Part personal memoir, part lyrical meditation, London Clay takes us deep in to the nooks and crannies of a forgotten city: a hidden landscape long buried underneath the sprawling metropolis. Armed with just his tattered Streetfinder map, author Tom Chivers follows concealed pathways and explores lost islands, to uncover the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets.
From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, abandoned Tube stations to ancient riverbeds, marshes and woodlands, this network of journeys combines to produce a compelling interrogation of London’s past. London Clay examines landscape and our connection to place, and celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the city mingle, and where ghosts of the deep past can be felt as a buzzing in the skull. It is also a personal account of growing up in London, and of overcoming loss through the layered stories of the capital.
London Clay is a fascinating deep dive into what makes up London. The hidden rivers, the buried history, the layers upon layers that make up our capital city. The title suggests a book of geology, and whilst there is a seam of that running through the book, it’s so much more.
Chivers’ writing takes you on a series of journeys in and around (and underneath) London. Walk with him as he explores the streets, pokes behind the construction boards and delves into the history of the city. I’m fascinated by the city that I only ever see in passing – a day trip here to see friends, a shopping trip there, only ever brushing the surface. I found myself reading this book and stopping to bring up the places mentioned on google maps, to further place myself alongside the author as he tells you yet another fascinating fact or anecdote.
It’s a book that I’m sure I’ll go back to next time I’m heading there, though the hardback is quite chunky and probably doesn’t lend itself well to being carried on a day out!
It’s more than just a series of places though. It’s also part memoir, with Tom Chivers’ own personal stories and history laced throughout. In the latter stages of the book we also see the impact of the pandemic on the city (and his family). It may have taken him several years to write, but feels bang up to date and current.
Finished off with a plethora of footnotes inviting further research London Clay is a fascinating book, and recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in London, its streets, geology and history.
London Clay by Tom Chivers is published by Doubleday and is out now in hardback. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the copy of the book to review.