Blog post

A People’s History of London reviewed in The Morning Star

Ricardo Rato Rodrigues13 July 2012

The recently published A People’s History of London, by Lindsey German and John Rees is reviewed by the Morning Star:

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.

It's a history familiar to socialists and London lovers and what the book succeeds in doing is relating past with current struggles.

Jean Turner highlights the significance that the "London mob" had (and still has) in the formation of centres of protest as well as the malignant origins of the City of London:

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 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.

The work that Lindsey German and John Rees have written is thus described by Jean Turner as “a reference book for all progressive people who want to identify with a city that never stands still”.

Visit the Morning Star to read the review in full.

In an interview for the blog Stir, German reiterates this history of resistence against the hostilities of wealth: 

When we look for inspiration in all of this we find that people have always resisted the attempts of the rich to get their hands on the land, housing and other things.  These are very important things to campaign for.  Squatting, for example, was very big in the ‘60s and ‘70s and is getting very big again because people have nowhere affordable to live.  After the Second World War there was a very large squatting movement because there was a housing shortage and all of the history inspired us to do it. 

Talking about the importance of certain places in the history of London, Rees reflects on the importance of this book in the telling of nearly forgotten (hi)stories:  

Everyone knows the palaces and everyone knows the landmarks but they do not always know what happened in these places.  We have already mentioned St. Paul’s Churchyard where an enormous number of events took place, but it is probably not upper most in the popular memory that the Leveller Robert Lockyer was executed there in the 17th century.

Highlighting the importance of this book for the times we are living in, German says: 

I think the book is pertinent at the moment because we are being presented with a history of Britain, and to a large extent of London, as a history of a united people for a thousands of years; a series of mostly benevolent monarchs of whom one unfortunately got his head chopped off (…but this was of course only an abberation), and that everything has been stable for hundreds of years.  This is not the history of London at all.  The history of London shows that nearly all of the improvements in London, from whatever period we care to talk about, have come from below...

Visit Stir to read the interview in full.

Filed under: interviews, reviews