A History of London with Dr Matthew Green

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A History of London, from 1390-1960, with Dr Matthew Green

Following the publication of his London: A Travel Guide Through Time, which has been described as “easily the most engaging social history of London for a decade” (Londonist), and the success of his live course, join historian and broadcaster Dr Matthew Green on an historical joyride through 800 years of London’s history on this online course, which will bring the Unreal City to life like never before.

Using maps, lavish illustrations and vivid anecdotes, you will look on in awe as the city cracks out of its medieval shell, sprawls into the suburbs, and blossoms into the biggest metropolis on the face of the earth, a monster city. In distinctive epochs, you’ll be conducted on an immersive whirlwind tour of both iconic and unusual sites from bear pits to chocolate houses; freak-show booths to high-rise estates, meeting eccentric characters who embody the spirit of each successive age, from Chaucer to the Elephant Man; Daniel Defoe to Mary Quant.

A History of London Course Outline

This course includes over six hours of video lectures, with beautiful maps and illustrations. Each lesson is accompanied by a detailed bibliography to take your journey through London’s history further. You will also have access to the community forum, where you can pose questions to Dr Green.

A History of London Chapter One – Medieval London, 1 h 18 mins

We will begin outside the City walls of Medieval London as the city broods, silent and black, under her nightly curfew. Venturing in to this stinking, close-knit world of 40,000 souls, we will visit an anchorite, immured for life into a tiny, suffocating cell bulging from a Cornhill Church. From there, we will pay a pilgrimage to Gothic St Paul’s, one of the biggest structures in the world and meet Erkenwald, London’s vengeful patron saint. After a spot of jousting at Smithfield, we’ll share a bed with a stranger in a Southwark inn, then catch a wherry to explore the Tower, the glorious riverside palaces of the Strand, Westminster Palace, and the king’s hawk house on the edge of the city at Charing.

A History of London Chapter Two – Shakespearean London, 59 mins

On our next outing, to Shakespearean London, we’ll visit a savage bull and bear baiting arena amidst the marshes and stews of Bankside. Crossing London Bridge, furious currents swirling about its starlings, we will drop into one of the city’s 7,000 tobacco houses, pour some of the “Nicotian weed” into a clay pipe, and inhale this miraculous new drug. Elsewhere, we’ll walk into a universe of knowledge and ideas around the booksellers’ stalls of St Paul’s Churchyard, visit the carcass of Drake’s Golden Hinde at Deptford, and brave the torturous wiles of one of the city’s countless labyrinths in Drapers’ Gardens. We will top off our visit with a trip to the Globe playhouse.

A History of London Chapter Three – Plague-Struck London, 1 h 10 mins

Spinning further forwards in time, we will be harrowed by fear and wonder in the Plague-Struck London of 1665 and 1666, sampling the various ungodly unguents, elixirs, and vomit cakes on offer in an apothecary’s shop, and taking a tour of “an abode of misery and despair”: Newgate Prison. As the diseased are shut up in their houses to die, dogs are massacred in their thousands, and corpses swell and burst in the summer sun, we will take a stroll through London’s meridian of fashion in Covent Garden, St James’s, Bloomsbury and other parts of the brand-new West End, drink some luxury baroque hot chocolate, then retire to the Elysian Fields of Hackney for some fresh air, shuffleboard, and pig swinging. Finally, we’ll see the plague-ridden city achieve some form of cathartic release in the flames of the Great Fire.

A History of London Chapter Four – Early Georgian London, 1 h 9 mins

Early Georgian London was a phoenix arisen from the ashes of the Great Fire, a world of fine brick townhouses and elegant squares but also one of brutality, crime and squalour. We will climb into a sedan chair and whizz through the biggest city in Europe, checking the latest news at Button’s coffeehouse, laughing at lunatics incarcerated in Bethlem (as everyone else is doing), plough through the trading piazza at the Royal Exchange, the epicentre of Britain’s growing empire, and watch the sledgehammer of English justice at work at the Old Bailey. And no trip to 18th-century London would be complete without a visit to Fleet Street, churning out news and influencing how people thought. We will finish at a Tyburn Fair to watch a batch of executions.

A History of London Chapter Five – Victorian London, 1 h 1 min

Victorian London was the biggest city in the world, and also the most exciting. Finding ourselves immersed in the mist of the Dickensian megalopolis, we will naturally head straight for Holywell Street, the porn hub of Victorian London, and savour some X-rated passages from the anonymously-written My Secret Life, which remained illegal into the 1970s. The juices of our morbid voyeurism flowing, we will take a tour of freak-show booths, including the Elephant Man’s in Whitechapel, then visit Mr Jamrach’s Animal Emporium on the deathly Ratcliffe Highway in the East End. We will tour wharves, warrens of slums, and take a ride on the hellish Victorian Underground. We will end our visit in song, in the Lambeth Music Hall, with salty baked potatoes and gin.

A History of London Chapter Six – Blitz and Recovery, 48 mins

In our final visit, to 1940s & 1950s London, we will see parts of city pulverised by bombs and rockets during the London Blitz, drawing upon vivid, first-hand accounts of the horror. Then, in the 1950s, we will see London resurgent, rising from the craters of the Blitz and reaching for the skies during the Brutalist high-rise mania. Although a drab, downcast world, parts of the city were fading into colour, and we will visit the rock ‘n roll espresso bars of Soho – including Le Macabre, where you took your coffee on a coffin, ashing into candlelit skulls – and the fashion boutiques of the King’s Road, the playground of the bohemian bon-vivants who comprised the original Chelsea set. And there, as London begins to swing, we’ll take our leave of it.

After this epic odyssey, you will never look at the city in the same way again.

Some testimonials from Matthew Green’s History of London live course:

“I thought the course was absolutely fantastic – it was really thought provoking, insightful, and endlessly fascinating. I wish the lessons had been longer”

“I really enjoyed the structure, visiting a different ‘London’ each week and using the maps to provide some visual cues really brought each period to life.”

“so much really interesting tactile detail to embellish the facts”

“it was refreshing to ignore the great political intrigues and power plays in favour of exploring the lives of every day Londoners”.

About the tutor

Dr Matthew Green is an historian and broadcaster, with a PhD in the history of London from Oxford University. He writes historical features for the Telegraph and Guardian, appears in documentaries on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and gives talks all over London. He is the co-founder of Unreal City Audio, which produces immersive, critically acclaimed tours of London as live events and audio downloads. His first book, London: A Travel Guide Through Time is published by Penguin and available now.