Sunday, February 26, 2006


Homeward Hardbound (Pt II)

Last year I posted about the intriguing premise of Julie Myerson's Home: The History of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House. I actually came across another such book while in London recently -- and I feel foolish for not buying it, because now I can't find the scrap of paper I wrote its title on.

Anyway, they seem to be part of a burgeoning genre, because today's Times reviews Gillian Tindall's The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There.

When Tate Modern opened, the eyes of the world were on Bankside. This riverside causeway on the opposite side of the Thames to St Paul’s now hums with visitors, many arriving across the Millennium Bridge. Only a few yards from the foot of the bridge stands a curious leftover: 49 Bankside... For Gillian Tindall, it has become “emblematic of an entire world we have lost”.... In her previous book, on the 17th-century artist Wenceslaus Hollar, Tindall visited the area to search for the place whence he drew his famous panorama of London before the Great Fire. She found sheet-glass office blocks, tired industrial buildings, battered tenements; corner pubs, parking lots, and scraps of derelict earth freighted with sodden litter; exuberant buddleias sprang from stone and brick. Now she has dug deep into its history.
She digs into piles of newspapers and public records to uncover the many lives of this building. As you would guess, I'm absurdly excited by a book like this. I have a suspicion many more may be on the way, too: there is already enough public demand for such studies -- no doubt stoked by House Detectives and other such shows -- that I now see another rather telling new UK book reissue this month: Nick Barratt's Tracing the History of Your House, which is now also the basis of an Online House Detective website.

The explosion of digitally searchable primary records almost certainly has an awful lot to do with this trend. And the pickings are only going to get richer over the next decade....

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