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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An English Gem
English Journey is a gem in its own right as a piece of travel writing but the fact that its was written in 1933 adds a fancinating historical dimension to Priestley’s tarvel around England by ‘motor coach’ which he describes as,
“They are voluptuous, sybaritic, of doubtful morality.”
Never has a coach been so eloquently painted...
Published on 16 Feb. 2006 by A. S. Walker

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Looking forward to reading more ...
Cover 3/5 - does nothing for the contents

I am describing a similar journey immediately post WW2 so this should provide some interesting background material.

I read on ...

Alexander of the Allrighters and Ywnwab!
Published 2 months ago by Alexander Kreator


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An English Gem, 16 Feb. 2006
By 
A. S. Walker (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Paperback)
English Journey is a gem in its own right as a piece of travel writing but the fact that its was written in 1933 adds a fancinating historical dimension to Priestley’s tarvel around England by ‘motor coach’ which he describes as,
“They are voluptuous, sybaritic, of doubtful morality.”
Never has a coach been so eloquently painted in the reader’s mind. Moreover, with all the human touches that make you realise you are learning more about the author than about the place being visited,
“I spent the next day, which was fine and warm, at Bournville. There were several good reasons for doing this. To begin with, I was interested in the manufacture of chocolate, having bought and eaten in my time great quantities of the stuff, and having several times, when I was about ten tried unsuccessfully to make it myself.”
The book does more than present big adjectives and quirky childhood anecdotes. Priestly considers the fate of the industrial class and the economic state of Britain, post the Great War (1914-1918) in an insightful way by stepping out of middle-class London and right into the lives of the British working class.
This is a delightful read, better than Theroux’s (normally my favorite travel writer) rather turgid English travel writing, The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain, penned in 1982.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An English Classic For All Time, 22 Sept. 2009
By 
M. J. Nelson (Leeds) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Hardcover)
Of all the books that J B Priestley ever wrote this is undoubtedly a classic. Its subtitle is Being a Rambling but Truthful Account of What One Man Saw and Heard and Felt and Thought During a Journey Through England During the Autumn of the Year 1933. This establishes it as no merely pleasant travel book but a sharply observed and deeply felt portrait of an England essentially of contrasts. Priestley found no fewer than three Englands on his journey. The first was 'Old England, the country of the cathedrals and minsters and manor houses and inns, of Parson and Squire, guide book and quaint highways and byways England'. The second England was a much grimmer place : 'the nineteenth-century England, the industrial England of coal, iron, steel, cotton, wool, railways...slums...sooty dismal little towns, and still sootier grim fortress-like cities'. Finally, there was 'the new post-war England...of arterial and by-pass roads, of filling stations...of giant cinemas and dance halls and cafes... But what Priestley indentified most sharply of all was the 'North-South Divide' long before that term came into common use : in the South reasonably civilised and prosperous places in which to live; in the North places of wretchedness, decay and deprivation. And although there is bitter condemnation about this latter state of affairs the book is full of the common warp and weft of daily life, the determination of individual human beings to make the best of things, the diverse tapestry that was England in the 1930s. Priestley cast a critical but humane eye over it and created a masterpiece of social commentary that has become a valuable part of social history.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastically written and still scarily relevant today, 8 Dec. 2010
By 
JuliaC "Julia Coulton" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Paperback)
I make no apology for reviewing a book first published in 1934 here. If you read my recent review of Owen Hatherley's great polemic, `The New Ruins of Great Britain', (and hopefully subsequently even the book itself), you may realise that it was through this recent work that I have come to Priestley's much older travelogue and homage to the places and people of England. This is no mere historical dalliance on my part, it is still a very relevant book, from a man who clearly has great respect for the ordinary people he comes across on his travels, and who cares a great deal about our country, and what he felt was happening to it, as does Hatherley today.

Priestley is also a fantastic writer, with witty and pinpoint accurate observations of life in the towns and countryside in the England of 1933. He is in effect looking at how people were recovering from the years of the Depression, following the First World War. Many of his opinions are made all the more poignant by our knowledge that the Second World War was to begin just two years after he was writing, thus changing the shape of this landscape and its inhabitants radically again. As well as being a humorous journeyman, his travelogue is touching and very keenly observed.

His journey also begins in Southampton, with which Priestley is not very impressed, and feels is does not live up to the majestic ocean liners which come and go from its harbour. He is pleasantly surprised by the vocal civic pride of Bristol, which he feels `remains a city that was strong yesterday and still lively today, a city that is old, dignified, historic, and at the same time a bustling modern commercial centre.' He ominously reports on a meeting of fascist black-shirts near the docks which he attends, out of curiosity rather than any sympathetic leanings.

In Coventry the descriptions of its historic buildings before they were mostly destroyed in the Blitz are both ironic and poignant: `I was surprised to find how much of the past, in soaring stone and carved wood, still remained in the city.' and utterly relevant, especially his commentary on the amassed wealth of the banks, which could have been written today: `If you do not understand why our banks give so little interest on our loans to them and demand so much more interest on their loans to us, or why they are encouraged, for private profit, to exchange mere credit for solid buildings and machinery and businesses at work, you should go and have a look at these colossal white stone pillars of theirs in Coventry.' We surely would if they were still there...

On his travels what he is most interested in is the working, domestic and cultural lives of the people he meets. He finds joy in conversing with commercial travellers, maids, miners, and booksellers. He was from Bradford, and his Northern roots are probably one of the main reasons for his genuine delight in, and admiration and respect for, the people in the great cities and small villages there alike. He is not particularly complementary about his home city itself, but accurately describes how its inhabitants loved nothing more than to escape to the beautiful surrounding moors and wild countryside on their doorstep at every available opportunity when they were released from their dark, and inevitably probably satanic, woollen mills. I know this to be true from my own grandparents and their friends who had static caravans and weekend boltholes in their rural West Yorkshire retreats, no matter how working class they were.

On my own home city of Stoke on Trent, he is harsh but sadly very fair. He is shocked at the lack of celebration of its cultural heritage in the shape of Arnold Bennett there. I dare say the youth of modern day Stoke would be just as ignorant of this rich literary inheritance as were their forebears in the 1930's (`Has he been on the X Factor then?...'). And Priestley was absolutely accurate in pointing to the city's absence of any feeling of being one, made up as it is of six (not five as popular myth would have it) small and parochial towns. But he does try to turn his hand to making pottery, with mixed success, and is full of awe at the skills of the people who do this day in and day out, producing fancy wares for rich tables in their potbanks with billowing smoke that cast a dark all pervading smog over the whole place. Sadly the air is much cleaner there now with the demise of the pottery industry. And as someone who left Stoke for the bright lights of Manchester myself, I can hardly argue with his view that the people of the city are `unique in their remote, self-contained provincialism'. Sorry Stoke - on behalf of myself and I am sure Priestley too.

His journey to Manchester resulted in much more complementary observations about this magnificent city than the aforementioned Owen Hatherley makes, I am very glad to say. Priestley points to its foul weather (who could argue with that - except perhaps if arguing with a southerner?); its discerning theatre lovers (complement taken thanks); its fiercely independent women (no comment); and its zest for pleasure. In Blackburn he sees the ravages of unemployment at first hand, where he feels that the skills and self respect of decent working people are being flung on the scrapheap through worklessness, and the effects of this are particularly noticeable in the young adults he meets. How true then, and how heartbreakingly still true today.

He records for our posterity and future enlightenment perhaps, the misery in Jarrow and the coalfields of Durham alike, as shipyards close down, ironworks ground to a halt, and decent people endure backbreaking and dangerous conditions as a matter of course if they do have work.

But this is most of all a love story to the people and places of England that Priestly takes the trouble to explore on their own terms. It is not meant to be an expert book on economics, architecture or politics, although he is actually very wise on all these counts. One lesson that perhaps we can all take from Priestley's example (particularly note this you southerners) is that you should always take the time and trouble to have a chat with the person next to you in the café, or on the bus or the train. And there is no nicer, or very often more amusing, way to spend a few idle moments than chewing the cud with your fellow travellers in life - you never know what you might learn from them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing resonances even in the 21st century, 2 April 2010
This review is from: English Journey (Hardcover)
Although this book was written in the 1930s some of the descriptions of life and the lot of the working classes have striking resemblances even today. To read this book is to travel back in time to an England of have and have nots; mainly have nots. Priestly presents a narrative rich in pathos and a genuine understanding of the difficulties of working class life. The photographs add an extra dimension and tell their own tale. These, even in their own right, leave the reader in no uncertainty as to the tremendous calamity facing working people during the 1930s. Strictly the description should be non working people. How would we fare if we were transported back into their environment? However, there are resonances. We still face the difficulties of youth unemployment and societal breakdown; the so called "corner boys" hanging around with no work or money. Only today this manifests in some communities in crime and drugs taking to overcome difficulties. It would be interesting if Priestly were alive today to see what he would make of those places so vividly described in this excellent book. This, I believe, is classic testament to the British way of life in those days of hardship and uncertainty. Beryl Bainbridge wrote a sequel to this by visiting the towns and cities described in the book with a subtitle " The Road to Milton Keynes", but I do not believe it has the vigour of Priestley's work. I enjoyed reading Priestly's book immensely and it should be considered an important social document of a way of life that begs the question as to whether even in this 21st century we have moved forward?
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Journey through the past., 9 Jun. 2009
By 
Stewart M (Victoria, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Paperback)
In the autumn of 1933 J.B. Priestley set off on a journey around England - fifteen years after the end of the First World War and six before the start of the Second. He draws a picture of a country caught between those two events, with the new before it - shiny glass factories on the road to Southampton - and the old still lingering - in the coal fields of the North East. The book is peopled with characters both great and small and in many ways this is part of the appeal of this book.
This book is set in a similar period to some of the works of George Orwell and Laurie Lee, but has the advantage of a much wider geographic range. The book is a pleasure to read and provides a real insight into the lives of people in England between the wars. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Journey by J.B. Priestley ed 1987, 29 July 2010
This review is from: English Journey (Paperback)
A truly wonderful insight into the England of just pre-war. It is an account of day-to day life across the country taking us into business life, leisure and the hardships of the working class in this era. Priestly has the knack of taking you there so that you fully appreciate the journey alongside him. The book has a conversational tone and we join him as he journeys the country by bus and motor car sharing his pleasures and his disappointments.
Priestley engages with people and their lives. He shows an empathy with some and delivers harsh judgement about others and some of the apalling social conditions he discovers particularly in the north of the country. There is anger,humour and anecdote and a sharing of some personal memories as he re-visits his home town of Bradford. In short a very worthwhile read for those interested in a social history of England with all its various trades and pastimes recorded for posterity.
Beryl Bainbridge writes the introduction to this edition and refers to Priestley thus: ...'a great patriot, a staunch Englishman and a grand and distinguished man of letters.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1930s England Liked, Admired, Enjoyed ... "The rest he simply wanted to improve”, 21 Feb. 2014
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Hardcover)
Priestley subtitled his ‘English Journey’ with these words; “being a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England during the autumn of the year 1933.” He was almost forty years old.

I came to this work fresh as a recommended antidote to the sickliness of HV Morton’s ‘In Search of England’ of 1927 (also reviewed by me). Morton stuck to the heritage trail: rural idylls, quaint rustic customs, quaint rustic people, old cathedral cities, country towns, Shakespeare, with overawed and amusing American visitors. He had an eye for the ladies and not for their poor livelihoods. He steered clear of anything that smelt of oil and grease or turned coal into power.

Priestley, though, was curious about all of the different kinds of England and divided his trip neatly into twelve chapters, zigzagging north from Southampton up to Northumbria and returning to London via East Anglia. Personally, it is a shame he never ventured to Devon and Cornwall, but at least he got to Bristol.

The opening paragraph is so good, that I immediately warmed to Priestley and knew I had met a man who spoke my language. About the luxuriousness of the then-modern motor coach, he writes – tongue firmly but not totally in cheek – “They are voluptuous, sybaritic, of doubtful morality. If the proletariat has money in its pocket now, it can lead a life of a satrap. And it does. It is the decaying landed county folk … who are the Spartans of our time. But who and where are our Athenians? Perhaps this journey will tell me.”

Reading his experiences one cannot but make comparisons with today. For instance, in Southampton, “I noticed too quite a number of blatant cut-price shops, their windows crammed with goods, mostly inferior and dubious, and loud with placards so exclamatory that they made one’s eyes jump.” And Southampton still has its liners, but Swindon has lost its locomotives and Bristol its cigarettes and chocolate. The Cotswolds are still “charming” and it was good to read Priestley being tolerant of monied eccentricity even if it has no economic rationality.

Whilst so much still connects us to the thirties, so much also distances us. For instance, Priestley attends a meeting of the fascist black shirts where “most of the audience consisted of communists … I do not imagine, however, that either of these parties will make many converts in Bristol.” But it is tragic – and ironic – that he can see old Coventry as a set for a performance of ‘Die Meistersinger’.

But the further north he travels, the more the effects of the depression were evident. This was a time “when there never were more men doing nothing and there never was before so much to be done.” He has wise words and acute observations about football matches and fairgrounds. His ability to take a minor incident or, say, a piece of architecture and run with it in an absorbing manner appears quite natural.

Then there is his famed humanity. In Gateshead he fiercely argues with an earnest youth but accompanies his assertions with a friendly smile. Imagine his shock and shame when he suddenly becomes aware that the boy is blind. And amidst the economic devastation and the blighted working lives of East Durham, Priestley declares, “if any reader thinks that … the writer of these chapters is rapidly turning himself into a prig as the book grows, I can only ask that reader, before finally passing judgement, to make the same journey that I have made. A few days in North-Eastern England will do the trick.”

Back in London at the end of his journey, Priestley contemplates three different Englands. The first is that of Morton, “Old England, the country of the cathedrals and monasteries and manor houses and inns, of Parson and Squire”; the second comprises the England of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution later explored by Orwell in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’; the third can be epitomised in one word: Woolworths! This is the modern England, clean-lined and consumer-orientated. They all still survive to a greater or lesser extent in the twenty-first century.

This is a review of the Great Northern Books edition, a handsome, unabridged, hardback book released on the seventy-fifth anniversary of Priestley’s original in 1934. There are a number of annoying typological errors, but the one thing that is missing is a map of his journey. But, in addition to some modern photographs taken by Rod Slater, photographs of no great quality in terms of texture or framing – indeed, some are not worthy of so fine an edition – there are a number of small introductory essays.

These include short pieces by Lee Hanson, who compares Priestley to Cobbett, Johnson, and Engels (who is his present-day equivalent?); John Baxendale, who reviews the different critical approaches to the book; Beryl Bainbridge, who asserts that Priestley would not see many differences if he returned today; Alan Plater, who recommends that today’s elites within the M25 take a few more English journeys of their own; and William Woodruff, who reflects on his own experiences of 1930s Blackburn. There is a longer piece by Margaret Drabble who looks afresh at the Potteries with Priestley’s book in hand, whilst Margaret Cullingford tells us of the finding of a remarkable scrapbook.

Nina Bawden provides a foreword to this edition, Priestley’s son Tom supplies an introduction, and Roy Hattersley a preface. Hattersley notes that “no prejudices spoil our appreciation of the journey. Much of what he saw Priestley liked, admired, enjoyed. The rest he simply wanted to improve.”
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting piece of social history, 26 Sept. 2013
By 
T. Barber - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Hardcover)
Bought this book after seeing a TV programme about thus trip. Found it fascinating as even though this written so long ago nothing appears to have changed in the UK......or indeed with the British. Every politician should be made to read this book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JB at his best, 23 April 2009
By 
M. Birkinshaw (Harwell Oxfordshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Paperback)
I bought this as a present for wife after seeing reference to it on TV. Although out of print I found a copy on Amazon and the purchase and delivery were without any hassle and first class. My wife has thoroughly enjoed this book and laughed out loud several times. It is JB at his best.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A journey well worth travelling, 8 Aug. 2010
By 
Mr. G. Proctor "regentcat" (Sheffield, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: English Journey (Hardcover)
Not so much a journey of England as a journey of J.B. Priestley's England, his journey, his views. The book concentrates on people as much as the country. Between the wars was a period of transition between the traditional past and the changing future yet to be shaped by another war. The section in which he discusses war memorials and the people he fought alongside is very powerful.
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English Journey
English Journey by J. B. Priestley (Paperback - 31 Mar. 1977)
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