New London history book

This video from England is called A People’s History of London – Lindsey German & John Rees on Robert Elms Show 11 May 2012.

By Jean Turner in Britain:

Lindsey German and John Rees – A People’s History Of London

Verso, £12.99

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Lindsey German and John Rees have undertaken a formidable task. In one volume, they seek to encapsulate the history of London in terms of the ordinary people who have shaped it and given it its spirited life.

They have achieved this by drawing on many reputable and fascinating ancient chronicles, histories and biographies, including those by communist historians and activists and social reformers.

It’s a history familiar to socialists and London lovers and what the book succeeds in doing is relating past with current struggles. The chapter headings – from Lords, Lollards, Heretics and Peasants In Revolt proceed in chronological order to Neoliberal London – and enable the reader to browse in a favourite period of popular history.

Every common land, park, square, market, street and building in London is built on the foundation of a turbulent and often violent past. Many of these places are still the centres of protest and action – as the authors demonstrate, the “London mob” has never gone away.

The City has become the centre of vast wealth arising from the exploitation and occupation of other countries, the slave-trade and present day finance capital. The chapter Old Corruption And The Mob That Can Read records that in the 1750s bankers Alexander and David Barclay and Francis Baring made their money from the slave trade and one can only hope that Barclays soon meets the same fate as Barings Bank.

The reverse of this stupendous wealth was terrible poverty and squalor, well described by Fielding, Marx, Engels, Dickens and Mayhew and the authors emphasise that Londoners played an important part in the formation of trade unions, the rise of Chartism, universal suffrage and social welfare.

They reference the popular support in the capital for the 1848 national revolutions, the Paris Commune, the Russian revolution and the national liberation movements in the British Empire.

Fascism was fought and defeated on the streets of London and Occupy UK has built on the stratagem of the communists in WWII who led the occupation of the Underground and luxury hotels for air-raid shelters.

While this is a reference book for all progressive people who want to identify with a city that never stands still, but some of its statements are questionable. For instance, it states that “the July 1945 general election took place with a depleted electoral register and with many troops still overseas.”

In fact the overseas forces were able to vote and the three weeks between the July 5 polling day and the announcement of the election result on July 26 allowed for their votes to be counted. The Labour landslide was the result of highly politicised troops voting to return to a new society free from pre-war Tory misery.

But such errors in no way detract from the value of such a history.

Another review of this book is here. Yet another one is here.

3 thoughts on “New London history book

  1. Pingback: Olympics, William Blake, suffragettes, punk, Bahrain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: London Olympics and poverty | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: 17th century British revolutionary gets monument | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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