Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


  • Comment

London: more by fortune than design

by Michael Hebbert. John Wiley, 1998. 237pp. £16.99

Michael Hebbert's book London is subtitled 'more by fortune than design'. Professor Hebbert is obviously delighted that this is the case, writes Paul Finch. Not for him the glories of a comprehensive road programme; in fact he views its absence as accidentally contributing to the more civilised place which London is becoming. He is a Rasmussen man, and wishes to see those qualities identified as being unique to the capital continued: a dense patchwork of homes and gardens in 'villages', in which geographical knowledge of the sort learned by taxi drivers is much more useful than an attempt to work out where you are on the basis of, say, postal codes.

Hebbert is a cheery person, and so is his book. He does not ignore London's dark side (acute poverty sitting beside extraordinary wealth), but he declines to take apocalyptic views about race relations, crime and the allegedly emerging 'underclass'. Always looking at the wider picture, he sees opportunity in the face of decline (the docks), and the possibility of regeneration in a European context where existing industries have failed (Park Royal and Docklands again).

Well illustrated with black and white photos, maps and drawings, and with a first-rate bibliography and good index, this is the work of a scholar, but one with a light touch. Not only is the book readable, but it is peppered with no-punches-pulled comments. A photo of Roman brickwork in London Wall is captioned: 'Like many of London's major tourist destinations, the setting is tatty, inconvenient, overcrowded, and tainted with the odour of McDonald's.'

Hebbert captures the spirit of what has made London, what has changed in recent years, and what prospects the future holds.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.