Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Book Review: London Lore by Steve Roud

London Lore is a compilation of legends and traditions stretching back centuries which make up the eclectic base of London. It includes local superstitions and rituals with a good sprinkling of ghost stories and some out-and-out craziness thrown in too. It's organised by area of London and the introduction has a nice little section on how to spot folklore, which will come in handy for anybody interested in local history of any variety. On the whole, though, this book is about the underbelly of London and there are some real gems in its pages.

I found myself interested most in the ghost stories, particularly the unusual ones, such as the novelist Winifred Graham's numerous encounters with the occult. There are many point-of-death ghost stories and some excellent tragic tales which have mostly been appropriated to fit a supposed sighting - or a supposed sighting has been appropriated to fit a tragic tale, for instance, Jane Seymour at Hampton Court Palace. The short section on Hampton Court was one of the most interesting of the book for me. What Roud does brilliantly is, wherever possible, try to track down where the rumour or traditional originated. The speculation, although often it is only that, is enjoyable and it's good to see how local lore percolates and then expands.

Throughout the book, though, I was a little vexed by the construction. Going by area effectively meant that you were flitting around all over the place thematically. That said, sorting by theme may have resulted in a stagnant book that threw huge chunks at you that you weren't interested in. At least this way, there's a little variety. I completed reading not really sure whether I was happy with the construction as it was or whether I would have preferred a thematic compilation. Nevertheless, there is a good index to help you track down individual tales.

This is certainly a book to dip in and out of when the mood takes and to consult in moments of inquisitiveness. I tried reading it through in one go and it made it a little arduous, mainly because some of the stories about grottoes, ghosts and legacies all melded into one after a while, and that's a shame. Roud is strict about naming his sources wherever possible and that makes for an informed book about a subject that is, by its very nature, based on the uninformed.

This book was read as part of the TBR Challenge 2014, details here.

No comments: