A Walk in the Park’, by Travis Elborough

Http---com.ft.imagepublish.prod.s3.amazonawsAndrew Martin at The Financial Times:

Travis Elborough is the affectionate chronicler of faded Englishness. He has been described as “the hipster Bill Bryson”, and it is a mystery to some of us why he is not as well-known as Bryson. His books have so far covered the Routemaster bus, the long-playing record, and the sale of London Bridge (“the world’s largest antique”, as he put it) to a Texan millionaire.

Here he tackles public parks. The story of their evolution from aristocratic hunting grounds into public utilities might have taken on the dowdy parochialism often associated with the parks themselves. But Elborough is a social historian who also happens to be funnier than most supposed “humorists”.

His writing combines subtle drollery with a fantastical, Monty Python-ish strain. Early in his narrative, he takes an excursion to Versailles, an important site in the aforementioned evolution. Louis XIV, the Sun King — a “control freak in modern parlance” — arranged the planting around a central axis whose focal point was his own bedroom, and the gardens were micromanaged according to his whim: “The fountains were magnificent features. But there was only enough water to keep the ones closest to the palace at a constant spurt. The others were switched off and on as the king approached and departed, his movements closely monitored and signalled to staff, with flags waved and whistles blown in a complex system of field telegraph.”

more here.