Gillian Tindall is gifted with an archaeological imagination. She is haunted by the hidden or partially obscured, by traces and fragments that, if carefully investigated, can reanimate the past. She is especially good at looking at corners of cities – in previous books, Kentish Town, Southwark and Bankside – in order to discern what lies beneath. Whereas we might look with disaffection at sheet-glass office blocks, dreary industrial buildings, car parks, and wasteland dense with litter, she sees merely a palimpsest, in which old buildings have been rubbed out to make way for new. With X-ray eyes, she uncovers layers of history in all its diversity.
In Three Houses, Many Lives, the narrative is structured around three houses as they move through time. With all of them the author has had a slight or temporary association. The first is in Surrey, in Limpsfield’s High Street. Called ‘Manor House’, it may not be as old as its