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Book reviews — February 2013

'Central London Then & Now' by Laina Watt
Published 1 December 2012, 12.99. Hardback. 95 pages. 978-0-7524-6552-4
Forty-five of London's most famous sites and views are compared with contemporary photographs against historic images, some dating well back into the Victorian era.

Not all are straight comparisons — for example the Great Wheel at Earls Court (1895) is set against the London Eye. Some show the march of progress, like the old and new London Bridge, while others like Westminster Abbey are remarkably similar save for the traffic passing by.

The age of horse-and-cart and shipping on the Thames is well represented — and the changing face of the capital's transport is the most obvious difference between old and new. Nowhere is change more apparent than in the contrasting photographs of the chaotic old Covent Garden Market with the tourist playground it has become.

Laina Watt supplies both the contemporary images and an interesting commentary which mixes insightful observations with a photographer's eye.

'London Railway Atlas — 3rd edition', by Joe Brown
86 plans + 42 un-numbered text pages, ISBN 978 0 7110 3728 1. Ian Allan Publishing, 2012. 18.99
When reviewing the first volume of Peter Kay's 'London's railway heritage' (GLIAS Newsletter August 2012), I mentioned that a third edition of this hardback railway atlas was on its way. This has duly appeared, with more plans and in a larger format, just six years after the first edition — surely proof that the book has sold well. In essence, the atlas aims to show the railway map of London as it is today, but it also covers lines and stations now closed or never completed, and those under construction, including Crossrail. The Underground lines are included; so too are goods depots and industrial sidings. The only railways not shown, according to the author, are the erstwhile Post Office Railway and the pioneering but long-abandoned Surrey Iron Railway.

A key map of the London region (extending from Ongar to Redhill, and from Windsor to Tilbury) guides the reader to the relevant atlas page for a particular area. These pages, at a scale roughly but not quite 2 inches to the mile (actually around 1:27,000), show railway lines, indicating number of running tracks, and with stations, goods yards, depots, industrial sidings, etc included. Lighter print identifies local place-names and shows rivers and canals. The originating railway company is identified, and dates are given of opening (and of closure and re-opening, as relevant); this latest edition bravely gives for these dates not just the year as in previous editions, but also the day and month. Such chronological minutiae being meat and drink to certain railway students, this will no doubt attract corrections, which the author encouragingly writes will be welcome from readers, as will any information that adds to the usefulness of the atlas in future editions.

Enlarged inserted plans provide fuller details of 'busy' locations, and some are duplicated to show matters at different dates — illustrating the dramatic changes that have occurred to the railway landscape over the years. Thus Stratford in East London, placed uncomfortably either side of the 'gutter' in pp27-28, receives two full pages (77-78) showing at larger scale this major railway centre at pretty well its peak in 1951, and also in its vastly-reduced form in 2012 (the huge Stratford Railway Works gone, but now accommodating the HS1 Stratford International station; the Olympic stadium and aquatic centre are indicated too). The GWR Smithfield Goods Depot, featured in Peter Butt's article (GLIAS Newsletter December 2012), can be seen on an enlargement of the Farringdon-Barbican-Blackfriars area on p32. Inevitably such detailed plans must be seen as snapshots in time, given that track layouts can be changed quite rapidly and frequently — and often between revisions of the relevant OS large-scale maps, and so are not necessarily recorded.

A lengthy index lists stations, depots, sidings, and junctions, with opening and closing dates, originating company, previous station names and informative notes, and for each gives its location on the atlas page and grid area. Further informative notes appear on the atlas pages. The font size for text in both the index and the mapping is small, necessarily so given the amount of information that is provided, although reading it is not beyond the capacity of this reviewer thanks to glasses — now needed anyway with advancing years. This should be less of an issue for author Joe Brown, who from a note in his preface appears to be in his thirties. To have produced already three editions of this very useful atlas is a remarkable achievement, and welcome evidence that there are younger others interested in London's industrial history, as some of us grow longer in the tooth.

I look forward to the fourth edition! Michael Bussell

'London's New River in Maps (Vol. 1, Part 1)', by Michael F Kensey
ISBN 978-0-9572240-0-1. 20. At present copies available from the London Metropolitan Archives; Islington Local History Centre; Enfield Local Study Centre & Archive (Dugdale Centre), Enfield Town; Myddelton House, Bulls Cross, Enfield; Lowewood Museum, Hoddesdon; and HALS (Herts. Archive & Local Studies) Hertford. For further details contact michael.kensey@ntlworld.com
This is the first of three volumes 'London's New River in Maps', published for the 400th anniversary of the completion of the New River, 29 September 1613.

According to the author it is 'not merely another history, but attempts to replace the myths with probable truths, and is the first that fully details the River itself with all its nuances, the former old loops and historical details (mostly with new previously unpublished material) including former flashes, troughs, bridges, reservoirs, cistern houses and buildings from its source in Hertfordshire to the old City of London'.

The 'London's New River in Maps' series will comprise:

'The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London', by Judith Flanders
Published by Atlantic Books, October 2012. Hardcover: 544 pages. 25
Using Charles Dickens as her source Judith Flanders explores London's Victorian streets — the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses and entertainment emporia. No detail is too small, or too strange.


© GLIAS, 2013