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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 20 October 2008
This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves London, and an eye-opener if you have ever wondered whether cities have any folklore apart from ghost stories. Steve Roud divides London into seven regions, and finds an amazing variety of tales and customs (past and present) to discuss in each one, and links them to the buildings and streets. In the section on the City of Westminster, for instance, you get gruesome tales of hangings at Tyburn, conspiracy theories surrounding the fate of Cromwell's corpse, the custom of wife-selling, May Day celebrations by chimney sweeps, plague pits, the fair at Mayfair, gypsy fortune tellers, a school Pancake Day custom, the famous ghosts of 50 Berkeley Square and Newgate Gaol, and much more.

Roud doesn't just tell the story or describe the custom. He looks into its history and assesses the evidence, quoting directly from old or influential accounts. He has a rational, often amusing, way of dealing with nonsense and wild theories. We may have to wave goodbye to some favourite notions (about Sweeney Todd, or the Tower ravens, or Ring a Ring o' Roses), but the reasons behind them are always interesting. London's real traditions are even more entertaining than the fictions.
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on 16 December 2008
I can't recommend this book too highly. It is sensible, erudite and completely fascinating, and tells you more about the folklore and traditions of London than you would ever believe possible. Horn fairs, dancing chimney sweeps, the real Dick Turpin and the truth about Ann Boleyn's well, pig-faced ghosts, witches, murders and even a vampire. The only problem is that once you have started reading it is very hard to stop.
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on 6 January 2009
Clever, witty, remarkably easy too read and broken down for easy reference. The book is one of the most enthralling I've read I would tell anyone with even a small interest in the mysterious side of London to buy it. Just hope Roud may think of doing something similar with other cities York, Nottingham etc...
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on 27 April 2009
This enjoyable read offers a range of folklore and legend from across London, including some insightful comments on other writers and collectors in the field. It could benefit from severe editing, as several accounts are needlessly repeated, often in the space of only a few pages. Some glaring inaccuracies (e.g. "Newgate Prison was situated on the Strand where the Central Criminal Court now stands" (page 107)) make me wonder how many others I may have missed. The illustrations are generally excellent.
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on 17 July 2016
Written in brilliant entertaining style,full of fascinating folklore and excellent colour photos,this will engage you for many hours.Forget old stale academic type works-this is alive!A few errors but nothing serious,it will appeal to anyone interested in folklore generally as it is not confined to London entirely.Super stuff!
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Ideal for those of us who are Londoners this book is also interesting as it does show that certain legends, folklore and traditions are found elsewhere in the country, or just seem to be local to a particular area. This is a good collection of things that go on or have gone on in the past in our fair city, definitely the greatest on Earth, simply because I was born and live there. This could be of help to school children if they are doing projects on their local history, as there are so many things mentioned in this book. Obviously this book cannot detail everything in London as it is only just over four hundred pages, and there are a lot more stories that are not mentioned here that people will know about. Accordingly you won’t read of the numerous ghost stories on the Underground or over ground railways, or all the incidents that have happened with fights breaking out when Beating the Bounds throughout parishes in London was performed in the past.

There are some stories in here that I think quite a few people will know, and others that they won’t. I never knew about grotto building and asked around, and apparently my Nan used to do it as a child. This is the really good thing about this book, you will find yourself stumbling over stories that you can vaguely remember hearing of, finding out what older members of your family probably got up to, and finding things out about where you live.

This book has two main sections of photographs as well as many illustrations throughout, as well as maps showing the location of where incidents occurred in each section. Split up into sections of London this is easy to find something you are looking for and is an ideal reference work for those interested in our capital city.

As I mentioned this is really a reference book as such, although I found that I got through this quite quickly as I would look up something and then find I had also read loads of other items. Taking in ghost stories this is quite well written as the author isn’t credulous and believes everything that is mentioned. Alas, the number of books on the market reporting ‘true ghost stories’ that are not true and have no mystery surrounding them whatsoever is ridiculous, so this made a pleasant change. Where legends have grown up about how some places got their names, where the true origin is known this is printed here, as well as when certain stories and superstitions are known to have first started.

In all I found this a truly fascinating book to have and I am sure I will keep coming back to it over the years to re-acquaint myself with certain pieces. This book also helps to remind us of something that is often overlooked; London as we know it today was just originally a group of villages and hamlets that over the years due to population growth have disappeared into something bigger, but certain of these places still hold a busy village semblance with the dissemination of gossip and rumour, as well as reactions to certain building proposals.
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on 25 November 2009
This is this sort of book that you can dip in and out of. It is handily broken down into different geographical areas whilst the index at the back enables the reader to research by subject matter. It includes topics as diverse as ghosts, plague-pits, supersitions, wife-selling, and drunken sailors, to name but a few.

The author separates fact from myth and explores likely origins of various traditions and beliefs. However, he does not bombard the reader with weighty analysis but breaks everything down into bite sized chunks. I have found out lots of interesting information about the history of my home city, and enjoyed every minute of it.
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on 13 February 2009
If you love London and History then this really is a pip!

I'm a big fan of both and got this for Christmas (well I actually chose & paid for it) and was not dissapointed. A very enjoyable read and something that is easy to pick up/lay down, offering a slightly different angle to the City and History that we all (should) love.

Well worth the purchase

JJ
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on 25 July 2013
...digs through layers of hearsay and speculation to investigate how ans why the stories and traditions arose in the first place.

Brings to life the surprising, sometimes gruesome history of our capital.
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on 1 June 2009
This book was recently reviewed on the Robert Elms programme, BBC Radio LONDON. It was because of this I decided to but a copy and I totally agree with them that this book is a cracking read for anyone that have an interest in London's history.
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