Book Review: London Peculiars by Peter Ashley

London Peculiars
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London Peculiars is a new book by Peter Ashley. Subtitled “a guide to the city’s offbeat places”, it is a miscellany of dozens of unknown, overlooked or just plain bizarre places and objects in London. It is the sort of book I would like to have written myself…

Cover of London Peculiars
London Peculiars, a miscellany of offbeat places in London

The author defines a peculiar as “something that has eccentric or individual variations to the general or expected pattern”. London is full of such things, a place where the unexpected is to be found around every corner. And, despite my lifelong acquaintance with the city, this book was full of things I hadn’t seen before.

Ghost signs in London's Docklands
Ghost signs in London’s Docklands (image copyright ACC Art Books)

London Peculiars is organised in sections such as London Creatures – a stuffed cat or a stone lion – or London Trade – old markets and the Art Deco Hoover Building. I was immediately drawn to London Letters, a miscellany of old or obsolete pub signage and “ghost signs” – the faded letters and images on the sides of buildings that indicate their past use, giving a glimpse of their history. The former London Docklands appear to be particularly rich in ghost signs.

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Many of the features in this book are old: relics that have no current use. Others are more contemporary, like the tunnel ventilator built into the O2 arena. Every entry has a detailed description, often with tantalising snippets of information. For instance, the famous Liberty store on Regent Street was built from the timbers of two Royal Navy warships. And “pupils from Westminster School row up to [Black Rod’s Steps] once a year to partake of a cream tea on the House of Lords terrace”.

"Peculiars" along the River Thames
The River Thames is a good place to spot “peculiars” (image copyright ACC Art Books)

As I read London Peculiars, I was impressed by the author’s eye for detail. Many of his “peculiars” are hidden in plain sight, visible to anyone who explores with an enquiring mind. And that is partly the point of the book. Peter Ashley ends his introduction by saying, “And, of course, hopefully you will find curiosities of your own”. Be inspired by this book, then enjoy the hunt for your own peculiars.

London Peculiars by Peter Ashley. ACC Art Books, 2019, 9781851499182

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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