A brief warning to the reader: if you are expecting, like I was, a present-day London-based One Hundred Years of Solitude, albeit on a smaller scale, you will be somewhat disappointed. I think this teaches us not to judge a book by its cover. What we do receive nonetheless is an endearing historical account spanning nearly half a millennium, about the people who lived in, and the area surrounding, a lone house on Bankside: number 49.
Gillian Tindall takes us on an exciting journey through the centuries, focussing specifically on the Southwark area, which as she states herself, has often been overlooked by historians.
This is surprising, as we encounter interesting characters from the top of the social and financial hierarchy, like Anna Lee, a famous moviestar, right down to the destitute labourers living in squalor. Tindall delves into the lives of the poor, reminiscent of Dickens, to whom she alludes at times, highlighting the lives of both desperation and privilege on Bankside.
One of the book’s main features is Tindall’s flowing prose style; not typical of historical accounts, it captivates the reader, effectively holding our attention throughout and developing like a novel until its conclusion. In The House by the Thames and the people who lived there, we are educated and enthralled by the socio-economic history of London’s bankside, which takes us from the watermen company of the Sells, the most prominent family in the book, right up to the building of the Globe and the Tate Modern. Together, these two edifices have preserved the life of its quiet neighbour number 49 to the present-day and secured the prolongation of its fame in the future on Bankside.