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Curiocity: In Pursuit of London by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose

Words: Sasha Garwood

Curiocity is a gorgeous London book, an alternative atlas full of historical and cultural trivia, from flushers and toshers to the Pig-Faced Lady of Maida Vale and the Rat Queen of Bermondsey. There’s madness and mazes, crime and punishment, heroes and villains, stories and sculptures, most of which are connected with precise locations and activities in London, so you can bring your intellectual exploration into the physical plane (or street, pond, house, or imaginary masonry pineapple).

Each of 26 chapters—alphabetically arranged, from ‘Atlas’ to ‘Zones’, via ‘Eros’, ‘Juvenalia’ and ‘Wyrd’—centres on a hand-drawn map from one of 14 different illustrators, including Chris Riddell (he of children’s laureate and Neil Gaiman fame), Steven Appleby, Isabel Greenberg, and Stanley Dodwood (who designed record covers for Radiohead).

Somehow, the whole emerges as something coherent, atmospheric and interesting, the juxtaposition of styles and information reflecting London’s diversity and depth of cultural history. Contributors of information and stories include Monica Ali (Brick Lane), Catharine Arnold (Bedlam, Necropolis), Marina Warner (whose books on fairytales are an unending delight), and Iain Sinclair (Slow Chocolate Autopsy).

Useless yet fascinating
It’s a heavyweight lineup, and the book does it justice. Curiocity is a mine of useless yet fascinating information. I did not know that Pall Mall ran along a ley line, nor that the City of London pays its annual rent to the Crown with a sharp hatchet, a blunt billhook, six horseshoes and precisely 61 nails. I have never attended the Covent Garden Christmas pudding race. I’ve taught William Blake at two universities, and never mapped Golgonooza or discovered that the Blakes’ South Molton Street house now contains a waxing salon.

There’s a gem on almost every page, for the dedicated London geek as well as for the relative newcomer, and the art is beautiful.

Curiocity: In Pursuit of London by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose
£30, Particular Books