Medical London

Richard Barrett/Mike Jay, Wellcome Collection £15.99

I went to listen to Richard Barrett as part of a day of London lectures at the Bishopsgate Institute on Saturday. Looking as though he was only just out of short trousers, this jolly young cove entertained and fascinated, inspired me and made me laugh. A lot. It was only at the end of his talk I realised I didn’t really know what he’d been saying.

Perhaps that’s why I never got to go to Cambridge, which is where Barrett’s a lecturer. But I’d enjoyed his talk so much (yes – I know that sounds mad – but it really does seem possible to enjoy something hugely and only realise later that although it made sense at the time, it remains a mystery to a tiny Phantom brain…) that I really wanted to get to grips with his subject – London Bodies.

So I headed for the groaning stall of London books lurking at the back of the conference room in search of his newly published magnum opus, Sick City.

My decision to spend £15.99 was helped by the fact that his book has to be one of the most handsomely-produced volumes published in a long, long while. And yes – I was seduced by its sheer gorgeousness. The Wellcome Trust, a very wealthy organisation, has clearly poured cash into this project and the result is sumptuous.

Its cloth-bound hard case contains no less than eight items. Barnett’s paperback Sick City, of course, which I’m currently enjoying a lot (and understanding, btw), despite its being perfect-bound (I hate perfect-bound books), a hardback gazetteer, Anatomy of the City, which contains medical gems to visit in London, from museums to blue plaques, statues to curiosities and things that just aren’t there any more, and six fold-out walking tours complete with funkily-drawn maps (by the excellent Strange Attractor guys), links back to Sick City for extra information and instructions for easy use.

What clinched the deal was the medical walking tour of Greenwich, which meant I couldn’t leave the set behind.

It’s a very do-able tour and although a couple of the landmarks seem – well – a little spurious, considering the medical bent the walk’s supposed to be taking (I’m guessing that Barrett also included a couple of things that tickled him, for the sheer joy that he could – something of which I approve of course), it contains enough stuff that most local people wouldn’t know to make it a good Sunny Sunday Afternoon jaunt.

It takes you from Deptford to Blackheath via Greenwich town centre and highlights for me included the Dreadnaught Hospital and the birthplace of Sir John Simon (though I’m still looking for the “excellent” visitor centre at the Cutty Sark – the book presumably went to press before they replaced it with that tiny gift shop…)

I don’t know whether Waterstones have got this yet, but I thoroughly recommend it. Apart from being excellent value for money, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, full of facts and visual interest – and it will look great on your bookshelf.

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