Book Review | Vic Keegan’s Lost London

[This review was first published on The London Society Website in February 2021]

Followers of the OnLondon twitter feed will know that every week, among the pieces on London’s politics, transport and planning, up pops a tweet about London’s history.

Vic Keegan’s ‘Lost London’ column has been a feature of the website since its inception, bringing stories of the capital through its built environment. These include London’s oldest structure – 6,000 year old wooden piles in the river at Vauxhall – the huge Northumberland House at Charing Cross, and this week’s offering (number 182), Robert Smirke’s General Post Office at St Martin’s le Grand.

Now – for those of us who prefer reading ink on paper to pixels on screen – the first 160 of these pieces have now been gathered together in a handsome hardcover book, taking us across the cities of London and Westminster, with occasional forays north, south, east and west.

Here we can read about ‘the Exploding Temple of Green Park’, where to find the remains of the first Somerset House, Albion Mills on Blackfriars Bridge (probably the inspiration for Blake’s ‘Dark, Satanic Mills’), get biographies of forgotten characters, trace the outline of long-demolished structures, visit historic pubs and, generally, find out more about our wonderful, ever-changing, shape-shifting city.

As you’d expect from a former journalist and current poet, the stories flow and the words are well-chosen; the illustrations and photographs bring the past to life and highlight the present, and the map of locations allows you to plot your own walk around London’s lost treasures.

In his preface Vic says that he is finding it more difficult to find places of general interest and wonders whether he will reach number 200. Let’s hope he is being pessimistic and that ‘Lost London 2’ will appear in a couple of years with another 100+ of these delightful and informative vignettes. [2023 update – and so it has come to pass; Lost London 2 was published the other month.]

Vic Keegan’s Lost London is available through Waterstones and Book Depository