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Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK)

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A Tour Along the Sussex Coast (Sussex Guide)
A Tour Along the Sussex Coast (Sussex Guide)
by David Arscott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I like Sussex and know it reasonably well, 2 Oct. 2017
'A Tour along the Sussex Coast's is another big little book by the Snake River Press in their Sussex Guide series.

I like Sussex and know it reasonably well, from seaside holidays at my grandmother's in East Wittering; to later visits staying in cottages in Henfield, Cuckfield, and Bolney; and more recently trips to Brighton. I've made journeys down to Rye and Winchelsea in the far east; to Battle for its famous abbey; to Lewes for its plethora of historic buildings and old-town atmosphere; and of course to Chichester, cathedral city. Then there's Bosham, Boxgrove, Fishbourne, Petworth, Nymans, Bodiam, Arundel, Amberley, Shoreham ... just to name places that are vivid in my memory - the list goes on and on, not forgetting the South Downs and the Weald. So, reading David Arscott's tour along the coast of Sussex from east to west has been a pleasurable experience.

So much still to see! Camber Sands, Winchelsea, Hastings; Bexhill, Pevensey, and Eastbourne; Beachy Head and the Birling Gap - and all these places are just in the first half of the book! With wit and insight, an eye for nature's splendour as well as for man's monstrosities, the author informs and entertains big places in small doses.


John Adams
John Adams
by David McCullough
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.15

4.0 out of 5 stars How Amazing Is That?, 10 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: John Adams (Paperback)
I was inspired to read this biography of the second president of the United States, as it was the basis for the excellent HBO series.

As McCullough's writes in the introduction, "John Adams was a lawyer and a farmer, a graduate of Harvard College, the husband of Abigail Smith Adams, the father of four children. He was forty years old and he was a revolutionary." Why was that so? The biography reveals a man passionate about virtue and liberty, a man who would never give up the fight, and a man who was the real driver of independence. When people think of the fight for independence, they naturally bring to mind Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin - but it was Adams who was the driving force.

I am also glad that I read this book because I was able to see where the truth of Adam's life has been sacrificed for the drama of the TV series: the Hollywood version of history is just as active on America's own as well as the rest of the world's! For example, in the first episode I learn that Captain Preston was actually tried separately from his men, and of the eight soldiers, two were found guilty of manslaughter.

But there are also scenes that should have been in the series but which did not make it, scenes such as Franklin and Adams sharing a bed and arguing over whether the window should be open or closed. David McCullough's clear and highly-readable prose also covers much of the important but undramatic work of Adams, including his drafting of the constitution of his home state, Massachusetts, written whilst back home between time spent as ambassador to Holland and France.It is "the oldest, functioning written constitution in the world."

Much of the series played on Adams's relationship with his wife, and I was glad to see how true it was that they were a meeting of minds in so many ways and had a long and happy marriage, supporting each other and their children, although Adams himself had such high ideals that he was a difficult father to please.

The end came dramatically, like Beethoven, with a thunderstorm. And I still cannot get over how he died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson - and they both died on the fiftieth Fourth of July since independence! How amazing is that?


The Borders
The Borders
by Simon Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Vulgar Comfort, 9 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: The Borders (Hardcover)
This volume of the Reader's Digest series alerting us to 'Discover Britain's Historic Houses' straddles the English-Scots border: thus, the thirty entries for Cumbria, nineteen for County Durham, and eighteen for Northumberland have been written by Simon Jenkins, but the ten for Dumfries and Galloway and the seventeen for The Borders are by Hamish Scott.

From the introduction we learn that until 1603 and the union of the crowns, houses in this region had to be strongholds above all else. And Jenkins informs us that, "There are some 500 fortified buildings, castles and pele towers" in Northumberland alone, so by no means all houses open to the public are featured in this volume. Yet there are many riches therein. This is a part of Britain that has been little explored by me, so there is much here that is new and inviting.

From the off, Jenkins is his usual barbative self. In the very first entry for Cumbria he regales against health-and-safety fanaticism, and other entries contain references to English Heritage officialdom and National Trust bossiness. His usual prejudices against "bureaucrats and taxmen" in favour of families and private enterprise is continued in County Durham, but he does criticise the lack of access at Raby Castle and yet also praises a local authority's management of Preston Hall. At Witton Castle, "I wondered if this was a holiday camp for young offenders. Five mangy peacocks and a row of wrecked fruit machines in the yard did not restore confidence." Whilst at Muncaster Castle, Jenkins observes of a portrait of 'the last fool of Muncaster' "looks uncannily like Tony Blair."

Jenkins is very positive about Beamish and about much else to be seen, from the austerity of a medieval anchorage to the Bowes Museum, where "Flocks of reluctant schoolchildren wonder past lofty cases of French chine and Spanish glass, beneath lowering canvases by little-known artists. The gods of education have replaced those of showmanship. They bring more grant." But Jenkins does not just cover great houses, for as well as the splendour of Durham Castle, there are also entries on the little houses and even on a POW camp.

Northumbria is full of pleasant surprises: the rich Victorian Gothic at Bamburgh Castle; the severe Greek austerity of Belsay Hall; and Seaton Delaval, which Jenkins describes as "an eerie place, as if the fire [of 1822] were only yesterday." And Cragside is "a romantic woodland folly, as if Ludwig of Bavaria had opted for 'Tudorbethan' rather than German Gothic ... However, the celebrated view from the morning room over the ravine is not permitted for fear of fading the fabrics. Oh dear."

North of the border, Hamish Scott has none of Jenkins's acerbity, but little of his occasional literary flourishes either. Rather Scott is pleasantly matter-of-fact. Of Threave House, "the bedrooms are spartan. Excessive comfort would have been considered vulgar." And that is the impression - and indeed my own experience - of what one gets on the Scottish side of the line. But Drumlanrig Castle is splendidly at odds with that view, but what would one expect of the "palatial" seat of Douglases, Buccleuchs, and Queensberrys. Ditto for their other seat at Bowshill. Yet Manderson has many riches and Mellerstain has some original Adam work - and if some of the houses are art-poor, nevertheless that is often more than made up by the richness of their setting.

Yes, I am convinced that the Borders is a place for me to visit and explore in great detail, for this book convinces me that there is much to see and to admire.


1666: Plague, War and Hellfire
1666: Plague, War and Hellfire
by Rebecca Rideal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.44

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Drama of the Times, 19 Aug. 2017
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When we visited earlier this year the 'Fire' exhibition at the Museum of London, an exhibition that focused on err ... the Great Fire of London of 1666, I bought this book in the shop there to remind myself of its story.

Rebecca Rideal's book, however, also covers the Great Plague of 1665 and the disastrous end to the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1667: hence the book's subtitle, 'Plague, War, and Hellfire.'

It's an easy read, but her attempt to bookend the years of crisis by relating details everyday details from the lives of some ordinary members of London's public does not really work, since so much of the meat of her tales consists of the famous, whether they be royalty, aristocracy, admirals, or scientists.

There is also a distinct lack of maps, which is not good given that so much of the stories relies on a grasp of geography, whether of the wider international political context, the fighting of navies on the high seas or close inshore, or down to the intricacies of various streets in Restoration London.

There are some howling errors too: from claims that Edward VI and Mary being crowned in Barnard's Castle to Sir Francis Drake being alive and well and pirating his way through the early seventeenth century. We also have an earl as an MP, and there is some confusion between the Saviles and the Sackvilles, and equally between Essex Forest and Epping.

But, as I said, Rideal has a nice way with words and reproduces successfully some of the drama of the times. There is much here that was new to me, such as the infighting behind the scenes between various admirals. I was never bored, and as a TV producer who is undertaking a Phd on Restoration London, perhaps we can see the success of her storytelling on the page being translated into something interesting on screen.


Lost Plymouth: Hidden Heritage of Three Towns by Felicity Goodall ( 2009 ) Hardcover
Lost Plymouth: Hidden Heritage of Three Towns by Felicity Goodall ( 2009 ) Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Plymouth Lost Amidst Error, 9 Aug. 2017
From the brief sleeve biography, it is difficult to know what connection the author of this book, Felicity Goodall, has with the city of Plymouth. But this is a bad book, well-written. Published in 2009 by the usually respectable Birlinn company of Edinburgh, it forms part of their 'Lost ...' series on counties and towns of Britain. The book has an introduction and thirty-two chapters of varying length. All illustrations are in black and white.

The problem with this book appears almost as soon as you start reading. There are just so many errors of fact, one does not know where to begin. Goodall's words on medieval Plymouth, for example, only lazily repeat the words and ideas of former writers in times gone by, without any effort to engage with more modern interpretations and evidence. Statements are made with no evidence to support them, and general observations made that just stupefy. It's not just errors of local fact that appear, but of general history that would astound students doing A-level history. Here are a selection of them: -

- In chapter thirteen we are told, "The concept of housing soldiers in permanent purpose-built accommodation is a relatively recent one, and the first recorded purpose-built barrack block in England is known to have stood in 1596 at Plymouth Fort." The year 1596 is hardly 'recent', but has Goodall never heard of the Romans?
- The battles of the Civil War were not "the last to be fought on English soil."
- The Seven Years War did not end, but commenced in 1756 - and it led to the annexation of French Canada, not its "relinquishment".
- The outbreak of the American Revolution happened, we are told, in 1781.
- The Peace of Amiens occurred, we are told, in 1814.
- A photograph of the Royal Military Hospital is wrongly captioned as the Royal Naval Hospital.
- The 'Entente Cordiale' was close to breaking-point in 1858 (apparently), by which time "Military architecture in Europe had remained little changed since medieval times" (apparently).
- The Channel Islands are not "the gateway to the Atlantic."
- Even the cover painting on the book's sleeve is wrongly attributed as 'The Barbican' by Nicholas Condy; instead it is a view of the dockyard at Devonport.
One other major concern is that for a book about 'Lost Plymouth', there is often very little of the city being described, lost or otherwise. Chapter three concerns the general supply of the Royal Navy on the high seas; another chapter concerns press gangs with little or no links to Plymouth. Meanwhile, chapter seven sees us in Australia, chapter eight in New Zealand, chapter nine with Captain Bligh in the South Seas, and chapter eleven in the Antarctic with Tobias Furneaux. These subjects are certainly not "The Hidden Heritage of the Three Towns", as the book's subtitle would have it.

So is there nothing good in this book to relate? I've already mentioned that it is well-written, and Goodall has uncovered some stories I had not heard before, such as the furore caused by the Royal Navy firing on local fishing fleets in 1891, and of the Lock Wards at the Royal Albert Hospital to forcibly treat and contain local prostitutes. And it was interesting to read all about Plymouth's role in the slave trade, both in its commencement and in its eventual abolition. This assumes, of course, that what she says is true! That Goodall has done some research in nineteenth century local newspapers is clear, and in her final chapter she includes quotes that show not all Plymothians at the end of the Second World War were excited by the new dawn that reconstruction would bring.


Lost Plymouth: Hidden Heritage of the Three Towns (The Lost Series)
Lost Plymouth: Hidden Heritage of the Three Towns (The Lost Series)
by Felicity Goodall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plymouth Lost Amidst Error, 9 Aug. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
From the brief sleeve biography, it is difficult to know what connection the author of this book, Felicity Goodall, has with the city of Plymouth. But this is a bad book, well-written. Published in 2009 by the usually respectable Birlinn company of Edinburgh, it forms part of their 'Lost ...' series on counties and towns of Britain. The book has an introduction and thirty-two chapters of varying length. All illustrations are in black and white.

The problem with this book appears almost as soon as you start reading. There are just so many errors of fact, one does not know where to begin. Goodall's words on medieval Plymouth, for example, only lazily repeat the words and ideas of former writers in times gone by, without any effort to engage with more modern interpretations and evidence. Statements are made with no evidence to support them, and general observations made that just stupefy. It's not just errors of local fact that appear, but of general history that would astound students doing A-level history. Here are a selection of them: -

- In chapter thirteen we are told, "The concept of housing soldiers in permanent purpose-built accommodation is a relatively recent one, and the first recorded purpose-built barrack block in England is known to have stood in 1596 at Plymouth Fort." The year 1596 is hardly 'recent', but has Goodall never heard of the Romans?
- The battles of the Civil War were not "the last to be fought on English soil."
- The Seven Years War did not end, but commenced in 1756 - and it led to the annexation of French Canada, not its "relinquishment".
- The outbreak of the American Revolution happened, we are told, in 1781.
- The Peace of Amiens occurred, we are told, in 1814.
- A photograph of the Royal Military Hospital is wrongly captioned as the Royal Naval Hospital.
- The 'Entente Cordiale' was close to breaking-point in 1858 (apparently), by which time "Military architecture in Europe had remained little changed since medieval times" (apparently).
- The Channel Islands are not "the gateway to the Atlantic."
- Even the cover painting on the book's sleeve is wrongly attributed as 'The Barbican' by Nicholas Condy; instead it is a view of the dockyard at Devonport.
One other major concern is that for a book about 'Lost Plymouth', there is often very little of the city being described, lost or otherwise. Chapter three concerns the general supply of the Royal Navy on the high seas; another chapter concerns press gangs with little or no links to Plymouth. Meanwhile, chapter seven sees us in Australia, chapter eight in New Zealand, chapter nine with Captain Bligh in the South Seas, and chapter eleven in the Antarctic with Tobias Furneaux. These subjects are certainly not "The Hidden Heritage of the Three Towns", as the book's subtitle would have it.

So is there nothing good in this book to relate? I've already mentioned that it is well-written, and Goodall has uncovered some stories I had not heard before, such as the furore caused by the Royal Navy firing on local fishing fleets in 1891, and of the Lock Wards at the Royal Albert Hospital to forcibly treat and contain local prostitutes. And it was interesting to read all about Plymouth's role in the slave trade, both in its commencement and in its eventual abolition. This assumes, of course, that what she says is true! That Goodall has done some research in nineteenth century local newspapers is clear, and in her final chapter she includes quotes that show not all Plymothians at the end of the Second World War were excited by the new dawn that reconstruction would bring.


Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Larry David
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jovial Nihilism Meets Pessimistic Despair, 8 Aug. 2017
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This review is from: Whatever Works [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
One of the best Woody Allen movies, IMHO, ‘Whatever Works’ sees the excellent Larry David play Boris Yelnikoff as a sarcastic, cynical misanthrope, pricking people’s balloons and reducing everything down to … whatever works. And that includes love.

Into Boris’s life comes Melody St Anne Celestine, a naïve, innocent, good-natured, young, dumb-blond from Mississippi. After a month in his company she is already seeing things his way – or, at least, thinks she does. But Boris’s pessimistic despair can be countered, for as much as he influences her, she also softens some of his rough edges.

The film received some savage reviews. Could the critics not cope with the jovial nihilism? Sure, it’s a ludicrous plot, and the characterisations are often wooden. But the point of the film is to not only assert how “meaningless, blind chance the universe is,” but also to show that we can successfully deal with that by whatever works. Besides, there are some fantastic one-liners.

As usual, there are no extras on this Allen DVD


Victorian Plymouth: A Photographic Tour Around the Three Towns and Surrounding Neighbourhood
Victorian Plymouth: A Photographic Tour Around the Three Towns and Surrounding Neighbourhood
by Chris Robinson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Avoiding Hindsight, 7 Aug. 2017
One of the marks of Christmas in my life is that local historian Chris Robinson will be releasing a new book. Xmas 2016 was no exception.

In the introduction to his book on Victorian Plymouth, he argues that it was the time of the city's greatest change - and despite the Blitz and subsequent postwar reconstruction, he may be right. Subtitled 'A Tour around the Three Towns and Surrounding Neighbourhood', Robinson has mixed quotes from books describing Plymouth of the time with his own words written in a similar style. (Thankfully it is clear which is which.) Written in the present tense, Robinson remarks, "I have tried to avoid hindsight, and ... looking to the future."

Of course, most of the photographs are monochrome, although some are colour-tinted. There are one or two good maps reproduced as well, especially that on page 128 of the Victorian redesign of Drake Circus. This helps put many Victorian photographs of the area in context - and those photos of the area right up to the 1970s concrete shopping centre too.

Unfortunately, the author has done what he always does with these types of histories: that is, the vast bulk of the book - fully two-thirds - are devoted to the well-trodden paths of the Hoe, Barbican, and city centre. So, whilst valuable in themselves, my chief complaint is that so little space is given over to the actual suburbs in which the modern Plymothian actually lives today.

There is a chapter on 'Compton, Mannamead, Mutley and More", but this is barely twenty pages out of 250, yet here are some gems to be seen such as Emmanuel Church standing almost alone, Elm Road (but whereabouts along it exactly?), Mutley House, Thornhill House (is that the nascent Hyde Park Road to its side?), and Houndiscombe Farm (but where in the modern streetscape was it situated?)

Even less space is devoted to the large parishes of Plympton and Plymstock to the east of the Plym. And the final seven chapters (of sixteen) comprise barely a page each. But it would be wrong of me to end this review on a sour note: this is a valuable book to be sure, and one I enjoyed reading and exploring the city of my birth of a hundred years before I was born.


An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England
An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England
by Brian K Roberts
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Big Book for Big Ambitions, 26 July 2017
This is a big book. It’s not thick or heavy – it has only around eighty pages – but it is big, roughly forty-two centimetres by thirty. Published by English Heritage in 2000, it has seven chapters and fifty-five figures, mostly maps.

In their preface, the authors Brian Roberts and Stuart Wrathmell relate how they were “assisting English Heritage in the selection of medieval settlement remains for statutory protection,” but that in order to do so a more thorough questioning of regional patterns needed to be addressed to help elucidate rankings of importance.

In his foreword, David Stocker of English Heritage states that the atlas “is a first attempt to sketch out the broad patterns of post-Roman settlement in England.” He remarks that the project was a top-down approach rather than bottom-up but that, “Data gathering will continue to be essential … as researchers in the field undertake more and more field work, and compare their results with the Atlas, the Atlas itself will change …”

The first chapters set out the background to the study and the problems with definitions. I was surprised how much work was done laboriously by hand rather than computer, but we see how it resulted in the categorisation of three zones of historical rural settlement in England rather than the traditional two-zone highland/lowland divide. For the authors insert a central zone, a ribbon of elastic width that runs up from Dorset to Northumberland, more or less identical with the limestone belt.

When comparing their results with the seminal work done previously by the likes of Beresford and Hurst, Rackham, and Darby, “this mapping strengthens the argument that in some form the three provinces … were already present in Anglo-Saxon England.” And by using comparative maps of Roman villa sites, Anglo-Saxon burials, and woodland names, the authors hypothesise that, “The pattern of initial Anglo-Saxon settlement reflects an attraction to regions which had remained largely clear of woodland since the later Roman period.”

This is just one of the findings that this book elucidates. I also learned for example that, “if there is one ‘rule’ or ‘law’ in settlement geography it is that uniform landscapes – notably very flat surfaces – tend to repel nucleation … In contrast, concentrations of village and hamlets appear … where terrain contrasts exist, seeking the diversity of micro-terrains as much as water supply.” That had not struck me before, yet the logic is obvious.

The main attraction to this book will undoubtedly be the maps, many of them reproduced in colour. The large dimensions of the book obviously aid seeing the detail of many of them. But there are problems with these. For example, figure twelve has a gap in its legend; in figures fifteen and seventeen areas are shown with low and very low densities of rural settlement are in fact the opposite; part of the Devon coastline is missing in figure seventeen; and figure twenty-two is wrongly credited.
The book’s longest chapter is the sixth, with twenty pages. It comprises the “Sub-provincial descriptions”, that is the smaller areas into which the three large provinces have been subdivided by the authors based on their evidence. Whilst the model maps for each sub-region are very useful in comparative terms, the text accompanying them is dry and not reader-friendly. For instance: “Preferred settlement zones along lines of contrasts in the local terrain intermingle with more homogenous scatters over areas with more uniform terrain.”

And it is this quasi-academic ‘literary’ style that makes me award only three stars to this book. No doubt the work is primarily intended to assist the landscape archaeologists of English Heritage rather than the general public, but I cannot help feeling that the language used will repel many general readers. Having said that, I was inspired to purchase the authors’ follow-up book, `Region and Place: A study of English Rural Settlement.’

The final chapter suggests areas where their methodology might answer further research questions and provide deeper appreciations. A bibliography and index bring up the rear.


Region and Place: A study of English rural settlement (None)
Region and Place: A study of English rural settlement (None)
by Brian K. Roberts
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Why Are Settlements in the English Countryside So Diverse?, 26 July 2017
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Why are settlements in the English countryside so diverse? In some parts we see villages that are centralised, with farms lining the high street,and large fields with roads alongside them that form dog-legs when turning corners. Woodland is sparse or concentrated only in particular areas, and pastureland or meadow can be far away. Yet in some parts of England there are no large villages, just dispersed and solitary farmsteads at the end of long and winding lanes, with plentiful woodland adjacent. And then again in other parts there are long villages that straggle along the highway.

English rural settlement is a mosaic, and has long fascinated me ever since I broke out of Devon and Cornwall and saw different landscapes and different ways of arranging towns and villages in places like Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Kent, and Gloucestershire. Now, wherever I go, my eyes are open to the present landscape, but more importantly, they are open to past landscapes.

Why are things arranged so differently in different parts of England? What caused it? These questions have been considered by antiquarians, historians, geographers, landscape archaeologists for well over a century now. Brian Roberts and Stuart Wrathmell were tasked by English Heritage to come up with a nationwide review that would enable the organisation to categorise living and deserted villages for listing purposes.

Their research came up with 'An Atlas of Rural Settlement' in 2000, and this book 'Region and Place' builds upon their findings. As others before them, they split England into three distinct parts. Their research and mapping has come up with some fantastic conclusions and ideas, most of which support much of what has been said before. But they attempt to go behind the maps and datasets and fieldwork and come up with some surprises too.

The authors admit they have not - cannot - come up with cast-iron history. Each parish, each township, each manor will have its differences, but the authors' work is comprehensive in its geographical and - more importantly - chronological coverage, fully considering, analysing and processing material to cover the last two thousand years of human settlement in England.

This is not an easy book to read, but neither is it addressed purely to the academy. As expected, there are plenty of maps and figures and tables to take in and digest, but I found it a worthwhile read and learned a few new things along the way to help me see things afresh when crisscrossing my beloved England.


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