Notorious London: A City Tour

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Notorious London: A City Tour
Course Trailer
Oscar Wilde’s Decadent London
1: Oscar Wilde’s Decadent London

Begin your historical tour of London with a look at the city when it was home to Oscar Wilde at the close of the 19th century. Trace the details of Wilde’s trial for indecency as you examine the way London society was structured and how immense wealth and privilege—for some—left its imprint on the city and its history.

33 min
St. Paul’s Cathedral in Faith, Fire, and Sin
2: St. Paul’s Cathedral in Faith, Fire, and Sin

St. Paul’s Cathedral has overlooked London from a high point in the city for generations. Uncover the history of this church that has been so much more than a place of worship for the people of London, and has survived fire, plague, and the ravages of war. Here, you will look at several episodes from the cathedral’s long and storied past.

30 min
Getting Blitzed at London’s Café de Paris
3: Getting Blitzed at London’s Café de Paris

Go back in time to an evening in March of 1941, when the Café de Paris—a popular center of London nightlife in the 1930s and 40s—was destroyed in the Blitz. Uncover the history of the Café and see how its destruction reflects not only the horrors of wartime London, but the resiliency of the citizens who had to “keep calm and carry on” under the threat of war.

31 min
On Carnaby Street during the Swinging ’60s
4: On Carnaby Street during the Swinging ’60s

Carnaby Street emerged during the expansion of London in the 17th century and would go on to become a symbol of social change in the 1960s. Look back on the history of this three-block stretch of city street and see why it became such a magnet for trendsetters and youth culture in post-war London, and examine why these changes were embraced by some and seen as a threat by others.

29 min
A History of Infamy in the Tower of London
5: A History of Infamy in the Tower of London

Dive into the long history of the Tower of London and its many roles: fortress; royal residence; mint; armory; military garrison; zoo; and, perhaps most notably, prison. From the days of William the Conqueror to the Victorian era and later, you will see how this structure has played a significant part in London’s long and notorious history.

32 min
Underground Catholics of Protestant London
6: Underground Catholics of Protestant London

Following the Protestant Reformation of her father Henry VIII’s reign, Elizabeth I and her successor James I ruled over an England torn by religious controversy and their rules were characterized by multiple conspiracies. Relive the history of religious persecution in London, from the pro-Catholic Mary I to her Protestant successors.

28 min
Wicked Fun at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens
7: Wicked Fun at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Especially popular with the aristocracy and the aspiring middle classes, the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were 12 acres of woods and gravel walks on the South Bank of the Thames. Experience some of the scandalous stories of overindulgence, social interaction, sex, pleasure, and danger that abounded in and around this quintessentially 18th-century public place.

29 min
Taking the Dead Man’s Path to Tyburn Tree
8: Taking the Dead Man’s Path to Tyburn Tree

Look back on the trial and execution of Jack Sheppard in 1724 and reflect on the ways Jack’s story highlights the public display of state power and the nature of public life in 18th-century London. Somewhat of a folk hero, Jack Sheppard still met an ignominious end that sheds light on the drastic disparities between the haves and the have-nots of London’s past.

26 min
The Great Stink of 1858
9: The Great Stink of 1858

How did a vital waterway like the Thames become so polluted that its rancid stench disrupted the everyday life of an entire city? Revisit the year 1858 and the “Great Stink” that helped Londoners conceptualize the dangers of pollution and prompted the implementation of lasting reforms that transformed the city’s infrastructure for generations to come.

31 min
In the Footsteps of Jack the Ripper
10: In the Footsteps of Jack the Ripper

Whitechapel had a reputation as a notorious district riddled with crime and poverty in the 19th century. While this characterization is not entirely accurate, the grisly murders of Jack the Ripper—and the sensationalist news coverage of them—cemented its dangerous status. Learn the real history of this East London neighborhood as you follow the trail of this infamous serial killer.

29 min
Fading Empire and the 1897 Diamond Jubilee
11: Fading Empire and the 1897 Diamond Jubilee

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 celebrated 60 years of the monarch’s rule. As you revisit the pomp and circumstance of this grand occasion, Professor Deslandes will highlight what this sort of celebration revealed about London, its royals, and its citizens—and also what it was intended to obscure about the decline of the British Empire and the rapid changes of a modern world.

33 min
The Prying Eyes of London CCTV
12: The Prying Eyes of London CCTV

A series of bombings in the early 1990s prompted the British government to create what they called a “ring of steel,” which expanded police presence and surveillance in the city. Close your London tour with a look at how the vast network of CCTV devices implemented at the turn of the century transformed the way Londoners and visitors alike experience the city and how we think about issues like privacy and civil rights.

29 min
Paul Deslandes

Please join me on this tour of notorious London.


University of Toronto


The University of Vermont

About Paul Deslandes

Paul Deslandes is a Professor of History at the University of Vermont, where he chairs the Department of History and the university’s Historic Preservation Program. He previously taught at Texas Tech University, where he was awarded the Hemphill-Wells New Professor Excellence in Teaching Award and was elected to the Teaching Academy. He received his BA in History from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and his MA in British History and PhD in History from the University of Toronto.

Among the courses Paul offers at the University of Vermont are London: A Cultural History and Sex in Modern History. He has been active in promoting the teaching of history at the high school level, and he served for several years as chief reader for the College Board’s AP European History program. He also held the position of executive secretary for the North American Conference on British Studies.

Paul is a cultural historian of modern Britain and has focused much of his writing on the history of gender and sexuality, education, and fashion. He is the author of many articles, essays, and books, including Oxbridge Men: British Masculinity and the Undergraduate Experience, 1850–1920 and The Culture of Male Beauty in Britain: From the First Photographs to David Beckham. He also received a REACH grant for his project titled “Transatlantic Britishness: Architecture, Design, and Cultural Exchange, 1876–Present,” sustaining research for a book that will examine material culture and design exchanges between Britain and North America.

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