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To Osbert Lancaster suburbia was a place 'with a hundred and fifty accurate, reproductions of Anne Hathaway's cottage'. This is the popular image of suburbia, reinforced by the cover illustration of this new book with its typical 1930s half-timbered house. But it is soon undercut by a picture of Wharton Street, Finsbury, in the 1820s, and all but destroyed by one of Roehampton's slab blocks in the 1950s. What is this place of such complexity and contradiction?