A brilliantly concise history – a cross between a narrative history and a guide book.  Written by a Blue Badge guide it is only 230 pages long yet covers London’s first beginnings, right up to the present day from Londinium and Lundenwic to the Dome and Tate Modern.  One of a series which covers  many countries such as France, Russia and Japan and cities such as Paris, York and Athens.

This was the first book I read when I first started to train as a guide together with A Traveller’s Guide to England – also highly recommended.  It is immensely readable and has useful appendices – covering subjects such as a chronology of major events, brief histories of major buildings such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower, Royal Palaces, London Bridges, and London Cemeteries.



Published at the millennium, this is a truly unique book.  For Peter Ackroyd London is a living organism, with its own laws of growth and change, hence a ‘biography’ rather than a history. Ackroyd portrays London from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century. In outline structure it is chronological, but the stronger thread is the amazing diversity of themes it covers…e.g  London as Theatre, London as a Crowd, London’s Rivers.

For anyone seriously interested in the diversity of London’s history this is a ‘must-read’.  However it is over 700 pages…and in places quite dense and meaty, definitely not a bed-time read.  I recommend you dip in and out of it, choosing from the chapter headings themes that catch your interest.  The great delight of this book is that you do not need to read it in chronological order….in fact better not to do so.  You may well find, in the end you have unintentionally read it all…I did!


THE LONDON ENCYCLOPAEDIA published by Macmillan

This is a brilliant and entertaining reference book.  It lists entries alphabetically and covers London districts, streets, buildings and diverse themes (e.g Regiments, City Livery Companies, Water Supplies.  It even includes sites and buildings no longer there. It also has an index of 10,000 people mentioned in the text . There are over 5000 entries, giving not only the history but frequently amusing anecdotes.

When planning a new walk, this is the book I refer to first as it has become my bible.  There are quite a few update editions. The newest one is still quite expensive, but there are second-hand copies to be had for very little…Abe Books has second hand ones for £3.88!  The older editions are fine for general interest.


From the Museum of London – A fully illustrated history of London from pre-history to the 21century plans

As this is a Museum of London book, written by two of the curators, it is much more like visiting the museum rather than reading a history book. For example it starts with maps of Britain’s and Europe from 1.8m years ago to 13k years ago, showing the fluctuating sea levels and river courses (the Thames was once a tributary of the Rhine) and ends with sections on the regeneration of the inner city from the 1980s and the final chapter ‘London Moves East’ – the long term strategy of further development of the Docklands and the ‘Thames Gateway to Europe.’

This is one of my very favourite reference and browsing books about London, one that I use a lot for not only for visual aids but also ‘substantiating facts and statistics for my walks.  For example it has a section ‘Gin Lane and the Workhouses’ that has a map of Covent Garden and St Giles showing the number of criminal trials associated with each street….over 23 for Long Acre and Drury Lane. And facts such as by 1723 the average Londoner (that included everyone) was consuming a pint of gin a week and an eighth of all deaths of adults over 20 were from drinking spirits.


Everyday Life in Elizabethan London, ‘contemplating every civic aspect from the sartorial to the gynaecological’ Jan Morris

This book is divided and subdivided by themes as diverse as ‘Water Supply and Sewerage’,  ‘Food and Drink’, ‘Foreigners’, ‘Sex, Marriage, Family Life and Death’.  By concentrating on the things of everyday life it conjures up an impressively vibrant and detailed picture of life in  16th century London.

If you enjoy this then try….Restoration London, Dr. Johnson’s London, Victorian London…. all by Liza Picard.

These books I find invaluable for my walks as I often get asked about aspects of Londoners’ everyday life.   I am also particularly interested in social history as those of you who have done my walks will I hope appreciate.  Although these books are designed to be more for reference,, they are so vividly written and so well researched that they can be enjoyed as a ‘start to finish’ read.


A collection of quirky yet (mostly!) accurate London tales – from pre-history to the present day

A light-hearted collection of stories and anecdotes covering all aspects of London’s history from the 5000 year-old Heathrow Cursus, to how some Victorian members of Whites Club in St James bored under the cellar and discovered the London bedrock of chalk through 71.6m of London clay.

I found this book really fun and amusing and certainly bed-time reading.  When eventually my walks get going, and you all come flooding back to rediscover London, I will be re-telling some of these fun yet true stories to keep you all entertained as well as informed!


The Story of Immigration to Britain

The story of the way Britain has been settled and influence by foreign people and ideas is as old as Britain itself.  This is the first book to treat the subject as a continuous narrative.  It tracks the history of immigration from the Celts of pre Roman Britain to the present day.

This is quite a meaty book not an easy bed-time read, but I strongly recommend it as it puts into sharp focus the current debate over immigration.  Not  just about London, but  of course particularly relevant to the recent ‘Generation Windrush’ scandal and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.


20 years of mud-larking along the tidal Thames

A book charting 20 years’ worth of finds, but through which Lara Maiklem manages to evoke the everyday lives of Londoners from Neolithic times to the present day….including the many modern Hindu lamps she has found in the East End stretches of the river – thrown in by East Enders celebrating Diwali ..the Hindu festival of lights.

A different and engaging way to learn about London history via the minutiae of the finds along the Thames foreshaw.  A warning…If you feel inspired to wander along the foreshore at low tide….don’t.  It is very dangerous as the tides are unpredictable and you need a licence from the PLA to mud-lark which is a long process and hard to get.



A website that posts approx every week on an area of London.

The author’s father took photos of London from 1946 – 1954…these photos he uses as a base to explore the history of small areas of London and then shows how they have changed over time (going much further back than his father’s photos) with maps, old pictures and modern photos.


If you love old maps of London go to this website and with it you can explore London maps.  You can chose one area of London and then explore the maps going back over time, or search by themes.  You can also superimpose one map on the other….but need to work at it as it is a bit complicated.  I haven’t yet quite mastered this!



A Social History through the Houses and Streets we live in

A brilliant series of 6 programmes covering streets in Notting Hill, Bermondsey, Deptford, Kings Cross, Camberwell and Shoreditch



A black British family turn back the clock to experience the choices, challenges and excitement that faced the Windrush generation.

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