All books for review to Rob Jerrard Please
The Phoenix - St Paul's Cathedral and the Men Who Made Modern London
Author: Leo Hollis
Publishers: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
ISBN 13 9 780 297 850 77 9
The remarkable and inspiring story of how London was transformed after the Great Fire of 1666 into the most powerful city in the world, and the men who were responsible for that achievement.
Opening in the 1640s, as the city was gripped in tumult leading up to the English Civil War, The Phoenix charts the lives and works of five extraordinary men, who would grow up in the chaos of a world turned upside down: the architect, Sir Christopher Wren; gardener and virtuosi, John Evelyn; the scientist, Robert Hooke; the radical philosopher, John Locke and the builder, Nicholas Barbon. At the heart of the story is the rebuilding of London's iconic cathedral, St Paul's. Interweaving science, architecture, history and philosophy, The Phoenix tells the story of the formation of the first modern city.
Imagine a London split by civil war, the recent execution of the monarch and a period under Cromwellian rule followed by the Restoration. This was bad enough for the country as a whole. For London the events were followed by a devastating plague and further aggravated by the Great Fire. Surely a most sorry period in London's history matched only by Boudicca's fire-razing episode and the Luftwaffe's subsequent attentions during World War II.
And yet, within a generation or so, London was to rise from the ashes to emerge as possibly the greatest city in Europe. The question then arises, 'who were the people instrumental in bringing this about?'. Leo Hollis' book, The Phoenix tells the story of five men who were instrumental in transforming London over the following years from a scene of devastation to a vibrant commercial capital.
With the resulting skyline displaying the architectural skills and visions of Christopher Wren. one might expect that he would be one of the five as indeed he is. Leo Hollis takes his time building up to the story of an outstanding architect by portraying a man who had many other skills, not least in the field of astronomy, had the ear of Charles II and became an MP when it suited him purely to further his vision of a great cathedral.
It is Wren who dominates the story. Of the remaining four men involved, two are generally well known, the others slightly less so.
John Evelyn, diarist, gardener and friend of another contemporary great diarist - Samuel Pepys; Robert Hooke, architect; John Locke, philosopher and economist and, finally, Nicholas Barbon, speculator and builder.
The book is a history of London over a period of about half a century. If all that had happened to London was not enough, the country then chose to conduct expensive wars on the continent. A book for historians, it is also a book for those who love London.
True, the London of today is somewhat different to that of Wren's youth. However, the actual street outline is not much different to that of the pre-Fire Era despite the intrusions of the Industrial Revolution, the coming of the railways and more recent redevelopments. This is extraordinary since both Wren and Evelyn originally envisaged a post-fire city layout with a graph-like street plan reminiscent of the Roman Londinium. Bearing in mind this would be the one and only opportunity in London's history to produce a radical new street outline, their ideas would have been a godsend in later centuries with rises in horse-drawn, and later motorised, transport. For the traveller it would have transformed journeys through the centre of London. For the historian it would have meant removing centuries of history.
It is not generally appreciated that, during the 1660s prior to the Great Fire, Wren and others were already looking at the old St Paul's since the weight of the roof appeared to be pushing the walls outwards. This proved to be the case but there was then a protracted disagreement as to the most appropriate course of action. However, the fire intervened and the issue became academic. The outbreak of the fire and the course it was to take are charted in detail as are the various disputes as to how it might have been halted.
Other accounts of events after the fire tend to suggest that finance for rebuilding was merely a matter of putting charges on the importation of coal, while the logistics were a mere question of getting the stone from Portland to Ludgate Hill. Not so. It was also a time of political manoeuvrings, attempts by the Church to interfere and criticisms of Wren from other architects. The plan of the new St Paul's finally approved, formed the basis of the work to be put in hand. However, Wren went his own way to achieve his vision incorporating such 'adjustments' as he thought appropriate.
Of course other building work was in progress during the thirty-five years it took to build St Paul's. Not least the City churches, many of which bore signs of Wren's architectural brilliance. Meanwhile the rest of London had to be rebuilt or redeveloped which was where Nicolas Barbon came to prominence. He created a much needed system for insuring buildings against catastrophe. One might have thought that such a project would have been sufficient to have kept him busy enough and financially secure over the following years. However, always the speculator, Barbon was also instrumental in the development of commercial and residential redevelopment both within the City boundaries and to the west. The kindest judgment one might make about his speculative endeavours is that, in trying to create an empire, his financial management left a lot to be desired. Raising capital by means of loans he was often obliged to sell or lease sites before completion in order to finance further projects. But, as is common amongst those who recklessly pursue a policy of 'borrowing from Peter to pay Paul' it ended in tears and he died on the verge of bankruptcy.
However, his building programme did get things moving and hastened the growth of London's commercial viability. It has to be accepted that Barbon did put his stamp upon much of the redevelopment of Stuart and Georgian London, although most of his work was destined to last less than a century. But during that time his endeavours were probably the most important of the five in getting London back on its feet.
The five great men, acknowledged experts in their fields, did not always handle their personal finances with the same expertise. Only Hooke, who apparently did not trust banks, left a substantial sum in a locked chest.
Evelyn, born into wealth and inheriting an estate, played the stock market and lost considerable sums.
Christopher Wren was the only one to die with his dignity intact and leaving a permanent legacy. He did not amass a large fortune. His fees were paid in instalments, often not on the due date or, sometimes, not at all! But, buried in the crypt of St Paul's, his epitaph, written in Latin by his son, sums up his life's work. Translating as 'Reader, if you seek his monument, look about you.' it is most apt. Of the five talented men who made such an impact upon London following the Great Fire it is Wren's legacy that has stood the test of time.
Leo Hollis' book is an excellent, scholarly history of endeavour during turbulent times. Well researched, it captures the life and times of five men prominent in raising the Phoenix from the ashes. Excellent!
Uncle Jack, The True Identity of Jack the Ripper, Britainís most Notorious Murderer revealed at last
Author: Tony Williams with Humphrey Price
Publishers: Orion Books Ltd
Price £16.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2005
What the Publishers say about the book
The person identified in this book as the killer of five women in London's East End in 1888 has never before been named a suspect in more than a hundred years of
intense speculation. A very eminent man in his field, naming him will cause
huge shockwaves in the places where he is still venerated.
of the authors is a direct descendant of the killer. He did not set out to find
Jack the Ripper, but the evidence discovered while researching his illustrious
ancestor is incontrovertible.
the authors prove that their suspect was in Whitechapel at the same time as the
crimes were committed, and had the knowledge and the skills which the nature of
the murders required. No one has ever been able to find any evidence linking
any of the suspects to the victims. This book puts forward clear evidence
connecting the killer to three of the five victims, and circumstantial evidence
connecting him to the other two. It also explains why the murders stopped as
suddenly as they started.
the very first time, a consistent and plausible explanation for every aspect of
the case is presented, meeting all the key criteria of motive, method and
opportunity. The authors have even discovered what they are convinced is the
revelatory investigative work means that no one will ever regard the most
famous true crime of all in the same way.
†This book produces a fresh suspect,† 'Uncle Jack -The True Identity of
Jack the Ripper - Britainís most notorious murderer - revealed at last' the
front dust cover of Mr Williamsí book proclaims.†† For good measure the back of the dust cover assures potential
purchasers that the book is, ĎThe solution at last to this most famous crime
story of allí.
now, thereís a bold claim.† There
are readers, and many of them, who have read just about every word written on
the Whitechapel Murders.† They will have
seen such claims before but will still clamour to see whether ĎJackí has at
last been unmasked.
has to be said this is a fascinating book, the central character of which is
John Williams, who was born at Gwynfe, Carmarthenshire in 1840.†† He left Wales for London to pursue a career
in medicine, achieving wealth, fame and a knighthood as a physician/obstetrician
to the rich and titled in London.†† In
addition, like many medical men in Victorian London, he devoted a portion of
his time to the poor, who frequented the workhouses and associated
infirmaries.† So how does he become a
retired to Wales from his London practice in 1893, at the age of 53, citing
ill-health.† Yet he lived for another
thirty-three years involving himself in a less prestigious practice and
becoming very active in founding the National Library of Wales at
Aberystwith.† Why, the author asks,
should he have left London with so many active years before him?† Well, he apparently amassed a lot of money,
so perhaps decided to pursue a dream of establishing the national library!† He had for many years been an avid
collector of books in the Welsh language.
Williams left a personal archive in the National Library of Wales.†† Amongst the papers was a letter dated 23rd
August 1888, apologising for not being able to meet a friend as planned on 8th
September because he would be attending a clinic in Whitechapel on that date.† The date of Annie Chapmanís
murder!†† Also in the archive was a
knife and three microscopic specimen slides.††
Additionally there was his diary for 1888, most of the pages having been
removed.†† At this point one can
understand why the author wondered where this was leading.
research then moves to London, in an attempt to establish where in Whitechapel
John Williams might have worked.†† Those
who have attempted to pursue the long held 'Doctor suspect' theory, will know
that considerable documentation exists in respect of Victorian workhouse
management and infirmary administration.††
Following this trail the author and his researcher unearthed some
interesting facts.†† For example, the
fact that a Dr Williams performed an abortion on a Mary Ann Nichols, the name of the first canonical victim!†† Additionally, there is a record showing
that in 1890 Dr Williams asked to be relieved of the duty of performing the
operation known as ovarotomy.†† This
suggests the author, was what the Whitechapel Murderer was attempting to
perform, with more than a smattering of anatomical skill and knowledge.
far then, so good.†† But can John
Williams be linked with a specific infirmary in acknowledged Ripper
territory.† Unfortunately for the
hypothesis he cannot.† Of course, even
if the link was there it would not amount to proof of guilt.† What the author does is to link John
Williamsí childless marriage to his desire to research the problem.† Hence the need to obtain specimens of female
reproductive organs resulting in the violent events of 1888.†† He argues that, although eminent doctors
frequently performed charitable services they did not necessarily want the
venue to be generally known, because of their genteel and sensitive private
patients.† The final canonical victim
was Mary Kelly, who lived and was married in Wales before coming to London.† John Williams the author argues, could have
known her, been her lover, took her to London and then abandoned her!
then, does the hard-nosed Ripperologist view the authorís reasoning?† Clearly John Williams emerges as a new
'suspect' in a frame containing many names.†
The author has established possible means, methods and opportunity it is
true, but has he established guilt? †† Surely a similar case could be
made against dozens of individuals who lived in London at the time?† It is a massive leap to suppose, as the
author does, that his revered ancestor was the serial murderer.† Logic prevents such a leap surely.†† Put another way, the author might have
unearthed a long sought murderer, but does his book provide sufficient proof.† Has it really established the true identity
of 'Britainís most notorious murderer'?
the author has achieved however, is an extremely readable book on an
intriguing subject.† In the course of it
he paints a vivid picture of life in the world of Victorian medicine and the
management of poverty.† He also creates
a fascinating biography of Sir John Williams, founder of the National Library
The reviewer, who prefers to remain anonymous, has never
had the time or courage to go into print and endure the comments of others
claiming to know better.† His interest
in the murders began in 1952 when, as a wet-behind-the ears police probationer,
he was being shown around Mitre Square by an old hand and had 'Rippers Corner'
pointed out to him.† It was probably
meant to put the wind up him when patrolling alone, but had the effect of kindling
a lifelong interest in the murders.† He
would claim to have read most original documents and most of what has been
written on the subject over the last half century.† And he has no idea who did it either!