In early May, I ventured back into London to do some work and to generally mooch about, picking up a few ideas for new paintings. One evening, I visited Fleet Street to listen to a talk by one of my favorite London historians, John Rogers.

I have followed John for several years on YouTube. He films and narrates walks through London and the surrounding counties. John has a keen and enthusiastic eye for detail that brings interest to what at first sight might seem the most prosaic of streets. I highly recommend him.

The Talk

The talk was titled “Welcome to New London: Journeys and Encounters in the Post-Olympic City” and was to promote his new book about the history of the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London.

I used to live pretty close to the Olympic Park, so I had a personal interest in the subject. My sister and brother-in-law came along too.

In his easy-going style, John took the audience through the deep history of Stratford, East London, and the River Lea from prehistory to the modern world. As the title suggests, particular emphasis was placed on the area leading up to the 2012 Olympics and the development of the site to the present day. Of course, in London, there is the ubiquitous push, shove, and tension between building ‘affordable’ homes and communities for local people and high-profit luxury ‘apartments’ for the very wealthy and offshore investors.

There is, of course, no final answer to this; it’s just an ongoing evolution of shifting power, which is what London has always been and always will be.

Once the talk concluded, there was a Q&A session where we had an opportunity to put questions to John. He was very generous with his time and expanded on the finer details. I even discovered the name of the stream that passes close to my sister’s house in Walthamstow: the Dagenham Brook.

After the talk, I bought a copy of the book, and John recommended a pub walk north out of Fleet Street through what used to be known as ‘Little Italy.’ I didn’t even know there was a ‘Little Italy’ in London, though it used to span Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road, and Rosebery Avenue—the Saffron Hill area of Clerkenwell.

It had a great history from the 1800s right up to the post-WWII slum clearance and gentrification. By the 1970s, almost all the Italians had integrated into British society, and ‘Little Italy’ now only exists in the history books.

Many of the pubs are still there, so it was a fine end to a fine evening.

You can buy the book hereJohn Rogers Book

A bit about “Welcome to New London: Journeys and Encounters in the Post-Olympic City”

Iain Sinclair has described “Welcome to New London” as, “An invaluable and informed super-tour by the Cobbett of YouTube. As immediately readable and engrossing as a Rogers film.”

After the 2012 Olympics, London once again entered a period of radical change, one that some people came to see as a battle for the very soul of one of the greatest cities in the world. John Rogers embarked on a series of journeys and encounters in a quest to understand what was going on.

In “Welcome to New London,” John Rogers invites us to join him on a captivating voyage through the ever-changing landscapes and communities of this iconic city. As a follow-up to “This Other London,” “Welcome to New London” continues Rogers’ exploration of the city from a unique perspective.

How did it all start?

The story begins in 2013 as the Olympic Village in Stratford transitioned to become a new permanent settlement, and the Stratford City plan became a reality. This excursion sparks an exploration of the Olympic Park and its surrounding areas, where a wave of development is reshaping the Lower Lea Valley.

The narrative seamlessly weaves through various facets of London’s transformation, from the Focus E15 Mothers’ occupation of homes on Carpenters Estate, a poignant symbol of the housing crisis, to the global attention garnered by campaigns like Save Soho and Save Tin Pan Alley. The book also chronicles the author’s involvement in efforts to help residents of the Sweets Way Estate and other housing campaigns, offering readers an intimate look at the human stories behind London’s changing landscape.

Intriguingly, Rogers delves into the city’s ancient history following a chance conversation with a Pearly Punk King on the rooftop of the old Foyles building. This encounter takes him through Epping Forest to the prehistory of London in the Upper Lea Valley, unearthing Bronze Age burial mounds and their significance in understanding London’s historical roots and its enduring connection to its past.

Rogers embarks on a series of walks with acclaimed writer Iain Sinclair, providing a thought-provoking commentary on London’s future. And then, somehow, the United Nations sent him to Peckham to explore the concept of the ‘Open City,’ tying together the book’s themes and returning to the Olympic Park as a focal point.

“Welcome to New London” is not just a book about a city; it’s a vivid, personal account of a city in flux, where the author’s passion for exploration and his commitment to bearing witness to change converge. With its richly detailed chapters and thought-provoking commentary, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of one of the world’s greatest cities.

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