Greater London by Nick Barratt: review

Greater London by Nick Barratt, a history of the capital’s sprawling suburbs is flawed but highly entertaining, says Tim Lott.

A model 1930s house
A model 1930s house Photo: Topical Press Agency

The London suburb is as much an idea as a reality. For most people, the image of the suburb is leafy, dull, conservative and fundamentally safe – an idea that has been reinforced by sitcoms and cinema.

Suburbs also exist in the imagination as 19th- and 20th-century constructions, coming to fruition between the wars with the development of extensive road and rail links.
However, the “real” suburbs described by Nick Barratt are more nuanced and reach back more deeply into the history of the metropolis. In fact, Barratt makes no bones about the fact that he chooses to define the suburbs as anything outside the original Roman city walls, noting that the word “suburb” was first applied to settlements outside those walls as early as the Middle Ages.

This rather renders dubious his modest initial assertion that “this is a history of the suburbs – not a broadly based history of London”. Perhaps this is modesty, perhaps an attempt to keep a focus on the book, perhaps a device to avoid being put up against other towering London biographers such as Peter Ackroyd and Jerry White.

Read the full review here.