Necropolis: London and its Dead by Catharine Arnold - review by Richard Boston

Richard Boston

A City Built On Bones

Necropolis: London and its Dead


Simon & Schuster 304pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

It was Petronius (my dictionary of quotations informs me) who used ‘the majority’ as a euphemism for the dead. Perhaps, then, President Nixon was making an uncharacteristic joke when he spoke of the silent majority that supported him. Be that as it may, however enormous the number of people who live in London, they are outnumbered by those who have died there. T S Eliot in The Waste Land cleverly merges the city’s living and dead populations by borrowing from Dante’s Inferno:

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

The first section of Eliot’s poem is called ‘The Burial of the Dead’, an echo of which can be heard in the subtitle of Catharine Arnold’s Necropolis. London, she says, is one giant grave, and her declared intention is to examine how London has coped with its dead from prehistoric

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