A relic of old London stands between the brutally massive pile of Tate Modern, and the Disneyland fantasy of the Globe Theatre. On this stretch of the south bank of the Thames, where industrial buildings have been turned into restaurants, apartments or art galleries and new office and apartment blocks built, one single old house has survived. Number 49 Bankside was built during the reign of Queen Anne, on a site formerly occupied by a Tudor inn called The Cardinal's Hat. The fluke of survival has meant that an ordinary house in a row of ordinary houses has turned (along with the two smaller houses rebuilt on either side) into an exotic sight. They look 'like miniatures that have strayed into the wrong construction-model' as Gillian Tindall says in this delightful book, which, in relating the 'biography' of this one house, the site it stands on and the people who lived there, tells by implication the story of a city.
Tindall describes Number 49 as an example of quintessentially English domestic architecture, but adds that it has become something more – an emblem of an entire world we have lost. The crowds of people who walk along the river path and the tourists passing by in river boats 'need number