Three books by Stephen Halliday, a specialist in industrial history, that chart the impressive engineering and construction achievements of Victorian London

The Creators of Victorian London

A well-illustrated book that covers the lives of 8 men who created the Victorian London, including John Nash  (Regency London), Marc Brunel (Thames Tunnel), Thomas Cubitt (Belgravia), Sir Charles Barry (Palace of Westminster), Joseph Paxton (Crystal Palace), Alfred Waterhouse (Natural History Museum) Joseph Bazalgette (the sewers), Sir Edward Watkin (Metropolitan Railway).

Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis

The invention of the ‘water closet’ coincided with a building boom in London in the early 19c. resulting in all the raw sewage being flushed into the Thames, rather than being collected from cesspits by night soil men. By 1858 the Thames had turned into a foetid sewer giving rise to an outbreak of cholera that killed over 40,000 Londoners. Named by the Times as ‘The Great Stink’, Parliament turned to the engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette.  This book is far more than just the story of the building of the Victorian sewer system still in use today. It is also a biography of Bazalgette, a history of water and sanitation from medieval days, not to mention a tale of conflict between politicians, bureaucrats and scientist, which is eerily familiar!

200 years of the history of London’s Underground from the false starts to the challenges of the 21c

The world’s first underground rail network – a Victorian feat of engineering – has from its inception played a vital role in the economy and the everyday life of the capital.  This is an informative, wide ranging entertaining, and well-illustrated history of the Underground.  Not only does it celebrate the vision and determination of the Victorian pioneers who conceived of this revolutionary transport system, but it also records the scandals, disappointments and disasters and the occasional flamboyant and corrupt individuals who shaped its history.

I have always had a particular interest in industrial history and Victorian London and Stephen Halliday is my favourite author on this subject.  These books are as much a social as an industrial/engineering history and they give a vivid insight into the everyday life and challenges of a fast changing and expanding city.  These books are excellently researched but are very easy to read as they are imaginatively edited with lots of illustrations, maps and charts and chapter and sub-headings so you can easily pick and chose how much detail you get into.


Charting a hundred different industries, great and small, from gasworks to hat making and from flour-milling to false teeth

London has often been overlooked as a significant and major industrial centre. (apart from Lancashire London had the greatest concentration of Boulton & Watts steam engines).  Geoff, who is a Blue Badge colleague of mine has a wide interpretation of ‘industry’, so he not only covers manufacturing but also public utilities such as gas and electricity, transport such as canals, and even windmills and it is also full of fascinating and at times quirky facts.

I love this book and use it a lot as background to my walks around those areas of London blessed with wonderful Victorian industrial buildings now being gentrified – Clerkenwell, Bermondsey,Southwark, Lambeth, etc.  But I also love the fascinating facts…did you know that the world’s first plastic material was synthesised in Hackney Wick, or that the world’s largest dog biscuit factory was in Poplar and that it employed a certain Charles Cruft as a young clerk, or that household names such as Schweppes, Crosse & Blackwell and Vauxhall began in London?  You can either dip into it as a reference book (which I do now) or read it from cover to cover, (which I did when I first got it)

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