London Underground Maps: Art, Design and Cartography
Books on London are a constant staple of the publishing industry, but it appears that, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee followed by the 2012 Olympics, the stream has become a flood, with a considerable amount of the flotsam managing to be singular and informative in unusual ways.
Claire Dobbin’s London Underground Maps: Art, Design and Cartography (Lund Humphries in association with the London Transport Museum, £35) starts its journey proper with Harry Beck’s iconic diagram of the London Underground, produced in 1931, which simplified travelling and enchanted travellers. The book follows a route through the artwork it generated and the design of the stations it mapped to today’s art on, about and inspired by the Underground. But the aesthetic journey is prefaced by earlier maps that guided travellers around the metropolis , particularly after the world’s first underground railway opened in London on January 10th, 1863.
Richard Guard’s Lost London: An A-Z of Forgotten Landmarks and Lost Traditions (Michael O’Mara Books, £9.99) draws on the film documentary maker’s powers of observation and enquiry as he sped round the streets for six years as a cycle courier. A pocket-sized volume, the partial gazetteer aims to point out a history of London through places and buildings long gone, demolished, tarmacked over, converted, decommissioned, from coffee houses and pleasure gardens to islands in the Thames and a Hanseatic League steel yard where Cannon Street station now stands.
Reputedly London’s first eating guide, The Epicure’s Almanac, directed the hungry to where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage’ in the capital, either in Mayfair hotels or Shoreditch tripe shops. Compiled by Ralph Rylance and modelled on the celebrated French Almanach des gourmands, it was published in 1815. Rylance described some 650 establishments including oyster shops, ancient coaching inns, dockyard taverns, village pubs – and Britain’s first Indian restaurant. Surprisingly the book was not a commercial success and the hungry Londoner was without a vade mecum until 1968, when Raymond Postgate published his Good Food Guide to London. This new edition by Janet Ing Freeman (The Epicure’s Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London, The British Library, £30) reproduces the fascinating entries with full notes and tempting it is indeed to make for such places as the White Horse on Brixton Hill where ’Mr Tidlark … always gives a hearty welcome to his guests’ and supplies the itinerant epicure with a glass of ‘super-excellent port’.
Starting with verses from John Gower’s (1330?-1408) poem Confessio Amantis and ending with Ahren Warner’s (b. 1986) line ‘it’s a London thing’, London: a History in Verse, edited by Mark Ford (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, £25), traces an enchanting journey round the canonical to the quirky, from love lyrics, the cries of old London, ballads and limericks to satirical verses and epics. A tribute to the capital exemplified in the words of an unknown Scottish poet writing around 1500: ‘London, thou art of townes A per se’ – a per se meaning unique or pre eminent – a ‘sovereign of cities'.
Juliet Gardiner is Reviews Editor at History Today
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