative.

But Mark Mason’s Walk the Lines takes you on a whole new experience of London as he reflects after completing his first walk – the Victoria Line:

“London has shown me things today that it was only revealed because I was on foot: how its neighbourhoods fit together, how some of them are less depressing than I’d imagined, where the whole thing ends. The Victoria Line has opened up in a way that it never did when I took the Victoria Line”.

But above all Walk the Lines is a love letter to a complicated and unruly friend with plaudits and condemnation, a book to reinforce Londoner’s notion that they live in the greatest city on earth – bar none.