In this 79 chapter,all-encompassing, exhaustive history of London, including an essay of sources and an invaluable index, Peter Ackroyd brings to life the many varied locations and epochs that comprise the modern day London.
One feature of the book describes the "Black Death" that first afflicted London in the year 1348, killing more than forty percent of the peole and leaving one third of the city unpopulated.
Another event he treats in dep;th is the "great fire" of 1666, quoting Samual Pepys in his diary of the time where "he saw the fire grow...in churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid, malicious bloody flame..."
Famous landmarks occuring in history and novels are sketched by Ackroyd, including Newgate prison, vividly described by Dickens, and Buckingham Palace, the home of the queen.In 1826,John Nash formulated the plans for Trafalgar Square, created the conditions for Buckingham Palace, laid out the terraces surrounding Regent's Park, and created Oxford Circus. He designed a barrier between the streets of the rich and poor." For the first time, London became a public city. The result was an air of theatricality, much favored by tourists, but concealing the real flavor of the city.
Notting Hill, featured in the nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul's novel, "Half a Life",once home to the stucco mansions of Kensington Park Gardens, declined into a "slumdom" in the late 1940's and 50's. "Immigrants from the West Indies ,( and in the 70's from Pakistan and India) congregated.. which let to riots. In the 1960's and 70's, (it) became a haven for hippies where the peeling streets, the grimy balconies were combined with the street market along Portobello Road to produice an atmosphere of happy dereliction".
Another district, the East End is described as "The image of the whole world with the German, the Jew, the Frenchman..and endless swarms of ragged children." the Cockney identified more and more with the East End which also harbored more music halls than anyh other part of London; 150 in all by the end of the 19th century.
Ackroyd's "London, the Biography", also featuring period illustrations, makes the reader a virtual visitor.Many entertaining hours can be spent pursuing historic trails enticingly laid out by the author
This report prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson