London: A social and cultural history
R. O. Bucholz and J. P. Ward
Cambridge University Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code
THIS book asks the question: "What
makes London London?" and provides a detailed and convincing
answer. It was the period of 1550 to 1750 that turned London from a
mixed city into one of the great capitals, influencing much of the
world's history and economy.
The book begins by taking the reader
on a tour of London as it was in 1550, and ends with an account of
what it was like 200 years later. I am someone who knows London
well, and has walked its streets for 70 years, but I am not sure
that a reader who had never been to London would be able to follow
In the intervening chapters, the
authors, who are historians from the United States, examine various
aspects of the life of the city. So we read about its social life,
the royal and civic parts that it has played, the place of the
arts, popular culture, the underclasses, the place of riots and
rebellion, and the effects of plague and fire.
The book contains a set of prints and
maps, some of which are quite unfamiliar, and the authors draw on
many writers and artists who reflect on London, such as Ben Jonson,
Samuel Pepys, William Hogarth, and Samuel Johnson. Many things are
explained that may have baffled people, such as the fact that
Mayfair was the place where the May Fair took place, and a
description of the siting of the royal palaces.
Readers might ask: where is the Church
in all of this? This is an interesting question, because, while it
is seen in most chapters, it is never a dominant theme, but appears
alongside the markets, parks, coffee houses, and places of
government. This is salutary, because it makes us realise that
religion is just one aspect of social and human experience, and
that is probably how it should be.
The book is finely produced and
reasonably priced, but, occasionally, the authors' American origins
lead them into errors. In the 1550 tour of London, they refer to
Southwark Cathedral, whereas that church did not become a cathedral
until the 20th century. Similarly, strangely for these publishers,
American spelling is used throughout the book.
Nevertheless, it is a good read, and
makes me want to wander the streets of London even more.
The Very Revd Robert Jeffery is
Dean Emeritus of Worcester Cathedral.