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Tewkesbury (None) Hardcover – 3 Nov 2008
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The book has an introduction and eight chronological chapters. There are sixty-one illustrations and twenty-four colour plates, including fine views taken from the top of the abbey tower. What is often missing, however, are reproductions of old Ordnance Survey maps to illustrate the roads, rivers, canals, and ferries to which she often alludes in her text. Indeed, in her last chapter Jones mentions the 1886 Ordnance Survey map and takes us on a tour of the town’s industries at that time, but no map or part thereof is reproduced.
The opening sentence of the first chapter is, “Rivers and roads are basic determinants of many settlements.” For me this historical-geographical starting-point (rather than focussing on legends and unverifiable historical theories) demonstrates straight away that the author is serious about her task of providing a cogent history of the town, for history is grounded in geography. (And yet, on the second page, Jones’s geographical logic does a volte-face when she proposes that the Mill Avon may have been cut as a defensive measure, “providing a barrier against attack by marauders coming up the Severn” – to which my response was ‘But would not this instead provide direct access to the marauders?’)
Chapter one takes the reader up to the Norman Conquest, exploring the landscape, the archaeology, and the early history of the town as far as the remains and the surviving documents are able. She is rightly critical of some former claims. The following chapters can be summarised by their titles: 2. ‘Monastery and Market, 1066-1400’; 3. ‘The Impact of National Events, 1400-1550’; 4. ‘The Establishment of the Borough, 1550-1700’; and 5. ‘Work and Home, 1550-1770’.
From 1550, and especially after the borough’s foundation in 1575, many more contemporary records survive from which Jones is able to quote. She deals with local and national politics, deftly interweaving these with local social and economic issues, such as local occupations, the impact of plagues, the class composition of the town, and its physical face – its buildings and streets. I was pleased to see that Jones does not seek to educate the reader about national events of which they should already have some awareness, thus allowing her to provide a greater focus on event s and developments local to the town and its hinterland. Chapters six and seven cover the period 1700-1840 in the same manner.
The long last chapter covers the period from the reign of Victoria to 1987. The bypassing of the town by the railway had an immediate impact: “within a year there were no stage coaches … where before there had been 26 a day.” And yet Jones shows that the town still had enterprise and energy enough to survive. One could argue that this chapter is too long and should have been split into two, but here Jones works thematically, ending each section with modern comparisons, whether it be with transport links or sewerage. Jones concludes her survey by writing, “Whatever the changes in future concerning municipal organisation and the life of the town, it is hoped that the interpretation of these pages will be an interesting and perhaps useful record.” There is no ‘Perhaps’ about it!
Six pages of references, five pages of bibliography, and an index bring the book to an end.