Posted by: billpurdue | May 10, 2010

98 London through the ages

Well, I’ve read it at last – all 1294 pages of it (though other editions – including the latest paperback edition – have fewer pages). Edward Rutherfurd’s  London [ Arrow £8.99 9780099201915] is a novel of epic proportions which charts the development of the city from Roman times by following the fortunes of a number of fictional people and their descendants. Of course no characters last for the whole length of the novel, but their descendants crop up at various points as you read through the book. A sort of family tree at the start of the book is provided so you can refer to it if you forget who is descended from whom. There are also maps of London at various stages of its development.

At  first I found the prospect of reading it a little daunting, but I soon found that there were several points at which you could stop reading and come back to it a few days later. It is a succession of stories, but they do not stand completely on their own as the characters in the stories inherit the characteristics, the trades and sometimes the aristocratic titles of their predecessors. Rutherford writes about people from all walks of life and as the years go by demonstrates how some have found fame and fortune or have developed from being of a rather dubious nature to fine upstanding citizens. There is one particular family whose descendants all have similar features – a shock of white hair above the forehead and webbed fingers. I was curious about the significance of this invented trait, but it seems to have no relevance to the plot(s) except when a baby with webbed fingers  is born to the wife of an aristocratic member of a family in the 18th century. She tells a servant to get rid of the child because of what she regards as a deformity, but the child survives and so the genes are carried on.

Many of the characters are from other parts of the country, from Europe and even from America , demonstrating that London has always been a city of immigrants. There have been influxes of Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Flemings from Flanders and Huguenots from France to mention just a few. Whilst all the main characters are fictional, a few real and famous people make “cameo” appearances such as Geoffrey Chaucer and King Henry VIII.

At times it feels as though we are being given a quick history lesson about well known London landmarks or about the derivation of the names of streets or districts of the city. What became slightly irritating for me was the technique Rutherfurd uses to create suspense by starting a section with an event for which the explanation is only revealed several paragraphs later on. Having said that, I did enjoy the book, even though it took me an age to get through it.  Just the kind of book to take on a long relaxing holiday.

Have a look at Edward Rutherford’s website, where you can find out much more on the background of all his novels to date. His latest is New York [ Century £18.99 978-1846051951] which is out in paperback in July. The site includes a “Did you Know?” page where Rutherford lists  a variety of surprising historical facts he has discovered in the course of his research.

Another local book

Just published by The Derbyshire Times is When Coal was King [The Manchester Press £14.99 9781845472405] which is a compilation of photographs of scenes from coal mines in Derbyshire, along with a few from collieries just over the border in Nottinghamshire. The photos have been contributed by Derbyshire Times readers – who also sent in their reminiscences – and combined with some from the Times’ own archives.  There have been similar volumes of mining photographs published before, but I’m sure very few if any of the photos here have appeared in a book before .



  1. I love it,Excellent article.I am decide to put this into use one of these days.Thank you for sharing this.To Your Success!

  2. Pretty right article. I just came across your website and loved to say that I have really enjoyed reading your opinions. In any caseI’ll be coming back and I hope you post again soon.

  3. Just finished this one. one word Brilliant! I’ve read Sarum twice and the Forrest once. I live just three miles from the New Forrest and know the area very well. The books do more than justify themselves as a historical dramas.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post and pretty much impressed with your quality work. Hoping for your next post soon.

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