I've very kindly been given a copy of the Ladybird Book of London, originally published in 1961. A faithful reprint is now available, in case searching second-hand shops isn't your thing, but my copy is the real deal (price two shillings and sixpence) and all the better for it. If you'd like to watch a flick-through, here's a one minute video (with unnecessary backing music).
Having read the lot, I was struck by how much of the content remains true 57 years later. A lot of the text is historical, but a fair amount is contemporary, and even most of that is still factually correct. It's testament to the skill of the author, and perhaps an indication that important things don't change as fast as we imagine. So here's my page-by-page guide to...
Page 2: Preface "One good place to get such information is from the Travel Enquiry Office at Piccadlly Circus Underground Station."
Alas this has evolved into one of TfL's Visitor Centres, whose purpose is no longer the imparting of useful information about places of interest (unless staff can upsell you an advance ticket).
Page 4: Trafalgar Square "You can buy special pigeon food from vendors on the Square, and if you are very lucky or clever, the pigeons will perch on your hand to feed, or on your shoulder, or even on your head."
Ken Livingstone revoked the licence for selling pigeon food in Trafalgar Square in 2000. A fine for feeding the pigeons was introduced in 2003. Nowadays most visitors would think a pigeon on the head exceptionally unlucky.
Page 6: Whitehall "Lower down on the right is Downing Street, a quiet little street in which you will see a doorway marked No. 10."
You won't see the doorway, because Downing Street is now barriered off unless you have security clearance. No plebs.
Page 8: Trooping the Colour
All still 100% true. Even the Queen is still the Queen, 57 years on.
Page 10: Buckingham Palace "There is always a crowd between ten-thirty and eleven o'clock in the morning to watch the impressive ceremony of changing the guard in the forecourt."
These days Changing the Guard only takes places on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The New Guard arrives at the Palace at 11am.
Page 12: St James's Palace "Here too, guardsmen are on sentry duty, but they will not mind if we go into the courtyard."
They bloody well will mind now. "It will probably become the London residence of the Prince of Wales when he grows up and has a home of his own."
He was 12 then. He's 69 now (and moved nextdoor to Clarence House in 2004).
Page 14: St James's Park "London is one of the three biggest cities in the world, with a population, in 1952, of eight million three thousand people."
After a significant dip, the population of London is once again very close to its Fifties peak, at eight million eight hundred thousand. In terms of world ranking, however, London is now just outside the Top Twenty, and falling. "If we feel like some refreshment, which might be a good idea, we can go to the Cake House."
The Cake House was replaced by a spiky tent-like refreshment kiosk in 1970, which in turn was replaced by Inn The Park in 2004. The cafe/restaurant is now run by Benugo, and serves a full English for £12.
Page 16: Westminster Abbey
All still true.
Page 18: The Houses of Parliament
Will all be true when Big Ben starts bonging again.
Page 20: The Victoria Embankment "Further down we come to four ships which are permanently moored. They are HMS President, HMS Chrysanthemum, HMS Discovery and HMS Wellington."
Only HQS Wellington remains. HMS President has been moved to Chatham while the Thames Tideway Tunnel is constructed, HMS Chrysanthemum was scrapped in 1988 after being used for a boat chase in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and (also in 1988) Scott's Discovery sailed to Dundee.
Page 22: A trip on the Thames "Someone on the launch will probably point out the interesting places as we go along, such as... the Shot-Tower"
The Lambeth Shot Tower, east of Waterloo Bridge, was erected in 1826 and survived the Festival of Britain, but was demolished in 1962 to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Page 24: The Tower of London "We must go to see... the Crown Jewels in the Wakefield Tower"
The Wakefield Tower was used to display the Crown Jewels from 1868 to 1967, after which they were moved to a new Jewel House in the west wing of the Waterloo Barracks, which was itself replaced in 1994 (and upgraded in 2012).
Page 26: Tower Hill and Tower Bridge "Tower Bridge is the last one over the Thames before the sea"
Since 1991 the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at the Dartford Crossing has been the last bridge on the Thames.
Page 28: The City Page 30: The Guildhall Page 32: St Paul's Cathedral
All still true.
Page 34: Greenwich "Across the road is the exquisite Queen's House, now part of the National Maritime Museum. It is full of perfect models of ships of every period, and there are charts, nautical instruments, and the Nelson Gallery."
Since 2001 the Queen's House has been where the NMM hangs its art. Intricate models of ships are no longer held in such high regard, but there are a fair few in the new Sea Things gallery.
Page 36: The British Museum "There are three main divisions: Archaeology, the Library, and the Collection of Prints and Drawings."
"The great domed Reading Room is used by scholars, for there they can study ancient manuscripts and books not to be found elsewhere in the world."
"In the Manuscript Saloon we can see Magna Carta, the log book of HMS Victory and Captain Scott's Antarctic Diary."
The Library ceased to be part of the British Museum in 1973, moving to a new British Library building on Euston Road in 1997. Magna Carta and Scott's diary are on show, but not currently Nelson's log book.
Page 38: The Science Museum "Downstairs is the Children's Gallery with models, scenes and pictures, and a very clear explanation of everything."
Downstairs is now The Garden, an interactive gallery for children aged 3-6, plus the legendary The Secret Life of the Home (very recently closed for 'improvements'). "In the main hall there is a splendid array of engines, such as the Rocket (1829)" Rocket moved out earlier this year, and is currently at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester (before moving permanently to the National Railway Museum in York next year). "In the Natural History Museum you can even see the skeleton of a dinosaur, a prehistoric monster as big as a motor bus."
There are plenty of dinosaurs, but the big one moved out last year and is currently on tour at Ulster Museum.
Page 40: The Zoo "All the wild animals are there: lions and tigers, elephants and giraffes, sea-lions and penguins, hippos and rhinos, polar bears and brown bears, parrots and monkeys."
Elephants, sea-lions, rhinos and brown bears are now to be found at Whipsnade. Polar bears roamed the Mappin Terraces until 1985. "Children can have animal rides, and who does not like riding on an elephant?"
Rides are no longer offered. A Meet The Animals Experience costs £54. "It costs extra to go to the Aquarium, but it is well worthwhile."
The Aquarium is now included in the £29.75 admission price.
Page 42: Madame Tussaud's and the Planetarium "We can see famous scenes from history, such as the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, historical groups such as King Henry VIII and his wives, and well known people of today."
These days Madame Tussauds (no apostrophe) is virtually all "well known people of today", and dead royalty is not favoured. "Next door is one of London's newest buildings, the Planetarium. We go into a round hall with a big dome, and sit in comfortable seats tilted backwards. The show lasts an hour..."
The Planetarium closed in 2006 and was rebranded the Star Dome - more sci-fi than sci-fact. Since 2010 it has housed the Marvel Super Heroes 4D attraction, more's the pity.
Page 44: Kew Gardens "We must be sure to see the flagstaff which was made from a single spar of Douglas spruce, and stands two hundred and fourteen feet in height."
In 1959 this was the tallest flagpole in the world, but weather-related decay (and woodpeckers) caused it to become unsafe, and it was takendown in 2007.
Page 46: Hampton Court Palace
All still true.
Page 48: London Airport "We can go into a public enclosure at the airport and watch airliners of all types arriving and taking-off, from and to every part of the world."
The much-loved rooftop terrace atop the Queens Building closed in the 1970s, as a security measure, and the viewing platform between Terminals 1 and 2 closed in 2003. "The authorities of the airport are pleased to see us, and they have arranged everything for our pleasure and interest. For children they have pony rides and a miniature railway. There is even a sandpit for the very young."
Perhaps nowhere else has changed so much in half a century as London Heathrow Airport.
Page 50: Piccadilly Circus "One very important feature of London, and one which foreigners always admire, is the London Policeman. Remember he is your friend; if you want any help, or if you should get lost, never hesitate, ask a policeman. He will never fail you."
The occasional fallibility of the Metropolitan Police is well chronicled. Women police officers (part of the Met since 1919) are now equally recognised. Londoners seeking help are more likely to ask an app than a Police Officer.