A new book by David Long is always something to cherish, and he tops the rostrum with Paved With Gold: Discovering the West End of London. This is the biggest and most intricately researched book yet from the veteran Londonophile. Long is a past master of finding novelty in the familiar. Here, he takes on those most-trodden of London pavements: the streets of the West End. No matter how much time you've spent hanging out in Soho or Theatreland, you're sure to learn plenty from this book. Opened at a random page, we find that Charing Cross Hotel was one of the first in the country to be faced with artificial stone. Another turn of the page, and we learn that Westminster Cathedral has the widest nave in England. Top facting, which goes well beyond the tourist cliches of this busy end of town.
Mike Hutton's new book Life in 1950s London offers a personal recollection of the capital in that decade. It was a time of great change and contrast for London: a mix of post-war austerity and crime; optimism for the future as symbolised by the Festival of Britain; and the first stirrings of popular youth culture that would blossom into Swinging London in the following decade. An entertaining and informative read is supported by dozens of photographs that encapsulate the age.
Three further books crossed our desk this month. Stephen Porter's The Story of London is a colourful and short introduction to the capital: perfect if you've just moved here and want a bit of backstory. (Although it does stop abruptly at 1991 for some reason.) Porter's written six previous books about the capital, so you're in safe hands. Tom Quinn (not the one from Spooks) has updated and reissued his London's Strangest Tales. Meet a carriage pulled by zebras and read about the time Bismarck fell into a drunken doze on an Embankment bench. Finally, Emma Hatfield takes on that most venerable of offices in London's Lord Mayors: 800 Years of Shaping the City. Dick Whittington was just one of hundreds to have held the post. This is the first proper history we've seen of this venerable office, and long overdue.
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