Saturday 3 September 2022

Guest Review: London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City By Tom Chivers

What secrets lie beneath a city?

Tom Chivers follows hidden pathways, explores lost islands and uncovers the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets. From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, from an abandoned Tube station to underground rivers, Chivers leads us on a journey into the depths of the city he loves.

A lyrical interrogation of a capital city, a landscape and our connection to place, London Clay celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the metropolis collide. Through a combination of historical research, vivid reportage and personal memoir, it will transform how you see London, and cities everywhere.

Review: It is difficult to categorise this book. The title suggests it is a book about geology, but it is more than that; it is a book about what lies beneath the metropolis of London, and includes, in addition to geology, descriptions of archeology, history, geography, natural history, folklore and reflections on modern life, including the Coronavirus pandemic.

The author, Tom Chivers, is a poet and an arts producer, so sees things with a poet’s eye, and this is reflected in his writing style. The book comprises eight chapters, mainly describing walks along the course of London’s “lost” rivers, such as the Walbrook, Fleet and Lea, which flow into the River Thames and which, for some of their course, have been paved or tarmacked over, or incorporated into the sewer system. There is an outline map at the start of each of the chapters, which are further sub-divided into several sections. The book is well-researched, with numerous notes and an index at the end.

As someone born and brought up in north London, although not having lived there for almost fifty years, I was intrigued by this book. The author is from south London, so there is more of a bias towards south of the Thames. Not being familiar with some of the areas, I would have liked there to have been more details in the maps, and possibly a large map in the book’s prologue giving an overview. The main theme of the book is how London continues to renew itself, with modern builds covering Victorian, Tudor, Saxon and Roman structures, all overlying a layer of London clay shaped by river valleys that have influenced the development of the city. Although a fairly niche book, I found the more I read, the more interested I became in the various strands of the narrative. It should appeal not just to readers wanting to know more about London, but to anyone with an interest in how a city develops.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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