New book publishing on May 6, 2021

My latest exploration into the history of 17th Century London is due out this May.

It is the exciting,and unexpected story of a young woman and the plot of land that came to determine her life. It is a history of inheritance, madness, forced marriages, religious conspiracy, court cases and urban planning.

In June 1701, a young widow, Mary Grosvenor wakes up in a hotel room in Paris and finds a man in her bed. Within hours they are married. Yet three weeks later, Mary fled to London and swore that she had…


Robert Hooke, Thomas Tompion and the clockwork universe

The mechanical philosophy, a term first used by Henry More in 1659, a year after Fromanteel announced his pendulum timepieces, sought out the image of the clock’s complications as a means to understand the world. As historian Stephen Shapin notes ‘Of all the mechanical constructions whose characteristics might serve as a model for the natural world, it was the clock more than any other that appealed to the many early modern natural philosophers’.

Within the shifting plates of these intersecting ruptures, the clock was more than just an ornament, it was an…


The craftsman’s signature sits at the bottom of the square dial: Samuel Knibb London feci: There is no date on the device but it it thought to be completed in 1665. We know so little about the maker, that we must interpret who this man was from fragmentary documents and the clocks themselves. We must discern the man through his creation rather than the other way around, and through the story of the clock, and its times — what kind of person owned it? What was its position within the house? …


I was invited to contribute an introduction to a new exhibition of 17th century clocks that is currently running here. This work is more connected to my work on the 17th century London. The subject, the invention of pendulum clocks in 1660’s London, was a revelation to me. The resulting essay is here split into 3 parts. The first looks at pre civil war London and the formation of a clock making industry; the second looks at the clock in Restoration London and the formation of what I call the discipline of ‘urban time’ — the clock as luxury item…


This is a recorded version of my talk at Karlsruhe Dialogs on the problem with the Internet of Things, smart cities and the threat of platform urbanism to the future of democacy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uywLMFNQgFQ


As Tim Berners Lee said recently: ‘We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.’

Perhaps the most worrying image in recent days is the slow motion scene of Zuckerberg’s face as it dawns upon him that his dorm room invention is beyond his control, and beyond his comprehension. He lacks the political bandwidth to fathom what is happening, so is looking for a technological solution. It does not exist.

In the maelstrom concerning Cambridge Analytica, it has been too easy to be distracted by the conspiracies. Whether a company was able to influence an election. Whether Facebook…


It seems as if ‘for all’ is becoming the destination in many urbanist discussions of the moment.

In a recent publication, Saddiq Khan, the newly appointed mayor of London published his statement of intent: ‘A CITY FOR ALL LONDONERS’. It is a very readable document that sets out a number of directions that he hopes to follow over the next four years: housing, infrastructure, business, public space, inclusivity.

As the self-defined ‘most pro-business’ mayor, work reigns high over most considerations of what makes a city a great place. And as a result, most parts of the city are perceived through…


The discussion of the future city, of how the internet of things [IoT] will have a huge impact on the economy of the city. How it will improve efficiency and productivity. This topic is rarely discussed in terms of its impact on everyday life — the way you and I experience the city.

In the next few weeks I want to offer some ideas on how this revolution will have an impact on the things that matter: the world of work; how we learn; how we move around the city; how we come together. I want to start with the…


At a recent event, I was asked by a number of people why I did what I did? Why was I so interested in cities? where did it all start? I tried to answer as plainly as I could. It started with walking around the city, getting to know the places that I hoped would one day become home.

Here, perhaps, is a more developed answer. . .

What happens to us when we walk? This is a question that has been asked for centuries. The French philosopher Frederic Gros writes: ‘By walking, you escape from the very idea of…


via Thomas Rousing

This October, in Quito, the most important group of thinkers in urbanism, sustainability, poverty activism and local politics will be coming together in a conference called Habitat III. You’ve probably never heard of Habitat III, and that’s a big problem. It is a vitally important event.

In the previous months the organisers have been putting together agendas and briefing documents that they hope to ratify during the proceedings. What has become clear is that there have been a conjuncture of policies concerning ‘the right to the city’. …

Leo Hollis

The author of Inheritance, coming in May 2021, The Phoenix: The Men Who Made Modern London, and Stones of London, and the bestseller, Cities are Good for You.

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