Monday, January 21, 2013

Lost London

The title: Lost London
The author: Richard Guard
Publication: Michael O'Mara Books, 2012
Got it from: DC, Xmas 2012

Wow, is it Monday already?  I've been completely absorbed in so many things this weekend.  I finished Betsy-Tacy and the complete Beatrix Potter.  Watched Downton Abbey - oh my goodness, can this show get any more addictive?  Finished first season of Slings & Arrows.  Also watched all seven hours of the John Adams miniseries from HBO.  They made Thomas Jefferson sexy, don't ask me how.  Anyway, I almost forgot I finished this book.  

I love to collect useless information about London like a magpie, so I enjoyed this book.  It's all about buildings, people and things that used to be found in London but are now gone.  Many of them I have heard of already (like the Frost Fairs), but some I haven't.  London is particularly fascinating for its "lost history" because so much was destroyed by the fire of 1666 and the Blitz.  Henry Mayhew (this guy is in pretty much any Victorian London history) and Samuel Pepys provided a lot of information for this book.  

I only wish there had been more detail for the entries, as some of the original source information was rather vague.  For instance, there's the "Chelsea Bun House," home of the original chelsea bun, which supposedly sold 240,000 buns on Good Friday 1839.  How is that even possible?  Let's say they were open for ten hours, that's still 400 buns a minute!  Another list by Mayhew of the different crossing sweepers included the following: "The Bearded Crossing Sweeper at the Exchange.  An Old Woman.  The Crossing Sweeper who had been a Serving Maid.  One-Legged Crossing Sweeper of Chancery Lane."  And my personal favourite: "The Negro Crossing Sweeper who has lost both his legs."  Wow.  Kind of puts your own life in perspective, doesn't it? Interestingly, the author lays to rest the popular notion of "plague pits," citing almost no evidence for these mythical mass graves to date.

Some familiarity with the city is required for reading this book, and it's more of a jumping-off point for further investigation, but it was still very amusing.

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