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A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters [Hardcover]

Travis Elborough , Nick Rennison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Product Description


'The erudite selection by editors Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison yields gem after gem.'


‘One of the wonderful things about this book is the fact that the revelations themselves are contributed by some of the world’s most famous writers. A transcendent read which creates a rich tapestry of our beloved capital through the ages.’

(Best of British)

‘A near-priceless collection of insights.’


‘The perfect book for all who live in or love this eternal, ever-changing city.’

(The Angel Resident)

‘It takes us through those 365 days through the words of Londoners themselves, skitting and dashing around from the past and the present. And what a cast list it has. In the first few pages, we meet Samuel Pepys (Mr W. Pen has left his sword on the coach to Westminster), Alan Bennett (Reg from Inverness Street Market has died, and we’re standing by a trestle-table outside the Good Mixer), and Brian Eno (he’s on a bus on the Great Western Road – “a mobile version of the village well”). The dipping potential within it is delicious. The modern diary entries are the nicest touch, though, I think. Head-deep in the past, you feel a scorch of white heat suddenly encountering Michael Palin, or Anthony Sher, or Dickon Edwards of ’90s Romo band Orlando, and indie band Fosca. Each season edges along with the mention of each moment and memory.'

(Caught by the River)

‘Live everyday life, entries can be both monotonous and vivid, but A London Year will have something to teach residents and visitors alike.’

(Lowenna Waters Financial Times)

‘It is overflowing with pithy, scurrilous, poetic and witty words.’

(Kensington & Chelsea Today)

If you're planning an outing to the capital, it's the perfect appetiser - packed with inspiring detail and observations.’

(Frank Barrett Mail on Sunday Travel 'Book of the Week')

About the Author

A former bookseller and Web-site editor, TRAVIS ELBOROUGH has been a freelance writer, author, and cultural commentator for the last decade. His books include The Bus We Loved: London's Affair with the Routemaster, Wish You Were Here: England on Sea and London Bridge in America.

NICK RENNISON has worked as a writer, editor, and bookseller for more than twenty years. His London Blue Plaque Guide has been through three editions in the last decade and he has also published The Book of London Lists, described by the London Evening Standard as a book that "can teach even the most die-hard Londoner something they didn't know."

Travis and Nick's previous book is London Quiz.


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

8 December 1990 

Richard Briers tells me how he was going up the steps from the National on to Waterloo Bridge when he was accosted, as one invariably is, by someone sitting on the landing begging. ‘No I thought, said Richard - ‘not again, and walked on. Only then I heard this lugubrious voice say, “Oh. My favourite actor.” So I turned back and gave him a pound.’

That particular pitch is known to be very profitable, partly because of actors and playgoers being more soft-hearted than the general run. The beggars have got themselves  so well-organized as to ration the pitch to half an hour a piece on pain of being beaten up. I find it easier to think of Waterloo Bridge as a toll booth, and resign myself to paying at least 50p to get across, thus sidestepping any tiresome questions about need or being taken advantage of. 

Alan Bennett, Diary

June 9th 1851

Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it this, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from the distance

Charlotte Bronte, Letter to her father

September 3rd 1666

The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and son and went to the Bank side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole city in flames near the water side; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames street, and upwards towards Cheapside, down to the Three Cranes, were now consumed: and so [we] returned exceeding astonished what would become of the rest. The fire having continued all this night (if I may call that night which was light as day for 10 miles round about, after a dreadful manner) when conspiring with a fierce eastern wind in a very dry season; I went on foot to the same place, and saw the whole south part of the city burning from Cheapside to the Thames, and all along Cornhill, (for it likewise kindled back against the wind as well as forward), Tower street, Fenchurch street, Gracious street, and so along to Bainard's Castle, and was now taking hold of St. Paul's church, to which the scaffolds contributed exceedingly. The conflagration was so universal, and the people so astonished, that from the beginning, I know not by what despondency or fate, but crying out and lamentation, running about like distracted creatures without at all attempting to save even their goods; such a strange consternation there was among them, so as it burned both in breadth and length, the churches, public halls, Exchange, hospitals, monuments, and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner, from house to house and street to street, at great distances from one the other; for the heat with a long set of fair and warm weather had even ignited the air and prepared the materials to conceive the fire, which devoured after an incredible manner houses, furniture, and everything. Here we saw the Thames covered with goods floating, all the barges and boats laden with what some had time and courage to save, as, on the other, the carts, &c. carrying out to the fields, which for many miles were strewed with moveables of all sorts, and tents erecting to shelter both people and what goods they could get away. Oh the miserable and calamitous spectacle! such as haply the world had not seen since the foundation of it, nor be outdone till the universal conflagration thereof. All the sky was of a fiery aspect, like the top of a burning oven, and the light seen above 40 miles round about for many nights. God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it, so that they were forced to stand still and let the flames burn on, which they did for near two miles in length and one in breadth. The clouds also of smoke were dismal and reached upon computation near 50 miles in length. Thus I left it this afternoon burning, a resemblance of Sodom, or the last day. It forcibly called to my mind that passage--non enim hic habemus stabilem civitatum: the ruins resembling the picture of Troy. London was, but is no more!

John Evelyn, Diary

November 13th 1849

I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from day-break until after the spectacle was over... I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks, and language of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on negro melodies, with substitutions of 'Mrs. Manning' for 'Susannah', and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians, and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly - as it did - it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.

 Charles Dickens, Letter to The Times

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