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The Vintage Guide To London | December 18, 2017

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How to 'do' London the war-time way - part 1: etiquettes of dress

A few months ago writer and broadcaster Gemma King stumbled across a second-hand bookshop. The next thing she knew she was inside over-excitedly peering over swaying towers of literature. Find out how the book she found has made her rediscover London from a war-time perspective. 
After some frantic rummaging I began to lose hope, there was a distinct shortage of green Penguins to add to my collection. Stroppily turning heel for the door, my bottom lip stuck out and a frown across my brow, I noticed a dog-eared red hard back jutting from one of the shelves….

Ward-Lock & Co’s London

I looked for a publication date, nothing, so I leafed through the pages of usual tourist haunts pondering whether I should purchase the document (yes I know it was only one pound, but I like to spend my money wisely) when I noticed a small leaflet inserted after print.

“The publishers regret that owing to the Control of Maps Order and other exigencies of the situation, it is not at present possible to include the customary complete set of maps and plans in this Guide”

Further adverts strengthened my suspicions: “IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT…. In the state of emergency now existing, we are unable to accept orders for…”

My frown was turned upside down, I had discovered a Tourist Guide from 1939/40 –  an original Vintage Guide to London!

Whilst reading this little gem I had an idea. Although I live in London I rarely go on day trips around it, I’m completely unaware of the curiosities lurking on my doorstep and take for granted the vast array of attractions the city has to offer.

So I plan to use this guide in order to appreciate my surroundings more, and try to compare how they are now to the descriptions of them in 1939.

With the warm weather around the corner I thought I would share some of my adventures, so that you too can do as someone in 1939 would do, whilst “doing” London.

The first tip I shall share is on the subject of dress

“Visitors from abroad desirous of doing London as Londoners do may welcome a hint or two under this head, though latitude is allowed, and all varieties of costume may be seen in the streets.  For formal calls and social events of importance a black morning coat and silk hat are de rigueur, but City and business men are usually content with lounge suits, and soft felt hats and “bowlers” are generally worn. Evening dress is usual when dining at high-class restaurants, and is compulsory for those who desire to dance (this does not, of course, apply to dance teas).  At theatres, evening dress is nearly always worn  in the boxes and stalls, and generally the dress circle.”

In a world where gentlemen have no caps to doff and ladies bear no gloves to drop for a passing suitor to clutch, I fear this hint may fall a little short – but at least I can dream!

Coming soon: A highly recommended visit to Staple Inn, Holborn!


  1. LOVE this!!! What a corker of a find!! Next!! Next!!

  2. Rebecka

    You’re a lucky lady Gemma – what a find! I look forward to part 2..x

  3. Oh awesome!

  4. What a fabulous find! Well done, it’s funny how instinct makes us pick things up isn’t it? Looking forward to part deux. xx

  5. Wow! I love your writing and I’m looking forward to the future installments. I miss London!