Leo Hollis: 'It is only by my walking through London that the city has revealed its treasures'

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

London was recently voted the most walkable city in the world. But making sure a city is a place for walkers is a hugely underrated process. Politicians, planners and architects should take note of the burgeoning discipline of "walkonomics", which has trumpeted the advantages of the pedestrian-friendly city.

A walkable neighbourhood, we are told, is richer and more creative and increases the value of your home by £30,000; a shopping street without cars attracts between 20 and 40 per cent more customers. Walking is also the reason, according to a recent study, that men who live in the inner city are fitter than their suburban cousins. Happiness, it seems, can be found by strolling down the High Street.

Walking is the origin of my fascination in London. I was born in the capital and remember sitting on the top of a bus, working out how everything fitted together. Returning after university, I spent my free time reacquainting myself with the city. Tramping the streets, one finds that the telling of the city's past is actually a story of a living city. In my latest book, The Stones of London, I tell a 2,000-year narrative that stretches from the arrival of the Romans on a marshy riverbank to a world city of glistening steel and glass.

I tell the story through 12 buildings which can be visited today. These include a fragment of the Roman forum in the basement of a barber shop in Leadenhall Market; a private club that was once host to a controversial salon presided over by a woman nicknamed the "Queen of Hell"; and a forgotten modernist masterpiece in Bethnal Green. It is only by my walking through London, finding my way in every sense of the word, that the city has revealed its treasures.

'The Stones of London: a History in Twelve Buildings' by Leo Hollis is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, at £25