London Villages

London Villages

One of the things I like best about London is how it is really made up of many, many different areas, all of which are quite diverse and could be in quite different cities. For example, get out of a station at three random locations – say, Holland Park, Shoreditch and Crystal Palace – and you will find yourself in three quite different worlds. This is one reason why London never tires. For these reasons, Zena Alkayat’s new book on London Villages caught my eye.

This cute little tome covers no less than 30 villages in London, visiting each corner of the capital (north, south, east, west and central). Each village has its own pretty hand-drawn map of the highlights (illustrated by Jenny Seddon), which also handily includes the closest stations. Village life is great but it can be frustrating when you visit a new area and its highlights are hidden away down a side-street. This book should put paid to this problem – at least for these 30 areas.

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Of course not every village in London can be included, and while I’m sure everyone could think of some that they would insert (Rotherhithe village, that most village-y city village, and Clerkenwell/Farringdon are two that spring to mind), there is an excellent coverage in general. The book is a handy size (it would easily fit into a bag but is not so small it seems insignificant) and contains lovely photographs by Kim Lightbody for each village. I’ve already spotted a few new places to visit, so it will be accompanying me on some future explorations. And it’s perfect for a certain gift-giving season on the horizon…

Frances Lincoln has kindly offered readers of The Londonphile a special discount on this title. To order a copy of  London Villages for £7.99 including p&p* (RRP £9.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk, and quote the offer code APG14.
*UK only – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

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Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

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As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

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While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

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Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

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Book Review: The Regent’s Canal

Image: David Fathers, ‘The Regent’s Canal’, Frances Lincoln

One of the best aspects of David Fathers’ new guide to the Regent’s Canal is the way that it clearly brings together what can otherwise seem like a quite disparate system of canals that run through London. This process commences from the very start of the book, with the inclusion of a map showing the full extent of these waterways, from Maida Vale’s Little Venice to Olympic Park. As the way the Regent’s Canal links up with the Hertford Union Canal, the Limehouse Cut and the River Lee Navigation is not always immediately obvious, this guide helps facilitate exploration of what is a fascinating and diverse – and often over-looked – route through our fair city.

Image: David Fathers, ‘The Regent’s Canal’, Frances Lincoln.

Author David Fathers trained as a graphic designer and now works as an illustrator, so it’s no surprise that his book is full of delightful illustrations and images and has an attractive yet practical layout. Every page follows a section of the waterways across London from west to east, with the closest tubes or rail links clearly marked. Fathers doesn’t just stick to the major points of interest either – fascinating historical snippets and glimpses into the lives of famous residents are also included. For example, the house where playwright Joe Orton was murdered is listed, as are details about the accidental explosion of the Macclesfield Bridge (near Regent’s Park) in 1874 – all of which makes for a pleasantly idiosyncratic guide.

The guide’s handy size also means that it is easily carried with you on the trek you should now be inspired to take along London’s waterways. The Regent’s Canal: An Urban Towpath Route from Little Venice to the Olympic Park is published by Frances Lincoln on 4th October 2012 – just in time for the 200th anniversary of the first cutting of the canal.

http://www.franceslincoln.co.uk/en/C/0/Book/3419/The_Regent’s_Canal.html

Image: David Fathers, ‘The Regent’s Canal’, Frances Lincoln.

Book review: Thames Path in London

It seems fitting that the Londonphile’s first book review features two of my very favourite things: London (naturally) and the Thames. As many Londonphiles out there would undoubtedly be aware, there is already a guidebook that leads us down the Thames Path. But Phoebe Clapham’s new publication – Thames Path in London – is unique in that it focuses on the areas within London, starting at Hampton Court and taking us all the way downriver to Crayford Ness, on the Thames Path Extension. That’s 50 miles (or 80kms if you prefer) of good guidance!

Just like David Sharp’s Thames Path guide – published in the same series by Aurum Press – Clapham’s tome contains top notch Ordnance Survey maps. A yellow line is superimposed onto these maps to clearly demarcate the Thames Path (which as fellow Thames-lovers would know, can be surprisingly meandering in places). It is further designed for ease of use by having each of the eight sections that the path is divided into begin and end near a station. Practical tips on essentials such as eating and drinking are also provided at the start.

One of the best aspects of Thames Path in London is the semi-regular break-out sections featuring information on various historical sites, events and themes found along (or in) the Thames. These vary from the well-known (Tower Bridge and London Bridge) to more esoteric themes such as Arcadian Thames and the pleasure gardens of a bygone age. Not only are they interesting and well-researched but they serve to break up the constant direction-giving necessitated by such a guide. Clapham’s book is also interspersed with historical images – including illustrations, photographs and paintings – ensuring a publication that goes above and beyond the call of the average functional guide, and one which helps to bring to life the fascinating (and often lost) history found along the Thames.

Although the guide has no index – as is also the case with Sharp’s guide – the main map at the front shows how the full route is divided up into the eight sections, and the main areas included in each of these. It’s tricky writing a guide to a path that is found on both sides of the river for much of its duration. The guide gets around this by dividing the text up into the North Bank and South Bank according to colour (purple and green respectively, just so you know). Two substantial circular walks diverting off the path (in Richmond and Limehouse), written exclusively for this publication, are also included.

You will certainly be in safe hands following Clapham’s directions along what is the section of the Thames Path most densely packed with sights, history and, well, just about everything really. And as the publishers note, it will also come in handy for anyone attempting to follow the Jubilee flotilla on foot in June!

Thames Path in London, by Phoebe Clapham, will be published by Aurum Press this Thursday 24 May. RRP is £12.99, but thanks to Aurum I have one copy to give away to a lucky Londonphile follower out there.

WIN A COPY: Twitter followers can tweet me via @londonphile to enter; Facebook followers can add their name to the list I will create on www.facebook.com/thelondonphile. New followers are welcome to join in too! Competition closes 5pm Tuesday 29th May. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.