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Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840-1870 [Hardcover]

Liza Picard
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Aug 2005
Like her previous books, this book is the product of the author's passionate interest in the realities of everyday life - and the conditions in which most people lived - so often left out of history books. This period of mid Victorian London covers a huge span: Victoria's wedding and the place of the royals in popular esteem; how the very poor lived, the underworld, prostitution, crime, prisons and transportation; the public utilities - Bazalgette on sewers and road design, Chadwick on pollution and sanitation; private charities - Peabody, Burdett Coutts - and workhouses; new terraced housing and transport, trains, omnibuses and the Underground; furniture and decor; families and the position of women; the prosperous middle classes and their new shops, e.g. Peter Jones, Harrods; entertaining and servants, food and drink; unlimited liability and bankruptcy; the rich, the marriage market, taxes and anti-semitism; the Empire, recruitment and press-gangs. The period begins with the closing of the Fleet and Marshalsea prisons and ends with the first (steam-operated) Underground trains and the first Gilbert & Sullivan. All the splendours and horrors of Victorian life will be vividly recalled.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; 1st Edition edition (4 Aug 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297847333
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297847335
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 16.4 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 111,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Reading her book is like gazing at one of those energetic, crowded canvanses by the Victorian painter William Powell Frith. (AN Wilson THE EVENING STANDARD)

She is an engaging companion, always wondering out loud about the sort of questions which you've asked enjoyable book. (Philip Hensher THE SPECTATOR)

Picard enjoys recounting the gruesome daily mechanics of living in what Cobbett described as 'the great wen' (Tristrum Hunt NEW STATESMAN)

'Picard is particularly good on the sort of thing that contemporary chronicles didn't always think to put in..... a very welcome addition to the skyline (Adam Newey THE GUARDIAN)

This book is a feast of tit-bits, bringing 19th-century London to life piecemeal with the accumulation of facts. (Jad Adams THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Liza Picard shares Victorian Londoners' enthusiasm for their bits and bobs. (Kate Summerscale THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)

She writes the old history, descriptive and unanalytical, painted in exhilarating colours. Victorian London, finest example of the greatest urban age since the Renaissance, was made for her. (Simon Jenkins THE SUNDAY TIMES)

The book is a mine of information. (THE WEEK)

witty and entertaining. (IMAGE)

wonderfully entertaining. (Gillian Tindall LITERARY REVIEW)

Vividness is the book's aim, and this is achieved splendidly. (THE ECONOMIST)

Picard's characters and extracts are not only telling and to the point, but often drily comic (Judith Flanders TLS)

Book Description

From rag-gatherers to royalty, from fish knives to Freemasons: everyday life in Victorian London

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read 4 Sep 2005
By A Customer
I found Victorian London to be entertaining, full of enthusiasm for the subject full of enjoyable facts, large and small. All in all, highly enjoyable. A bit lightweight in places, but nothing wrong in that.
Yet it is exactly the same book as the reviewer from Edinburgh loathed with a passion bordering on hate. Yes, there are more serious history books available and yes, if you are fortunate, you could go visit your local folk museum. None of which seems to warrant one of the most damning reviews I have read on Amazon.
I urge you to read the book yourself. It will tell you more about London than you could possibly imagine.
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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read 1 Sep 2005
By A Customer
Liza Picard's latest book is an entertaining, pleasingly diverting history of the period, written with her usual wit and fondess for the minutiae of daily life of times past. It's full of enthusiasm for the subject, hugely readable and a mine of information about a fascinating period.
I'm somewhat taken aback by the scathing review from A Reader From Edinburgh. While I don't claim it is the greatest history book of all time, it's significantly better than the review below would lead you to believe.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian London - 1840-1870 - Liza Picard 22 Feb 2010
By Andrea Bowhill VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Liza Picard opens up this book To Londoners, but I can safely add to history lovers, tourist and anyone fascinated with this Victorian era for the years of 1840-1870 there is simply a wealth of information about the social everyday life of Londoners. For all modern day Londoners living the life no need to look down at the pavement on your daily drudge to work because after reading this book you may look up and have thoughts of enlightenment and wonder. This era gives you an account of how you came to travel the underground so next time you hear that automated voice over at the station "This train is delayed, due to the previous train being delayed.. and so on" for clarification, the delay started back in the 19th century. Victorian buildings you may pass were a base from which a great idea was formed, everything is right before our very eyes, this book welcomes us back to a fascinating city.

I'm firstly going to bring everyone into the lay out and expectations when reading through. Incredibly researched, primary sources have been used but its been investigated much much further for detail. Its then I would say been divided into themed references and then themes form chapters, each broken down into many small sub-sections. Themes: Buildings, the river, the streets, working, middle, upper classes and royalty, domestic service, poverty, railway, Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Great Exhibition, health, fashions, language, food, and so on. Theme example: Under Practicalities: The postal services, subs: the stamp introduction, letterboxes, post offices when the first uniforms were worn and fashion ect ect. This builds up an image in the mind, of people, a place, an area and a sense of time in an observant way.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History "Lite" 15 Jun 2011
Having read all four of Lisa Picard's books, this is possibly the best written, though there remains a need for some better editing; we do not need to be given the same facts more than once.

My only concern with this book is that this, as with all her books, regurgitates what she has read in her researches - my heart sank when I read "the internet" as a source in one footnote - without the professional historian's ability to critically assess and analyse. She acknowledges that some of her source material - most notably Mayhew and a self confessed Anglophobic Frenchwoman whose name I forget - was written by somebody "with an angle", but without the knowledge or skill to assess and present the material accordingly.

There is much that is of interest, but this remains "history lite", an entertaining diversion, but something for those with a deeper interest in social history. For those preferring their history "full fat" Professor Jerry White's "London In The 19th Century" is a better bet.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely enjoyable 6 July 2011
By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER
Here is a book which treads the difficult line between popularity and erudition. It is not intended to be an academic history, yet every reader will learn a lot from it. At the same time, it is so easy to read you may well romp through it like a novel. Having read it once, you will find yourself dipping back into it at random - a good pick-me-up when bored or on a long journey, as you can read it in snippets without losing out.

Picard tackles Victorian London by themes - probably the only way to do it - and each subject will contain a mix of what we already vaguely knew from other sources, and stuff which is new. As the chapters build up we begin to absorb a many-layered picture which gives us a rich, textural understanding. For anyone studying or just fond of the Victorian novel - Wilkie Collins, Dickens, even Trollope - this background will enrich our appreciation. If you are reading more modern writers such as Sarah Waters or recent best-sellers like The Crimson Petal and the White, I think you'd find it equally fascinating.

This book will appeal to people who read non-fiction for pleasure. If you are only really interested in the novel with its plot-line and characterisation, you'll probably find it less immediately appealing. For those studying the history of the period, it will fill in a lot of gaps. Take it on its merits, rather than expecting it to be something it is not.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars how our past really was
I really enjoyed reading of the Victorian period as it seemed then that there was a lot of very clever people about as there I today but then these people were very inventive,
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Good overview
Gives you a flavour of Victorian London. Not an in depth study. Would have given four stars but she put City of London Cemetery in Ilford. It's in Manor Park Newham.
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars great
a great read - accidentally bouoght it 2x! hope to buy her other books nowl very good writer and very amusing book
Published 8 months ago by John Francis Quinn
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian London
This is a very good book about Victorian life and very readable. It is full of interesting anecdotes about Victorian Life and must interest anyone who has researched their... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mrs. V. E. Hunt
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read
A vivid picture of the age. Beautifully written with a light but witty touch. Extremely thoroughly researched but none the less highly readable.
Published 14 months ago by Richard Winter
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed.
Given as a present and very much enjoyed by the recipient. Has proved an easy read and informative as well.
Published 14 months ago by StevenF
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read... thoroughly recommend
I bought this book as I have an interest in Victorian history. My degree was focused on Victorian history but since graduating some years ago and moving into the legal profession,... Read more
Published 17 months ago by ErenaP
5.0 out of 5 stars Just What I was Looking For
I ordered "Victorian London: The Life of a City 1840-1870" as a research book and not only does it have just what I was looking for , but just the right time frame too. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Barbara D. Zambrana
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book for insight of victorian life
I enjoy dipping into this book at different times. It is clearly written and enjoyable to read giving a clear insight into Victorian life in London
Published 20 months ago by junepickard
3.0 out of 5 stars Little bit boring
Was looking forward to reading this but found it slightly complicated and boring in parts. Skipped through most of the pages to try and find points or subject of interest - still... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Celly Louise
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