Tristram Hunt aims to tell our imperial story through bricks and mortar. His ten cities have been chosen to illustrate the changing character of the British Empire over more than three centuries. Its development is reflected not only in architecture and material culture but in civic institutions and rituals. Each city is taken to denote a stage in the narrative, which progresses both chronologically and geographically, in a series of leaps extending roughly from west to east – a kind of urban hopscotch.
Boston is Hunt’s starting point, a Puritan city built on a hill which became a citadel of revolution. Its inhabitants built churches, mansions and municipal edifices on Georgian lines and they shared the mother country’s dedication to commerce and freedom. Admittedly, black slaves constituted about 8 per cent of the