Few places are so steeped in folklore as London, a city with almost as many ancient legends and deep-rooted customs as it has streets and landmarks, and in London Lore leading folklorist Steve Roud brings together an astonishingly rich selection of them: tales of ghosts and witches, stories about fabled events, heroes and villains, and accounts of local supersitions and beliefs. His range extends right across the capital, from Hampstead in the north, where wild beasts were once thought to roam the sewers, to Anerley Wood in the south, haunt of the much feared Norwood Gypsies, and from Hounslow Heath with its notorious highwaymen to Bethnal Green, long associated with Earl Henry de Montfort, better known as the Blind Beggar.
But London Lore does more than simply retell these stories and traditions; it also delves through layers of hearsay and speculation to investigate how and why they arose in the first place. In the process, it shows how the familiar story of Dick Whittington and his cat has connections with the ancient Middle East. It explains why lions rather than ravens at the Tower of London were once felt to be inextricably bound up with the city's fate. It pinpoints precisely where the story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, was first recorded. And it explores the origins of the once widespread custom of handing out 'farthing bundles' of ribbons, buttons and beads to poor children in the East End. Some of these stories and beliefs are shown to have their origins in actual historical events; others to have stemmed from contemporary preoccupations and fears. What they all reveal is the powerful hold that London has exerted on the popular imagination over the centuries, as each successive generation has reshaped existing tales and added new ones of its own.