My knowledge of poetry is limited, but like many kids I spent my formative years having popular nursery rhymes drummed into my head. Carole Tate’s Rhymes and Ballads of London (published in 1971) is a reminder of how many of these old favourites were centred around the capital, its people and its history.
“Oranges and Lemons” is one I remember reciting with my grandmother. Tate has presented here it against a glorious backdrop of the capital’s famous steeples and belfries.
“London Bridge” (another favourite) may be falling down in Tate’s illustration, but those medieval buildings were a lot more picturesque than the structures that replaced it.
Rediscovering the rhymes is fun, but this book can also be enjoyed as a whistle-stop tour of London – from the City Road (“Pop Goes the Weasel”) to the Old Kent Road (“Knock’d ‘Em in the Old Kent Road”, below).
These days London’s old skyline is competing for space against the rising tide of steel and glass skyscrapers. You won’t find modern landmarks like the London Eye or The Shard here.
On the front cover of Rhymes and Ballads of London it’s not those ubiquitous Windsors who take centre stage but the magnificently attired Pearly Queen and King.
The back cover presents the Lord Mayor’s coach in all its golden finery, along with four instantly recognisable images: Eros in Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Nelson’s Column and an old Routemaster.
For once I have to agree with the publisher’s jacket blurb because the illustrations here really are “sumptuous”.