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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 1 January 2018

"London's Strangest Tales" by Tom Quinn

This is a compendium of stories, most of them one or two pages long, set in London. It is arranged historically, starting in 950 and ending in 2007, although the 2007 story seems to relate to 1665 and the 950 story could apply to 1705. I rather wish it had been arranged geographically so that I could have gone to the many places mentioned and read about them while watching.

Because it is mostly about places in London. He tells us about the reason Scotland Yard is so named, of the snuff obsessive who lined on Essex Street, and the entrance, near Waterloo, of the station to the railway of the dead. Many of these tales I didn't know and I would love to wander London armed with this book to guide me.

One bit annoyed me. Towards the end of the book the author goes on and on about the destruction of old buildings in the name of progress; he is positively rude about the men and women who have to make decisions about whether to allow demolitions to permit new growth. I respect the opinion of this author but I felt its repetition was out of place in this book.

The page numbers are placed in the margins rather than at the foot or head of each page. I quite like that!

Bits I enjoyed:

  • "Despite George Bernard Shaw's foolish quip - 'Those who can do, those who can't teach' - the whole future of each generation depends to a large degree on the skills or otherwise of the teaching profession." (p 56)
  • "When one of his fellow schoolmasters questioned [the head's] judgment, Busby sent a team of schoolboys with axes to chop down the staircase leading to the rebellious teacher's apartments." (p 56)
  • "In 1696 the law changed so that clergymen who married couples without first declaring the banns ... might lose their livings. Clergymen of the Fleet ... had no parishes ... so anyone who wanted to marry without their parents'; permission could do so only at the Fleet." (p 68)
  • Publisher John Murray's first offices were 32 Fleet Street, "the site of Wynkyn de Word's p[rinting press established in 1500". (p 95)
  • "The centre of London is located at a spot just behind the equestrian statue of Charles I at the southern edge of Trafalgar Square" where the old Charing Cross used to be , exactly half way between the cities of London and Westminster. (p 160)
  • "St Dunstan's Church in Fleet Street ... for many years provided a home to ... the Coptic Ethiopian Church, the Assyrian Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht." It was a centre of book publishing and the churchwarden was Izaak Walton who wrote The Compleat Angler, "the most reprinted book after the Bible" (p 210)
  • The is a network of secret tunnels under London, below the sewers but just above the water table, where tube trains and pipelines may not go. They are secret. (p241 - 242)


A very interesting book.

January 2018; 252 pages


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