Regulars will know I love love love Edward Rutherfurd’s New York, which I read soon after it came out about 18 months ago. I love it so much I keep the last chapter back to savour every word the next day even though I have time to finish it. I also read it within my self imposed three week deadline. I give myself a week to read a standard book of say 300 pages, this had 1017.
After that, I’m looking forward to reading the author’s other ‘history told in a novel’ stories and have London and Dublin at the top of the list. This year I get to do that. I start London at the start of February and even though it’s only 829 words I give myself over three weeks- February was a packed month for me.
I’ve just finished it on Sunday.
It’s written in the same style, has the same level of detail and historic facts and is written about my own country; yet I find after 2 hours of reading time, I have not turned over four pages. I’m not sure if it’s just that my mind is finding it hard to focus but I just couldn’t get into it. Determination made me finish it.
I love the start, 54BC where civilisation seemed much more civilised than I imagine and my favourite periods in history, Tudor & Shakespeare and the Georgian/Regency period, the latter mostly for the home decor I have to say.
Other parts that are such a big part of our lives are glossed over, Jesus’ birth and Guy Fawkes trying to burn Parliament for example.
I have however, picked up some brilliant insights of Britain through the ages; I trust all of these learnings are true:
Apart from giving us roads, Romans introduced herbs into cooking (and America only just seems to have discovered them)
‘Ham’ = hamlet
‘ton’ = farm (as in Kensington)
‘hythe’ = harbour
Easter (eostre) was a festival to welcome spring that the Pagans renamed Easter.
Edward Rutherfurd cleverly worked the myth about London’s streets being paved with gold by having Centurions bury some stolen gold coins but not living to recover them. You have to read all the way through the book to see when that gold is discovered.
The first fireplace in the UK was in the Tower of London in 1081
There was a prison called the Clink, hence the nick name.
Southwark was where the vagrants lived (any change there?)
Dogget: This is very clever; Rutherfurd derives this name from ‘Dog’s Head’ girls, sisters who worked at a whorehouse. Later the name got changed to Ducket for the rich and Dogget remained for the poor.
This was the time when the church ran the legal brothels and they had Bishop Inspectors to throw out the disease-ridden girls.
There was a law that only a whore could save a man on death row, if she claimed him to marry her. Since they would have no credibility anyway, many are presumed to have chosen the noose but the author uses this to clever affect in one such case.
Another name, Lombard Street is said to come from the Italian financiers based here, from Lombardy.
Priests never used to be celibate (used to be?)
John Harvard, as in Harvard University, was English and went over to the USA, back in the day when they let everyone in as no-one was there. I’m sure Americans really show appreciate for the English going over there to start the nation every day of their lives.
In 1652 puritan England, it was outlawed to ‘celebrate’ Christmas as a festival as it should be a time for solemn prayer, so people had Christmas dinners
In the same year, adultery carried the death penalty, before they had CCTV, DNA testing and private investigators. The guilty mostly escaped death because the legal minds didn’t feel it justified it but they could not live a normal existence in the community thereafter.
Small banks were being bailed out by the government in 1824.
There was a Lavender Hill, as depicted in the Marilion song, in south London, according to this book. It sounds absolutely gorgeous with mansion houses built to look down at the views.
Each town kept its own local town until national trains were introduced and they decided to keep ‘London time’.
Another masterpiece by the author who must have now earned about five honouree degrees given his in depth knowledge of world history.
8/10 (think it’s just my mind in other places that made me lack focus)
Inspiration factor 9/10