November 24, 2012
MarkBernstein.org
 
Follow me on Twitter

London in the 19th Century

by Jerry White

The middle volume in White’s compendium of exhaustive studies of every facet of London in the 20th, 19th, and 18th centuries. Fascinatingly, White began with the 20th-century volume. I discovered the series because TLS lauded the newly-arrived book on the 18th century.

Each chapter follows a street that provides a focus for its topic: Spring Gardens for government, Broad Sanctuary for school administration, Flower and Dean Street for common lodging houses and the very poorest laborers. If you want to know how the administrative structure of the Metropolitan Sanitary Commission affected the growth of London and the health of its residents, this is the book for you. White delves into fascinating detail about how things actually worked, from land speculation in Belgravia to prostitution in the back of the music hall. This is not an anecdotal account, and White generally focuses on streets and highways; we learn about offices and institutions, clerks and magnates, but hear less of what went on inside those offices or where people ate lunch. At 624 pages, there’s not much space to lament what was left out, and even the administrative histories of the London School Board and the New Police provide a certain narrative satisfaction.