Obituary of Liza Picard | history books


Liza Picard, who died aged 94, wrote a series of books on the social history of London. The success of the first, Restoration London (1997), stimulated a mini-boom in history books about daily life in the capital. Her books started out as a retirement hobby – she was 70 when the first one was published – and Liza has made her inspiration clear: “I have a practical mind. I’ve always been interested in how people lived. Practical details are rarely covered in social history books… The only answer seemed to be to write a book myself.

Critics decided she had succeeded. The Sunday Telegraph described his account of “how our 17th-century ancestors ate, slept, travelled, worshiped, loved, dressed, tried to stay healthy” as “a wonderful source book for historical novelists and filmmakers alike. quest for authenticity, and an almost perfect bedside book for anyone else”.

Liza Picard was trained as a lawyer, worked for the Inland Revenue for almost two decades and, as a historian, was self-taught, her first book being published at the age of 70.

Three more London books followed. In Dr Johnson’s World of London (2000), private madhouses were a profitable line and false teeth could be ordered by post; chalk was used to thicken milk and lead to blacken tea. The road rage, the press releases, the takeaways, and the “chemical drops” of Dr. Marten, the Viagra of the time, that she described reminded her of today. Elizabeth’s London (2003) showed us a city ruled by the livery companies and their apprenticeship system, with outsiders closely watched. In Victorian London (2005), Liza noted the many practical innovations – flush toilets, subways, umbrellas, letterboxes, left-hand drive. But it was also, at least until the 1850s, a city of cholera epidemics, transport to Australia, public executions and the workhouse, where peddlers sold sparrows for a penny , attached by the leg for children to play with. Cruelty and hypocrisy cohabit with invention, industry and philanthropy.

A lawyer by training, Liza was a self-taught historian. Her dry mind was not limited by fear of academic disapproval and she had no academic thesis to prove; it focused on the practical aspects of everyday life as revealed by contemporary primary sources. Searching various London libraries, she found diaries and journals, almanacs and journals, government documents and reports, advice books and memoirs, including those of foreign visitors. Despite their easygoing tone, his were works of impressive scholarship.

She was born in the village of Dedham, Essex, the youngest of three sisters. His father, James Sleigh, was part of a long line of physicians, some distinguished, others rather reluctant. Her mother, Hilda (née Scott) died when Liza was 10 years old. During World War II, Liza was evacuated to rural Aberdeenshire, where she was among the youngest and most northern subscribers to the literary magazine Horizon.

Although adept at syntax and precise punctuation in her work, for most of her adult life she combined courage with a fashion-forward disregard for prevailing convention. While still a teenager, she volunteered to report for the Red Cross on the plight of displaced young people, traveling by bicycle in war-torn southern France.

Restoration London, by Liza Picard, book cover

After studying jurisprudence at the London School of Economics and being called to the bar at Gray’s Inn, she did not initially practice as a barrister. Instead, she was hired to write promotional copy (by John Lewis and later by HERE) for the newly created artificial fabrics. In the late 1950s, unlucky in love, she sold almost everything, reducing her material possessions to the contents of a tin trunk, and sailed to East Africa, where she worked as a Colonial Office solicitor in Dar es Salaam and shared her Austin Car with a little python.

Returning to London after six years, in 1963 she married Philip Picard, a practicing lawyer. She then worked as a lawyer for the Inland Revenue for almost two decades and relished the trial of a well-known courtesan, arguing that the sovereign could levy tax on earnings, even those that might be considered immoral.

Philip died in 1984 and, approaching retirement, Liza moved first to Hackney and then to Oxford. For fun, she wrote an imaginary diary of Samuel Pepys’ patient wife. Although she discovered that the vanity had already been used, her notes served as a springboard for research into the restoration of London.

In Oxford in the 1990s, as chairwoman of a Social Security Appeals Tribunal, she doled out as much public money as she dared. During this time, she maintained an adventurous travel schedule, including solo trips to Kaliningrad and Samarkand. Her trip came to an end, however, when, having crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express to give a talk about her books in Ulan Bator, she could barely get back on the train after a change of car wheels and was almost abandoned on the platform. form in Mongolia.

His last decade was spent closer to his family, in west London. Although increasingly immobile, Liza learned English at first for her book on Chaucer’s contemporaries, Chaucer’s People (2017), then tackled its variants for research on the lives of nuns in northern India. England.

She is survived by her son John and two grandchildren. Her sisters, Agnès and Lorna, predeceased her.

Liza (Elizabeth Kate) Picard, writer and lawyer, born October 11, 1927; died on April 8, 2022


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