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A Fine New Companion in The City of London

19-May-2012
19-May-2012 0:00
in Photography
by Peter Berthoud

There are countless books on The City of London but a new title improves upon so many that have gone before.

"The City of London: A Companion Guide" is a genuinely useful and beautiful book with broad appeal.

Anyone who wants to explore and understand this most historic part of the Capital now has a single, portable, readable, volume to guide them and the most dedicated City historian has gained an up-to-date resource packed with glorious photographs.

The Willis Building on Lime Street London ©Marcus Rochowski/VIEW
The Willis Building on Lime Street ©Marcus Rochowski/VIEW

The image of the Willis building, above, is just one of nearly 500 stunning photos.

The text is excellent too. The authors, working under the editorship of Sir Nicholas Kenyon, succinctly, authoritatively and engagingly explain and examine The City; its history, institutions and architecture. Together they have produced the most accessible book I have ever seen on The City of London.

One does not need to be an expert on finance to appreciate their examination of key institutions in The Square Mile's history and development.

The Bank of England, Tivoli Corner at the north-west tip of the Bank © James Morris/VIEW
The Bank of England, Tivoli Corner at the north-west tip of the Bank © James Morris/VIEW

The former Overseas Bankers’ Club ©Quintin Lake/VIEW
The former Overseas Bankers’ Club ©Quintin Lake/VIEW

Interior of the Royal Exchange today following refurbishment in 2001 ©Kilian O’Sullivan/VIEW
Interior of the Royal Exchange today following refurbishment in 2001 ©Kilian O’Sullivan/VIEW

One does not need to be an ecclesiastical architecture buff to enjoy the book either. All of the city churches are showcased beautifully but here they are not dealt with in isolation, as they often are elsewhere.

St Bartholomew-the-Great © James Morris/VIEW
St Bartholomew-the-Great © James Morris/VIEW

This book splits the City into eight areas, provides a map of each, and then deals with each area's significant architecture and history. The City is made so much easier to explore and to appreciate when it is broken into these varied, bite-sized chunks.

The role of the Livery companies and the City's unique method of governance, can make for very dull reading indeed, but not here. The Companion explains and reinvigorates even the driest of these subjects with its light but assured touch. Every subject is complimented by superb images of places that can often be difficult to visit in person.

Tallow Chandler’s Hall ©David Borland/VIEW
Tallow Chandler’s Hall ©David Borland/VIEW

The ‘salle des pas perdus’ of the Central Criminal Court ©James Morris/VIEW
The ‘salle des pas perdus’ of the Central Criminal Court ©James Morris/VIEW

Of course all the well known "icons" of The City are covered too.

St Paul’s Cathedral ©James Morris/VIEW
St Paul’s Cathedral ©James Morris/VIEW

But, in addition to the inclusions that demand to made, there are numerous, lesser-known buildings and places. I hadn't realised, for example, that the shopfront at 115 Cannon Street is by Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus School. Nor had I seen the majority of the archive images that accompany the modern photos before. Well, that is not strictly true, I should say "I hadn't seen them until recently".

Just before Christmas Thames and Hudson published a very large, sumptuous, coffee-table book: "The City of London: Architectural Tradition & Innovation in the Square Mile". I have a copy and this new Companion is essentially a reworking of that book.

The physical size and weight of the Companion have reduced the previous title, to make it, if not quite pocket-sized, then certainly manageable on the bus or Tube and usable on the street. The price has been halved too. The images, text and high production values remain unscathed. I think this new edition is certainly worth owning, even if you already have the rather lovely, but unwieldy, version.

 

As a single-volume introduction to the architecture and history of The City of London, I don't think it can be beaten.

The City of London: A Companion Guide
General Editor: Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Published by Thames & Hudson
Price: £18.95

ISBN 978 0 500 342794

368pp
Size
22.9 x 15.2cm

Illustrations
470 illustrations, 390 in colour

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