Monday, 16 June 2008

The House by the Thames by Gillian Tindall

This meticulous piece of historical research tells the story of Bankside by focusing on one house, Number 49, and the people who lived and worked there. The book explores the industrial history of Bankside alongside the social history of its inhabitants. Tindall is more neutral about the transformation of Bankside from industrial to cultural activity than she is about the social changes effected by the removal of Bankside's working classes to suburban council developments, perhaps because Bankside, in its early history, was a place for relaxation and entertainment; it has now, mostly, reverted to that role. It's unlikely that the socially diverse Bankside population of the nineteenth century can be recreated with any great ease, given the costs and availability of housing around the area. It was fascinating to learn how many buildings, now acclaimed as monuments, were very close to demolition at various points of history - not least Southwark Cathedral, once facing the axe because its unheated interior was too cold to be healthy. Similarly, the survival of buildings like 49 Bankside was happenstance, influenced by spurious historical assocations that came to be taken as fact. Tindall makes an excellent case for the value of such buildings, not themselves architecturally distinguished, as a focus for our understanding of the development of our towns and cities.

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