Pictured Above: A Drawing from The Bumper Book of London by young members of the authors’ families
Published: 12 April, 2012
by GERALD ISAAMAN
Bumper is such a beautiful word, evoking as it does a nostalgic world of plenty, and recalling memories of schooldays filled with fun and games. And fascinating facts, too.
That is certainly the overwhelming effect of the efforts of Becky Jones and Clare Lewis, two Islington mums, who have combined their intuitive and professional talents once again to produce a little red book packed with so much information that it challenges you to take a closer look at London – and truly enjoy yourself.
Open it at any page and you will discover something you never knew before, something you want to go and see in our own capital that you thought you knew so well.
The historical – and the hysterical – are all here alongside secret London, spooky London, London lingo and landmarks, the smallest, the tallest, oldest and newest, plus vital information on where to find the best of everything, especially for children.
That includes the best free fun things to do, the best things to climb and ships to clamber aboard, the best London farms and zoos, museums and toy shops, and, of course, the best pizza and burger bars, fish and chip, pie and mash and jellied eel establishments and, naturally, the best ice cream parlours.
If you are a visitor for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or the Olympic Games then this is going to be the only guide you will ever need.
The Bumper Book of London was born out of Becky and Clare’s earlier book, Adventure Walks for Families In and Around London, which the duo put together after original meeting as mums at the school gate almost a decade ago.
So they have delved into their stockpile of information to create something of a quirky passport for London.
They made it a family adventure too with the inspired idea of asking their own children to provide the illustrations.
You will no doubt agree when you see the results produced by Becky’s sons, Alex, Harry and Freddie, and Clare’s children, Edward, Isabella and Ottoline, as well as her nephews, William and James Taylor.
“We wanted to create something would be appealing and attractive to all kinds of people – and children,” explains Becky, once a TV arts and science producer, who lives in Huntingdon Street; Clare, a former Times journalist, lives in Northampton Park.
The project took them a year and Becky has vivid memories of the research. “I once nearly fell into the Regent’s Canal while cycling along it and looking around too much at the sights, and getting lost in the maze of alleys in the City of London,” she confesses.
“But the biggest adventure was having fun exploring from a different point of view and finding out so much about it. It was great being a tourist in our own city.
“We remember the time we persuaded a security guard at a City bank to show us a hidden section of the Roman wall under the building, and how special it felt to see it.
The Fleet river was flowing fast beside it, one of London’s most famous rivers that no one sees anymore.
“And we loved the stories we uncovered, often little things that just add colour and texture to history that can otherwise be quite dull, such as the Chinese man dressed in fine Chinese clothes who sailed his junk up the Thames just so he could visit the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, in 1851.
“There were the geese who were marched hundreds of miles from Norfolk to London every autumn with leather pads on their feet, in the days before freezers, so they would get there in time for Christmas. And the fact that a bell would be rung in Kensington Gardens at dusk to advise people to gather in groups to defend themselves against attack by highwaymen.”
Though both born and bred in London, they were amazed at what they didn’t know about the city.
“Yes, there is noise, traffic, lots of people, and it can be expensive, but there is also a real sense of excitement and a buzz about what is going on,” says Becky.
“London has always been magical – you are never far from something different going on. I defy anyone, even Londoners, not to get a tingling feeling whenever they see the Thames lit up at night. London is the place to be.”
• The Bumper Book of London: Everything You Need to Know about London and More. By Becky Jones and Clare Lewis. Frances Lincoln, £9.99.