The Evening Standard review Georgian London: Into the Streets

‘However many books have been written on Georgian London, we always have an appetite for more, and in this case it’s justified. This is Lucy Inglis’s first book, though she has been writing a chatty blog on the subject for years.

Her tone here exchanges chat for confident, crisp relish — delight, even — and pithy wit. Inglis presents and defines London area by area, “between the Restoration and the Regency”, in a style that if it were any shorter would approach haiku. She offers, without breaking stride, a delicious panorama of people, quiddities and oddities; a compendium, effectively, but stitched into something that on the whole reads like absorbing narrative. If you could cram all your Georgian facts into a large glass and drink it, here it is, the flavour reeking of sex, booze, coffee, tea, dismembered whale parts, rot and riot.

An architectural backbone of streets and squares, of the construction of St Paul’s dome, of old London Bridge heaped with its tall houses and a church, of areas (“Mayfair — London’s ghetto of the higher classes”) and of the river Thames is brought into sharper focus with an inset sprinkle of sections of John Roque’s beautiful 1747 maps and some of Greenwood’s later ones, plus well-chosen pictures.

Inglis populates her pages with all the people you’ve ever heard about, and many whom you haven’t. She takes care over the women, making sure to assert Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s 1721 introduction of inoculation against smallpox many decades before that of Edward Jenner, and giving Eleanor Coade her due for mixing a composite stone (in truth a ceramic) that has worked better than any other before or since — but adding that the lion we can see today on Westminster Bridge has had his testicles removed so as not to offend decency (who knew?).

Inglis covers subjects as abstruse as coin-clipping, for which the penalty was, unfairly, burning for women, hanging for men; brown-bread ice-cream-making by Domenico Negri, from 1757, in Berkeley Square; Lunardi’s first flight in a hydrogen balloon accompanied by his cat, who had to be let out as it was airsick; and the missing boar that came waddling out of the covered-over Fleet, having got outrageously fat, rootling about in the slime.

Yes, Inglis likes absurdity, but there was plenty available and it is a good way to add fresh character to her well-cut but necessarily brief, often black silhouettes of contemporary celebrities. Here is one, neatly snipped, of politician John Wilkes: “Physically he was unappealing, cross-eyed and with a severe underbite.” Or: “Although famed for being rather boring, greedy and ungracious in person, Sarah Siddons brought real life to the stage.”

Lost in the roil and pleasure of her account, one trusts the author’s unjudgmental yet assured grasp. She is interesting on homosexuality, pointing out that in 1785 philosopher Jeremy Bentham advocated decriminalisation with the argument that “it might as well be said that the taste a man has for music is unnatural”. She is also rather good at accounting for names: “Shepherd Market was named for the owner of the land, rather than any idyllic meeting of shepherds.” Fun, fast and factual, Into the Streets isn’t heavy on footnotes or quotation, but it is larded with detail that it nevertheless wears most sprightly, in the spirit of the age.’

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