I’m a great fan of David Long; a London-based journalist and prolific author, he has published eight books on London with another four split between the history of the motor car and studies of the eccentric nature of our national character.
I already have two of David’s volumes in my collection of books about London – ‘Hidden City‘, which is about the Square Mile, and his most recent publication, ‘Murders of London‘. I now have a third, the 2009 reprint of ‘Tunnels, Towers & Temples‘ which devotes its two hundred pages to an examination of a hundred of London’s most unusual places. Organised into eleven sections with one page of text opposite an assembly of photographs for each site, it covers themes such as death, leisure and transport and takes readers on a journey that visits all parts of the city, from Hampstead in the north to Crystal Palace in the south. There’s a wealth of information here, and some of the places that David describes are truly strange, for example:
- Orchard Place, a hidden wharf on the Thames that despite its location opposite the Greenwich Peninsula rarely gets any visitors, and where an artists’ community thrives in a conglomeration of old shipping containers next to a shining chrome American diner called ‘Fatboys’.
- The London Hydraulic Power Company building on Wapping Wall which provided pressurised water to power hotel lifts, theatre curtains and dockyards cranes utilising a twelve mile long network of iron pipes running here and there across London, for over a hundred years.
- Baroness Burdett-Coutts’ (who if you remember is commemorated by a very grand structure in St Pancras Gardens) creation of a neo-gothic planned community in Highgate – Holly Village. This highly decorated assembly of cottages, which could have come straight from the set of a Hammer Horror film of the 1970s, even has a village green in miniature at its centre.
- The marvellous Eltham Palace, originally one of Henry VIII’s many residences. After many centuries of neglect which eventually saw the Great Hall seeing use as a cattle shed, it was acquired by the Courtauld family who turned it into the most spectacular art deco house in the country.
Unfortunately ‘Tunnels, Towers & Temples’ isn’t one of those books that you can slip into your backpack when you’re heading out to explore. It’s medium format and hardback cover make it ideal for the coffee table however, and that’s how I’ve been using it – dipping in and out here and there and reading a page or two at a time. If you’re a regular visitor to the capital who is getting bored with the usual tourist traps or a local who doesn’t often waver from their route between work, home and the pub then ‘Tunnels, Towers & Temples’ is the book for you. There are a year or two’s exciting journeys ahead if you use this book as your inspiration for days out across our wonderful capital city. I highly recommend it.