Hello and welcome to my London Clay by Tom Chivers Review. London Clay is a journey beneath London and a tour of some of it’s hidden depths. Published by Doubleday it’s out now in hardback, audiobook and ebook. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for my spot on the tour. The review is followed by the synopsis and then a bit about the author.
London is my city, the one I was born in and where I grew up. So as a geologist, I was thrilled at the opportunity to read and review London Clay.
London Clay is a very original book, it’s a collection of essays about parts of London beneath the surface. These are the bits you don’t see in guidebooks and on postcards. It’s very real; it includes the graffiti and the dog turds as well as the more attractive and magical parts. There’s a great mix of factual/social and personal history, with the author sharing the city’s history as well as his own reflections. This makes the book very interesting and it will appeal to a broad audience. It’s not just a factual textbook or a personal memoir but a mixture of both. It’s also written in a very poetic style, I love this line about looking out at London from a high vantage point:
This is my city. You cannot see past the edges it doesn’t have.
Chivers began his study of London by creating his own geological street map by colouring in a streefinder map. Clay is very significant to London and its outcrops dictate the surface topology, whilst below ground it affects the location of tunnels and other subterranean spaces. A sinkhole near the author’s Aldgate flat revealed tantalising clues about where it might lead. It turns out to be an old tube station which was relocated due to development of the underground line. This turned out to be a well-timed decision as the original station site was bombed by the Germans a short while later. Thus begins his adventure and we readers get to experience it with him. There is a wealth of other locations, including rivers directed as covered waterways, Roman ruins, ancient woodland, a submerged theatre and an array of artefacts spanning the two millenia of London’s historical strata.
There is also a lot of interesting detail so readers can imagine sites or indeed visit themselves. It’s very well researched with a wealth of references for additional reading.
A lyrical homage to subterranean London by a poetic terranaut. Highly recommended!
Do visit the other stops on the tour, see poster below for dates and locations.
What secrets lie beneath a city?
Tom Chivers follows hidden pathways, explores lost islands and uncovers the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets. From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, from an abandoned Tube station to underground rivers, Chivers leads us on a journey into the depths of the city he loves.
A lyrical interrogation of a capital city, a landscape and our connection to place, London Clay celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the metropolis collide. Through a combination of historical research, vivid reportage and personal memoir, it will transform how you see London, and cities everywhere.
About the Author
TOM CHIVERS is a poet and publisher. He is the author of two pamphlets and two full collections of poetry to date, and is director of the independent press Penned in the Margins. In 2008 he was the Bishopsgate Institute’s first writer in residence, and has appeared widely at events and made a number of contributions to radio, including presenting a 30 minute documentary for Radio 4. He has collaborated with the climate arts organisation Cape Farewell and conducts immersive walking tours of London. Chivers is currently an Associate Artist of the National Centre for Writing.