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Necropolis: London and Its Dead Paperback – 5 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; New edition edition (5 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416502483
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416502487
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 0.1 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Catharine Arnold read English at the University of Cambridge and holds a further degree in psychology. She is the author of 'Necropolis London and its Dead', 'Bedlam London and its Mad' City of Sin London and its Vices' and 'Underworld London City of Crime.' 'Globe, the World of Shakespeare's London' will be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2015. Catharine's previous books include 'Lost Time',which won a Betty Trask award, and 'Changeling,' both published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Product Description


The Ten Best History Books:
'Arnold's account of death in London is by turns fascinating, stomach-churning and poignant'
-- Independent, January 27, 2009

From the Inside Flap

A society can be judged by the way it treats its dead, and this is especially true of London. Two thousand years of history may represent only a hundred generations, but in that time the way London has coped with death and burial has changed immeasurably.

From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the current approach of metropolitan society towards death and bereavement – including more recent trends to displays of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – NECROPOLIS: LONDON AND ITS DEAD offers a vivid historical narrative of this great city’s attitude to going the way of all flesh.

As layer upon layer of London soil reveals burials from pre-historic and medieval times, the city is revealed as one giant grave, filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval, Victorian. The Houses of Parliament sit on the edge of a former plague pit; St Paul’s is built over human remains; Underground tunnels were driven through forgotten catacombs, thick with bones.

This fascinating blend of archaeology, architecture and anecdote includes such phenomena as the rise of the undertaking trade and the pageantry of state funerals; public executions and bodysnatching; and the men and women who featured in this dark aspect of London life, from the mysterious Spitalfields woman to Samuel Pepys, from tragic Anne Boleyn to Victoria, the widow of Windsor.

Ghoulishly entertaining and full of fascinating nuggets of information, NECROPOLIS leaves no headstone unturned in its exploration of our changing attitudes to the deceased among us. Both anecdotal history and cultural commentary, NECROPOLIS will take its place alongside classics of the city such as Peter Ackroyd’s LONDON. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 28 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
My dad bought my mum this for her birthday (that's love eh!) and when I landed a new job in London, what better to occupy my commute than London and it's dead!

The book is essentially interesting, factual and engrossing. But the chapters are more than a little hit and miss and with no contextual focus.

I found there to be a brief skipping over of Roman burials and aspects of death that really left me feeling, is that it!? It felt more like a 'prologue' than any real look into Roman deaths and burials... Then skipping quickly on to the plague...

I enjoyed the chapters on medieval London, on the pestilence, suffering, and horrific conditions people lived and died in during the plague years. I found there to be a few facts I would disagree with but it didn't matter as I was genuinely compelled by what I was reading.

Coming from a clergy family, I was particularly interested in the role of the clergy during the plague and was left feeling a little lost by the lack of real investigation into the clergy during this time. A few grisley annecdotes about rebellious rectors didn't really suffice.

There was one thing that really annoyed me, and perhaps it's just me, but the constant referring to Christopher Marlow as 'Kit' and the lack of substance written about him. Upon seeing his name mentioned I thought I was in for more than skipping over his name and the inaccurate mention of the Deptford bar-fight?! There was a chance to really expand on death and conspiracy and indeed speculate upon similar instances.

This 'flitting' carries through the whole book with Arnold going off on tangents which aren't really anything to do with London, and don't add anything to the context, as well as skipping whole periods of history.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Pangolin on 14 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a pleasant enough read - though it does ramble and jump about a bit sometimes, but my concern is factual accuracy. I found from time to time I was reading something I knew about - and what I was reading was not factually accurate. So what of the rest of the book - are they real facts, or are they just made up too?

"Fawkes's confederates gathered on Highgate Hill to witness [the blowing up of Parliament]". Really? Can we have a source please? Because many people like to think it was Parliament Hill, and there is scant evidence for either.

"Ring o' ring o' roses ... refers to the Great Plague" Not very likely - do some research. The rhyme has virtually nothing in common with the actual symptoms and this "explanation" of the supposed origin doesn't appear anywhere until well into the 20th century.

"In fact, the tunnel [of the Piccadilly line] curves between Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations because it was impossible to drill [sic] through the mass of skeletal remains buried in Hyde Park" This "fact" appears in the introduction. Later on in the book the location moves from Hyde Park to "where Brompton Road and Kensington Road meet" (they don't meet according to all my street atlases) and the "fact" is now demoted to "This is said to account for the curving nature of the track"

Yet this is not something mentioned in histories of the Underground, and the actual fact that the curvature of the line can be seen to be following the line of the streets as much as possible is not mentioned (all the early tube railways were built so far as was possible under the roads as this was cheaper than paying property owners to tunnel under their premises and sharp bends occur elsewhere for this reason.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By P. W. H. Bradley on 20 May 2006
Format: Hardcover
London and its dead covers the period from Roman times to date, with emphasis on the periods of the Black Death, the Victorian era and the Second World War. Very well written, and the macabra nature of the subject matter is treated sensitively. It is informative and amusing by turn, detailing some of the grisly aspects of death, various cemetery related scandals and lots of good hard factual information. If you have an interest in cemeteries or in London as a city this is a must read book. My only quibble is that there were very few illustrations, and those chosen were not good. Other than that, it's excellent!
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Keri on 25 July 2007
Format: Hardcover
Necropolis: London and its Dead is a fascinating study of London's status as centuries-old burial ground, and how the city's relationship to death and its dead has played a pivotal role in its history. It begins with the Neolithic tribal settlements in the area which became the capital, moving onto Roman ritual and burial and then,in the post-Pagan centuries, the vast differences in the treatment of death via Christian belief. Medieval death, plague and the notion of ars moriendi (the art of dying well) are explored, as is the Great Fire of 1665, the population boom of the following two centuries. The crystalisation of Victorian attitudes to grief and mourning naturally take up a great deal of the book, as do the completions of the vast (then) out-of-town cemeteries such as Kensall Green and of course Highgate, after the massive scandals of the Resurrection-Men, mass burials, cholera and the public health horrors of the mid-1800s. Moving on from the nineteenth century, Arnold argues that the intricate and established cult of grief long-held in Victorian London necessarily had to alter after the mass deaths of WWI made intimate mourning and, indeed, graveside reveries, impossible and contrived in the face of rapidly advancing, agnostic modernity.

The amount of material covered in this slim paperback edition is quite staggering, but Arnold makes easy work of the vast subject matter and manages to convey a neat narrative progression throughout. She has an obvious relish for the macabre, but never falls into either of the standard-issue pitfalls when dealing with the subject of death: she neither becomes overly hammy and lighthearted, nor does she descend into the sober depths of elegy. At all times she is even-handed, engaging, critical and honest.
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