January 2016 Reviews


1. All The World Comes To The Lakes The story of travel and tourism in the Lake District, as told through guidebooks and contemporary accounts by Mark Flinn Show more → Show less ↓

ALL THE WORLD COMES TO THE LAKES The story of travel and tourism in the Lake District, as told through guidebooks and contemporary accounts by Mark Flinn (Bookcase 2015 119pp ISBN: 9 7819 0414 7848) £10

This small book surveys a sizeable domain. Its subject, as its title suggests, is not the Lake District itself, but the records left by the travellers, topographers, and tourists who have documented the region over the past 400 years. As a guide to Lake District guidebooks and travelogues, the book is more of a whistle-stop tour than an excursion: less of a study than a digest. But, in the words of Celia Fiennes, which it quotes, it is a ‘diverting and profitable’ read. Its author, Mark Flinn, does a fine job of selecting choice cuts of writing about the Lakes region (ranging in date from Camden’s Britannia to Lesley Anne Rose’s The Best of Britain: The Lake District) and he serves them up to the reader in a lively and entertaining manner. The amount of twentieth and twenty-first century material included makes a particularly welcome contribution to the mixture, especially since works of this kind all too often only trace the story of the development of Lakeland tourism as far as the Victorian era. The attention paid to the early days of motorcar and bicycle tourism is particularly appreciated.

Flinn’s method as a storyteller is more descriptive than analytical, and he tends to present lengthy excerpts from his sources with a fairly modest amount of commentary. This distinguishes his book as a title for general readers more than historians, but both audiences will appreciate the views of the region afforded both by these long quotations and by the many illustrations included in the book. The half-page reproduction of Joseph Hardman’s photograph ‘Skating on Derwentwater’ is particularly striking.) Still, even though Flinn’s book makes no presumption to being a piece of scholarship, greater acknowledgement of previous histories of Lakeland tourism would have been welcome. Contrary to the claim with which the book begins, the number of books devoted to the history of tourism in the Lakes is far from ‘few’. Such a remark will likely wrong-foot readers with knowledge of foundational works in this field, such as Norman Nicholson’s The Lakers (1955) or Edmund Hodge’s Enjoying the Lakes (1957), to give two important examples. Moreover, this assertion stands alongside some minor errors of fact (for example, Kurt Schwitters was German not Swiss) as one of a few flaws that occasionally upset the reader’s enjoyment. Such shortcomings notwithstanding, this is an enjoyable book and one recommended to readers with an interest in the history of Lakes region.

Christopher Donaldson is lecturer in Romanticism at the University of Birmingham.

2. From Somerset to the Pyrenees in the steps of William Arthur Jones, geologist and antiquary by David Rabson Show more → Show less ↓

FROM SOMERSET TO THE PYRENEES in the steps of William Arthur Jones, geologist and antiquary by David Rabson (Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 2015 108pp ISBN 978 0 902152 28 1) £14.95 + £3.99 p&p from the Society

In the mid-nineteenth century dissenting ministers were among the leading figures prompting social action and historical research in English towns. Among the most active were Unitarian ministers—for example Henry Solly, who was not only a Chartist but also the founder of Working Men’s Club movement, and T.W. Horsfield who published his History of Sussex in 1835. Both have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as does William Arthur Jones (1818-1873), the subject of this well researched memoir by David Rabson. Born in Carmarthen, Jones attended the nonconformist academy there and progressed on a scholarship to the University of Glasgow, graduating MA in 1841 when he became the Unitarian minister at Northampton. He soon married Mary Cluff, who tragically died a few months later. In 1845 he wrote to a fellow minister, ‘I am on the committee of almost every public institution the town’, a pattern he was to follow in his subsequent ministries at Bridgwater and Taunton.

It was this move to Somerset, following a second marriage in 1846 and a growing family, which saw Jones enter his main field of activity—the administration of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society which was formed in 1849. Becoming its secretary, he was highly industrious in presenting papers, organising field trips and much more. Taking a deep interest in geology and archaeology, he also led attempts at fundraising for the SANHS Museum. Out of the blue in 1867 he resigned his ministry, citing his daughters health and that of his other children; his second wife had died in 1860. He spent two years in the Pyrenees before returning to Taunton and his work with SANHS, but not to his ministry, though he rejoined the Unitarian congregation. He was comfortably placed financially, having invested the money received from both his wives. SANHS had drifted in his absence but on his return he put it on the right tracks, later adding the chairmanship of the Taunton Waterworks Company. On his death in 1873 the Taunton Courier commented that ‘No man in this place, probably, during the last twenty years, has contributed more efficiently to those local institutions which mark the higher civilisation of a town’.

David Rabson has brought a forgotten figure back to life in this book which, interestingly presented and finely illustrated, reveals a man who helped to lay the foundations of natural history and antiquarian research in Somerset. The author asks himself how he would have reacted to Jones personally: ‘he might have been rather intense and perhaps not happy with idle chatter, but nevertheless probably good company.’

Alan Ruston is President of the Unitarian Historical Society, and was formerly editor of its Transactions.

3. Abandoned and Vanished Canales of Ireland, Scotland and Wales by Andy Wood Show more → Show less ↓

ABANDONED AND VANISHED CANALS OF IRELAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES by Andy Wood (Amberley Publishing 2015 160pp ISBN 978-1-4456-4868-2) £15.99

At first sight it might appear that there remains little to say about the history of our inland waterways. The outline histories of the various canal companies, based on company minutes and accounts among British Transport records, were thoroughly expounded by Charles Hadfield and his collaborators in the David and Charles ‘Canals of the British Isles’ series, and there can be little left to learn from the last generation of working boatpeople, whose memories have been recorded by several capable oral historians. But in fact there is much more, as can be seen by Peter Wakelin’s recent work on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct,1 which shows that a structure which can dazzle observers as simply a waterway in the sky also symbolised the economic, social and cultural changes taking place during the Industrial Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Such new insights depend on long and detailed research, whether in the field or through the diligent analysis of voluminous and superficially unexciting documentary sources.

Andy Wood, a Manchester-born  ‘writer and historian’ with ‘a life-long fascination with canals’, produced a book on abandoned canals in England in 2013 and has followed it with a survey of 21 closed and vanished waterways in Wales, 17 in  Scotland and 27 in  Ireland. He draws attention to canals and river navigations that are neither well-known nor appreciated, and most readers with an interest in waterways will enjoy dipping into this book. It is good to read, for example, an account of the Coalisland Navigation that carries its story up to the Second World War.  Most entries tend to be potted histories, rather than the guides to archaeological remains which might be more useful to readers who want to follow up items that they find interesting. One of the lengthiest and economically most significant waterways considered is the 40 km-long Glamorganshire Canal, but Andy Wood devotes less space to telling the reader where its remains can be seen than to a dubious anecdote about smuggling.  Overall he provides very little historical context, and readers in England, Scotland and Wales would have welcomed some comments on the current state of waterways conservation in the Irish Republic.

The faults in this book are attributable to the publisher rather than the author. There is an excess of wasted white space on unfilled pages. The illustrations deserve better reproduction, and the promise in the publicity for the book of ‘Full colour, bringing the landscape and history of the Rivers to Life’ is unfulfilled—the book is about canals rather than rivers, and the only colour reproduction is on the outer cover. A ten-page bibliography with fifteen references to Charles Hadfield’s Canals of South Wales and the Border, ten to Jane Cumberlidge’s Inland Waterways of Ireland, nine to Jean Lindsey’s The Canals of Scotland and six to Ronald Russell’s Lost Canals of England and Wales, is frustratingly repetitive.

1                Peter Wakelin, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal: World Heritage Site (Canals & River Trust in Wales, in association with Cadw, 2015)

Barrie Trinder has written about the history of inland waterways in books about Shropshire and Oxfordshire and in his Britain’s Industrial Revolution: the Making of a Manufacturing People (Carnegie, 2013). He is currently engaged on a research on the boatpeople of the south Midlands in the reign of Queen Victoria.