London A-Z || John Metcalfe

First up, let’s deal with why this is appearing in an art review blog. Well, it’s “decorated” (their word) by no less a figure than Edward Bawden. Oh, the days when you could commission a major artist to produce simple black and white outlines! It’s a stretch, but it’s my blog and I say what goes in.

It all looks a bit retro, especially the price, 2/6, half a crown, twelve-and-a-half pee in new money (I can still do the maths). Not such good news on the back cover, though: £6.95. That’s inflation for you!

What this is is a 1953 guide to London, at least in part for overseas visitors coming over for the coronation of the woman who’s still our Queen. Timely, I think, is the word you’re looking for. Opening it at random, I see that you could get into Hampton Court for 1/- Monday to Friday, Saturday 6d, Sundays and Bank Holidays free. It’s £21 for a full ticket now, any day, which makes the book look like super value. You could get there by Green Line bus or by Underground and trolley bus. The Underground is still running.

On the opposite page, it says: “Hospitals, see Doctors and Dentists”, so I did. We still have the NHS (just), so treatment there is still free. “The most you have to pay a dentist (except for dentures) is £1.” I had a new crown fitted a couple of years ago and it was the wrong side of £200, so Hampton Court is looking better value.

The book is not without its humour, indeed it’s part of its charm. A couple of pages back from Doctors is Debutantes. “…the debutante of today quite often works for a living, and can usually be recognised at the Berkeley or Quag’s or the Four Hundred by the loudness of her voice and the pinkness of her escort.”

I could go on, but then you wouldn’t need to go out and buy the book. Most of the physical London it describes is still there, even if you will need deeper pockets to pay for entry (though they invented credit cards to cover that). The cover blurb for this edition describes it as “essential reading for every metropolitan explorer” and I wouldn’t disagree with that.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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