Friday, June 29, 2012

London: Guide books for an Olympic city

London will host the Olympics and a range of guide books and histories - including one by Paddington Bear - have been timed for the 2012 Games.
Paddington's Guide To London by Michael Bond
Paddington's Guide To London by Michael Bond
Samuel Johnson once quipped that "by seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show" and in the year of the London 2012 Olympics, there are a host of guide books about the capital. Martin Chilton, who grew up in central London, picks out five of the most interesting...
What better guide to London than an 18-inch bear from Peru, famously associated with Paddington Station? Michael Bond's jolly romp around London takes in a host of landmarks such as The Tower Of London and The London Eye and also has Paddington Bear (pictured at each location) trailing round places such as Portobello Road.
There's a bear-witness account of going on one of the touristy Duck Tours and hints about lesser-known attractions in the city. As a Londoner, I can vouch for Paddington Bear's recommendation for Marine Ices, who opened in 1931, near Chalk Farm tube station. Paddington samples a strawberry sorbet and says: "My ice cream cone soon became history!" It's a bit of fun yet not cheap at £9.99 for 142 A5 paperback pages.

Lost London by Richard Guard (Michael O'Maran Books Ltd, £9.99)
Subtitled 'An A-Z of forgotten landmarks and lost traditions', Richard Guard's book is a guide to more than 125 lost London places and institutions. There are pubs, theatres, shops and the Necropolis Railway at Waterloo (bodies were taken in 1st, 2nd and 3rd class compartments to burial plots in Surrey), which ran from 1854 to 1941. The nostalgia factor of the book is high and two entries took me back to childhood: Farringdon Market (where people sold books out of suitcases, in a 1960s forerunner of the car boot sale) and the High Holborn department store Gamages, which had the most fantastic toy department. The store closed in 1972 and is now a faceless office block. This is a delightful and original guide book to London.

The Bumper Book Of London by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis (Frances Lincoln Limited, £9.99)
This colourful, breezy book about England's capital city is bursting with facts: 53 countries are smaller than London. Hampstead has London's highest point - 440 feet - and deepest tube station at 192 feet below ground. And, in the voice of Michael Caine perhaps, did you know that the first free public library in London was at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square?

The Book Of London Place Names by Caroline Taggart (Ebury Press, £9.99)
Naturally, with the Olympics in mind, I looked up 'Stratford' first. The word means 'a ford by a Roman road'. The old English straet derives from the Latin via strata ('paved road') and the road through Stratford ran all the way to Colchester in Roman times.
The guide covers markets, lost palaces and ancient London villages. It's not comprehensive but has details for different areas of London. King's Cross, for example, got its name from a monument to King George IV at the corner of Pentonville and Gray's Inn Road. The statue was demolished in 1845 but the name stuck and was given to the railway station many will pass to travel to Stratford. Neighbouring station St Pancras is believed to be named after Rome's St Pancratius.

Top 10 Of London by Alexander Ash (Hachette Books, £10)
The top 10 lists, cleverly chosen by Alexander Ash, are broken into sections: Boroughs, Politics, History, Nightlife & Culture, Transport, Tourism, Trade, Sport and Miscellaneous. Many of the quirky lists capture your interest: Top 10 bus routes with the most driver incident reports (first is the good old 38 from Victoria to Clapton Pond) or the 'Embassies Owing Parking Fines', and top of that list is Kazakhstan owing £189,640. The top attraction in London, incidentally, is the British Museum with 5,842,138 visitors in 2010. And the most energy-inefficient building in London? Buckingham Palace. An interesting and engaging book of statistics. 

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