Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City

Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City
Published by Orion on 10th June 2004

“It was a town of red brick, or of brick which would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever and never got uncoiled”

Since Charles Dickens first described Coketown, the Victorian city has been an object of derision: a byword for deprivation, criminality, and pollution. Born of the industrial revolution, the nineteenth-century city is still depicted as a monstrous landscape of factories, beggars and disease.

Yet, as Tristram Hunt argues in his powerful new history, the urban world of the 1800s was far more than an unthinking industrial sprawl. It was the subject of passionate debates which inspired the great civic edifices that still dominate Britain’s streets: the town halls, city squares, parish churches, local schools, the very sewers beneath our feet.

Beginning with the horrors of the industrial city witnessed by Dickens and Engels, Tristram Hunt explores the energy, achievements and unbridled pride that are the Victorian legacy. From the classical ideals of St George’s Hall, Liverpool, to the Renaissance ambitions of Leeds Town Hall; from the stinging criticisms of John Ruskin to the unbounded confidence of Thomas Macaulay; and from the raw individualism of the Manchester merchants to the municipal socialism of Joseph Chamberlain, the vibrant controversy of the Victoria city comes alive.

As our major cities strive to regain their former glories, Tristram Hunt offers a timely and gripping account of an unrivalled era of civic pride. Building Jerusalem is an enthralling history of the ideas and people who inspired the great urban civilization of Victorian Britain.