This revised and reissued book by Warren Grynberg presents old photos of the City, each complemented with a short caption. Hardly an original formula. Head into the Museum of London bookshop and you'll find any number of similar volumes. Grynberg's book, however, offers something a little bit meatier than the competition. For a start, it's a chunky compendium with almost 200 pages of bygone snapshots. Then too, it's written and compiled by a Blue Badge tourist guide and a Freeman of the City, so offers a more intimate portrait of the City than perhaps we'd get from a photo archivist. The choice of material is also well pitched, with a finely balanced mixture of architectural shots, portraiture, gatherings and riverine views. The highlight comes with Chapter 8, which offers a rare tour of old Newgate prison. The jail was torn down in 1902 to be replaced by the Old Bailey, and few images survive.
Despite the familiarity of the subject matter, we also learned much about the Square Mile. Who knew, for instance, that the Bank of England remained under military guard until as late as 1973? Or that London Bridge wasn't the only City landmark to be transported, stone by stone, to the States? A long-lost City is revealed where every man wore a hat and mustache, every building was soot-blackened, and ill-kept roads were smeared in horse turd. But so much remains familiar, from the ever-present steeples of Wren to the copious traffic problems and street advertising. You'll want to have Google Street View open while you're reading, so as to see just how, in many cases, so little has changed in 100 years. While at times you'll wish the book had been properly copyedited (the River Fleet still flows to its source, does it?), you can't argue with this mother lode of pictorial treasures.
Images of the City of London is published by Breedon Books and is available now.