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In Search of London [Paperback]

H. V. Morton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 April 1988
H. V. Morton turns his traveler's intuition and his reporter's eye for detail to the city that has fascinated him since childhood-London past, present, and timeless. He explores the City and the Temple, Covent Garden, SoHo, and all the "submerged villages beneath the flood of bricks and mortar," uncovering layer upon layer of London's history. Morton follows the thread of imagination back and forth across the city, tracing unforgettable scenes: the Emperor Claudius leading his war elephants across the Thames. . .the grisly executions at the Tower. . .the world of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Queen Victoria. . .and the shattered yet defiant city of the Blitz as well as the postwar London of "ruins and hatless crowds." Morton's quest for London's heart reveals how its daily life is rooted in a past that is closer and more familiar than we might think, making the book as informative, entertaining, and rich in human color today as when it was written fifty years ago.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Methuen Publishing Ltd; New edition edition (14 April 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0413184706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0413184702
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 748,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Henry Vollam Morton was born in 1892 near Manchester, England. He became an international celebrity by scooping the world's press in the sensational discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in the early 1920s. His newfound fame subsequently led to a series of extraordinarily popular vignettes on English city and country life, which went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. He died in South Africa in 1979 at the age of eighty-six. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic travel writing ! 7 July 2008
Format:Paperback
H.V.Morton was one of the great travel writers and if you read Bill Bryson,Paul Theroux etc they all at some stage acknowledge that Morton blazed a trail for them to follow. "In Search of London" is one of his best and what is particularly fascinating is the period Morton writes about - 5/6 years after World War 2. It's a London hugely damaged by the Blitz and struggling to recover and for those with better knowledge of London than me it must be particularly interesting to compare his descriptions of particular bomb damaged locations with the same scene today. Morton has the magical ability to blend current day scenes with history and to bring by-gone times vividly to life - in his description of the Tower Of London he mentions Henry's six wives and you really feel you are with Ann Boleyn when she goes to her execution.The whole book remains vivid and alive - a time-machine back over fifty years to a very different London era here faithfully observed and recorded. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chewing gum, or not, at the feet of Eros 11 Sep 2013
By Joseph Haschka HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"During and since the War the steps of the Fountain have been occupied by an untidy fringe of foreigners, provincials, soldiers, sailors, and their lady friends ... The centre of Piccadilly Circus, which used to look so lovely with its baskets of primroses and violets in spring, its roses in summer and its dahlias in autumn, is now, in my opinion, one of the most depressing and regrettable spectacles in the capital. I have an idea that sitting around Eros began during the War with the Americans, who chewed their gum there and mournfully smoked their cheroots, wondering why the heck they were in London." ‒ H.V. Morton in IN SEARCH OF LONDON

Well, you know what they said about Yanks in England during the war: "Overpaid, oversexed, and over here."

Having been to London almost more times than I can count, I could have been on any visit part of that "untidy fringe" except that sitting in the middle of what amounts to a busy road junction on the steps of an unimposing statue has never held much attraction. Other than that, London is my personal-favorite city in the whole world and reading H.V. Morton's IN SEARCH OF LONDON reminds me why I love it so much.

Morton's book is product of his fourth visit to the city which occurred in or somewhat before 1951. England and its capital were still recovering from the destructive effects of World War II, and George VI was still King. As the author is careful to point out in order to give some idea of the changes he'd seen over time, his first visit was as a child in the closing years of Victoria's reign.

While IN SEARCH OF LONDON could perhaps have been used as a walking-tour guidebook for a contemporary tourist when it was first published, now it couldn't serve as such at all.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I came to this book via Ackroyd`s "Biography of London"- he refers to Morton`s "In Search of London"and I felt I had to read it.
I was not disappointed. The historical content is beautifully inspired and enlivened by the author`s obvious love of London and its
people.I am familiar with London`s city and yet Morton is so deeply knowledgeable that my appreciation and understanding was further deepened.I could not put this book down and must remember to take it with me to use as a companion when I next visit.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing as Timeless as London Itself 6 Aug 2003
By P. Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While much of London is very different today than it was when this book was written around 1950, much more of London is timeless, as H.V. Morton most engagingly demonstrates in "In Search of London."
If I had not been reading this book during a recent visit to London, I am sure that I would never have visited the Temple, which is a cluster of buildings tucked away just off Fleet Street with historic significance dating back to the twelfth century. "No place in London has a more romantic origin than the Temple. The name commemorates the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and came to Thames-side with the crusading Order of the Knights Templar in the 12th Century," Morton writes. The Temple Church is a must-see (my commentary, not Morton's). Even though much of it was badly damaged during World War II in the Blitz, the medieval part with authentic gothic gargoyles inside the church at eye-level (very unusual and what a treat!) were not affected and the rest of the church has been restored.
Here's some of what he has to say about the aftermath of the blitz: "Milk Street is a little lane which used to lead to one of the most crowded portions of the City of London... When I reached the end of Milk Street, I looked out toward Moorfield across an area of devastation so final and complete that the memory of it will always rise in my mind whenever I hear the word Blitz. There are other parts of London as badly ravaged, but this to me will always be the most horrific. Thousands of buildings have been burned and blasted to the cellars..." He then writes almost poetically of the grass, flowers and trees that had taken over the ruins, ending with an amusing exchange with the local postman.
Among his (and our) many other adventures, he visits and/or discourses on the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum ("One of the earliest memories I have of London as a small boy is that of the wax figures in Madame Tussaud's exibition."), the execution of Charles I in 1649 ("In the long record of English tragedy and fortitude there is no nobler death than that of King Charles I."), and Hyde Park: "...So Hyde Park belonged to the monks of Westminster for nearly four and a half centuries. The abbots had a pleasure house there. The monks fished, no doubt, on the banks of many streams, like the Westbourne, which flowed from Hampstead and traversing Hyde Park, found their way into the Thames. When Henry VIII decided to make this his great hunting ground, he persuaded the monks to exchange the Manor of Hyde for the dissolved priory of Hurley in Berkshire..."
As I said in my review of "In Search of England", the first of his many travel books which was written in the late 1920's, H.V. Morton is a great writer. His style is simple, sincere and insightful. He loves what he's writing about and is able to share his experiences so they come alive for his readers. What a gift.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Toss out a guidebook to make room for this 15 April 2007
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One difference between tourist guides and travel literature might be that the guidebooks are good references while you're on the road, whereas travel literature can get you in the travel mood, help you remember where you've been, or be a vicarious substitute for actually leaving home. What makes "In Search of London" such a great book -- and why it remains in print more than 50 years after its first publication -- is that it transcends most other books of travel essays I've read and is also a book that I could easily see myself carrying with me on the streets of London, pausing in St. Paul's or along the Embankment to re-read a section of Morton's great prose.

I was able to visit London last spring, and while I was there was very aware of the history that surrounded me. Henry Morton's prose has that sense too, but to an infinitely more developed degree. Reading this, you get the feeling Morton can almost see the specters of Roman soldiers, Elizabethan yeomen, striding Cavaliers or bustling Edwardians filling the pavements around him. Whether he goes up in the Monument or down under Trafalgar Square, Morton seems to be occupying several periods in history simultaneously. It's a very difficult feat for a writer to pull off -- and harder still for one to do it without giving the sense one is a historical exhibitionist, dropping names and dates just to prove one can.

I'm not sure how exactly I stumbled upon H.V. Morton's name and writings, but I am very glad I have. "In Search of London" has given me, I think, one of my new favorite writers as well as a wonderful look at one of my very favorite cities. I'm now well into "In the Steps of the Master," Morton's 1934 chronicle of his visit to the Holy Land, and I can see that "In Search of London" wasn't a fluke: Morton really is that good a writer, a storyteller, and a man who really knows his history.

Keep in mind that "In Search of London" was published in 1951, and so there are many mentions of bomb damage and other relics of the late war. It will take a little of the reader's imagination to carry the narrative, and the sense of place, forward to 2007 and beyond. But any reader who dives into Morton's work and lets his narrative carry you along as I did shouldn't have too much trouble doing that. Even today, this is still an excellent guide to what makes London what it is, and certainly worth making room for it in your suitcase, as well as on your bookshelf.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars H.V. Morton was a special author 29 May 2006
By Sammy Madison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I don't know a lot about H.V. Morton, but from his writings, he had to be an amazing man. Although the books I have read by him were written fifty years ago or even more, his personality just shines through in his writing. He travelled all over the world, and happened to be on hand for the discovery of King Tut's tomb. He wrote really fascinting books on his travels in Italy, Spain, and England. In a way Morton reminds me of Kennith Clark, the historian who saved all the cultural treasures during WWII. He was so well-travelled, cultured, and intelligent, and had such a gift for describing people and places. His books on the cities of Rome and London are especially wonderful. Morton obviously loved imagining the history of the ancient cities. "In Search of London" is so interesting because in one sentence he writes about his personal recollections of the blitz, then he's going on about the Roman occupation of London. If you liked Edward Rutherford's books about England you will get a thrill reading H.V. Morton's books.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stroll through London with Mr. Morton 24 Feb 2006
By Rich Leonardi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This wonderful book is so much more than a mere travel guide. It's an elegant "travelogue," with Mr. Morton gently leading readers by the hand through the city he clearly loves. As we walk with him, we learn about and experience everything from the city's history and form of government to what it's like to ride a red omnibus or to visit a London church on a Sunday morning.

Morton wrote "In Search of London" in 1951 and his description of a city still largely in ruins from the Blitz is almost enough to move you to tears.
[...]
[...]
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Mr. Morton wrote "In Search of London" when the memory of the Blitz was still fresh and a reasonable man counted on Christianity to carry the day where the Nazis failed. At a time when venerating stones and trees has captured the young English imagination, when weekly attendance at Anglican worship services is in the single digits, and when there are more Moslems practicing their faith in London than members of the Church of England, is Mr. Morton's thought still strange?

My one regret is that I did not find this book before my recent trip to London. As it is, my memories and impressions are still fresh enough to reminisce with Mr. Morton.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chewing gum, or not, at the feet of Eros 11 Sep 2013
By Joseph Haschka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"During and since the War the steps of the Fountain have been occupied by an untidy fringe of foreigners, provincials, soldiers, sailors, and their lady friends ... The centre of Piccadilly Circus, which used to look so lovely with its baskets of primroses and violets in spring, its roses in summer and its dahlias in autumn, is now, in my opinion, one of the most depressing and regrettable spectacles in the capital. I have an idea that sitting around Eros began during the War with the Americans, who chewed their gum there and mournfully smoked their cheroots, wondering why the heck they were in London." ‒ H.V. Morton in IN SEARCH OF LONDON

Well, you know what they said about Yanks in England during the war: "Overpaid, oversexed, and over here."

Having been to London almost more times than I can count, I could have been on any visit part of that "untidy fringe" except that sitting in the middle of what amounts to a busy road junction on the steps of an unimposing statue has never held much attraction. Other than that, London is my personal-favorite city in the whole world and reading H.V. Morton's IN SEARCH OF LONDON reminds me why I love it so much.

Morton's book is product of his fourth visit to the city which occurred in or somewhat before 1951. England and its capital were still recovering from the destructive effects of World War II, and George VI was still King. As the author is careful to point out in order to give some idea of the changes he'd seen over time, his first visit was as a child in the closing years of Victoria's reign.

While IN SEARCH OF LONDON could perhaps have been used as a walking-tour guidebook for a contemporary tourist when it was first published, now it couldn't serve as such at all. Too many things have changed (even during the period between my first and most recent visits, 1975 and 2010). There aren't as many second-hand book stores along Charing Cross Road as there used to be. The Royal United Service Museum, once housed in the Banqueting Hall of the old Palace of Whitehall, is apparently no longer there, though I can't seem to discover with a Web crawl where it went ‒ if anywhere. With the increased security around public buildings after 9/11, I suspect tourists can no longer scurry past the gate guards into St. James's Palace for a cursory look-see. Though one can still go by motor launch from Westminster Pier to Greenwich, the latter is now a stop (Cutty Sark Station) for Docklands Light Rail. And the Royal Naval College in Greenwich closed its doors in 1998.

IN SEARCH OF LONDON serves best as a reminder ‒ if such is needed ‒ that the metropolis is chock-a-block filled with sights and history just waiting to be discovered by the city explorer of any era. And Morton takes the armchair tourist even further into what perhaps could only be experienced after special arrangements and efforts (which are probably beyond the casual visitor), e.g., a climb up Big Ben to inspect the bells and the clock and its workings, attend an auction at Sotheby's, descend into the Royal Vaults beneath Westminster Abbey's Chapel of Henry VII, or observe the grueling examination on London's streets administered to cabbie wannabes.

H.V. Morton is a travel essayist of the utmost eloquence and possessing boundless enthusiasm. (If I may be so plebeian, his passion for his subjects reminds me of Huell Howser, host of the American public television program CALIFORNIA'S GOLD.) In any case, I've read and enjoyed him in the past (In Search Of England), and I'll most certainly do so again.
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