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Treasures to delight the eye and illuminate the mind
on 7 October 2007
I love maps and I love London: what a combination!
This book is a companion to the exhibition held at the British Library in 2006-07. The book is split into four sections - London before the Great Fire, the age of elegance, the Victorian metropolis, and the shock of the new - and each section has a page or sometimes two pages devoted to particular aspects of each theme. Thus we have various maps and plans of the Tower and Westminster Abbey mixed with representations of Civil War London in the first section; and visions of Wembley and the Festival of Britain in the final section.
The result is akin to a visual version of Peter Ackroyd's biography of the city. You can dip into this marvellous publication at various points and find treasures to delight the eye and to illuminate the mind, be the maps and plans devoted to the underground, Belgravia, Wren's plans for the post-Fire city or Tudor Smithfield. Each page is concise and self-contained, but, taken as a whole, the vision is panoramic.
As one would expect from a publication by the British Library, the quality of impressive. As well as reproductions of maps and plans, there are also engravings, paintings and photographs to enliven the page. Peter Whitfield's commentary is wise and engaging. He is not afraid to comment on the brutalist tendencies of the post-war era, and his text is the perfect accompaniment to the image presented.
No quibbles? Well, there are two: firstly, although detailed catalogue references are given to the illustrated maps, some maps are surprisingly without a date (for example the map of Epping Forest on page 164). My second quibble - I want these maps!