Laura Freeman

Laura Freeman

In Tobias Smollett’s great, romping 18th-century novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, our hero Matthew Bramble, a country squire, leaves his adored estate Brambleton Hall and spends a season in London. Writing to his doctor, he asks what would possess a man to live in a city where “every corner teems with fresh objects of detestation and disgust”.

His lodgings are frowzy, the air putrefying. Disease and pestilence are only kept at bay by the acid clouds of sea-coal burnt in every hearth and furnace. The locals are ugly, sallow and languid compared to the ruddy swains of Brambleton country. 

Sleep is impossible as the watchmen bawl the time down the streets every hour and knock thunderously at every door. Unrested, he starts out of bed at five o’clock because some dreadful fellow is shouting “pease pudding” beneath his window. 

The city’s great chronicler hit the streets to cure his insomnia. His writing cast a spell on me and now I go for nocturnal walks of my own

Characterisation and a sense of place have been sacrificed for a magical realist atmosphere in Peter Ackroyd’s latest novel, Three Brothers

Finally, Birmingham has the library it deserves, and its predecessor will be thankfully turned to rubble

David Jones’s service at the front inspired an epic poem about World War I, “In Parenthesis”. Long neglected, it is ripe for rediscovery

We may mock the Young Conservatives of the Fifties but they were unswervingly loyal and a formidable electoral force