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4.0 out of 5 stars The greenest of greens in blood-red ruins, 25 Feb 2009
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales (Hardcover)
Ellis Peters is, of course, best-known for her creation of Cadfael, the twelfth-century fictional crime-solving Welsh monk of Shrewsbury Abbey. She was born and bred in Shropshire. Roy Morgan, the photographer, hails from the broader skies of East Anglia, so his approach to the hills of the borderlands is of interest. He certainly has an eye for fine views and his interior shots, especially of ecclesiastical ornament, is to be admired.

In the preface, Ellis Peters writes with insight how, "Every frontier ... presents a heightened tension, intensified colours, a sense of drama the settled hinterlands do not know. By the nature of frontiers, they are often foothill country, even mountain country ..." The preface is accompanied by a full-page colour map of the area, but one which I fear could have benefited from the inclusion of features such as mountains and county boundaries (preferably those that existed up to the 1970s). Nor does the map show the rivers, which is surprising given the author's declaration that, "In every border region between ethnic rivals the rivers play a vital and decisive role."

Then, in her thirty-two page introduction, she goes on to tell the bare bones of the story of the borderlands between England and its princely neighbour. Her story begins in pre-Roman times, with much attention given to the period between the Norman conquest of England and the Edwardian conquest of Wales. Surprisingly, the period after this and all the way up to the formal political union of England with Wales (as set out in the 1536 and 1543 acts) and the concomitant end of the marcher lordships are skipped over lightly.

But the book itself essentially covers the whole medieval period, when the Marches had a real resonance in the daily lives of the people who lived there. The book is split into seven chapters based on geographical areas, moving from Chepstow Castle in the south to the city of Chester in the north. Some of the entries are of no great merit - such as that for Brecon - and one wonders about the point of their presence. Some of the entries feature extracts from the author's fictional works, and there are some well-written poetic descriptions, such as that of the castle at Acton Burnell: "All that arresting, arrogant red bathed and swathed all round and bedded in the greenest of greens ... In the driest of weather, the turf of Acton Burnell remains viridian, to set off the blood-red ruin ..."

The photographs are good, but are unfortunately framed in white, especially across the double-page spreads. This tends to drain away some of the effect of the colour: they should have been allowed to lie right up to the pages' edges. And some of the photographs are too small, such as that of the font in Hereford Cathedral on page five.

This is a fine and colourful work of reference for the visitor to the Marches with an interest in medieval history. Equally, it is a fine book to be owned and savoured by local residents too. It ends with some notes on ownership and access (many of the sites described are in the care of national and local bodies). There is an index.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stongholds and Sanctuaries:The Borderland of England and Wales, 17 April 2013
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This review is from: Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales (Hardcover)
I borrowed a copy and was so impressed I recommended it to two friends and now all three of us own a copy thanks to Amazon
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 8 Aug 2014
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P. Gunter (UK) - See all my reviews
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Excellent informative book, easy to read, well researched and interesting.
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Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales
Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales by Ellis Peters (Hardcover - 29 April 1993)
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