Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages

Author: Malcolm Hislop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 264

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In British mythology, castles are synonymous with Brave Knights, Distressed Damsels (always ‘Fair’ and ‘Comely’), Dragons and the Round Table. Yet these structures were so much more. They were variously symbols of power, of ownership and yet, curiously of family, protectiveness and community; by their very existence they were contradictions.

The volume covers both British and French castles of the 900AD-1500AD period. The author knows his subject well, writing about it with very-evident enthusiasm. As would be expected, the work contains chapters on Earthworks, Great Towers, and Military Engineering. However, chapters on domestic engineering and castle aesthetics also appear. As this reviewer, had never considered that a castle could be worthy of embellishment, beauty, or that colour might be used to decorate the walls, learning about that aspect of castle construction was a revelation.  By virtue of the knowledge it contains, the work is more encyclopaedia than general narrative, and has great value because of that.  In this reviewer’s opinion, it may well become a standard reference work on the subject.

The volume contains 10 Chapters; these forming  the largest section of this work. They are preceded by Preface and Acknowledgements sections. An Afterword, a Glossary and a Referenced Works sections also appear, the latter being effectively a Bibliography. Where source citations are required, these are end-note in format, the citations themselves appearing in a separate Notes section at the rear of the work. An Index also is also provided.  Maps, Photographs, Etchings and Plans appear throughout the work.  They are clear, well-notated, and collectively grouped as Figures (notated as ‘Figs.’) within each chapter. They are numbered in sequence within that chapter. There is however no reference to their existence within the volume’s Contents section.

In precis:  This encyclopaedic work provides a comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the Medieval Castle and is likely to become a standard reference work on the subject.  It will appeal to anyone with an interest in both castles per se and the ‘Medieval era’ / ‘Middle Ages’ in general. For this reviewer however, comprehensive and separate lists of the images that appeared within its covers would have been a welcome addition. It has been rated accordingly.

Although it deserved better, on a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), it has been given a 7.

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nzcrownmines is availalble for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

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Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britain’s Declining Secondary Railways Through the 1960s

Authors: Kevin McCormack and Martin Jenkins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 168

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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According to the song Big Yellow Taxi, ‘…You don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone’ and in many ways this volume is reflective of those words. It records the demise of Britain’s branch line railways in all their faded glory, and while so-doing-so, also unintentionally records the attributes of a society that is now but a fond and increasingly-distant memory.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre and was the result of a very deliberate campaign by one Blake Paterson to record scenes from the branch-line railways  being closed as Dr. Beeching attempted  to rationalise Britain’s  railways by the removal of   uneconomic lines. The result of Mr. Paterson’s efforts is a series of beautiful and evocative photographs. These depict trains of all sizes, shapes and varieties, in railway settings that range over the entire British Isles and include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That in itself is commendable and an admirable record has resulted. . However, at least for this reviewer, even more commendable is the unintentional recording that occurred; the ‘background things’ that portrayed 1950’s and ‘60’s Great Britain.   The image of Blower’s Green on page 101 is a case in point. Unintentionally, the volume has become a document of social history and on that basis it is possible that the images may have greater value beyond being merely ‘pictures of trains’.

The book consists of a two-page Preface written by Blake Paterson (the photographer and source of the images that appear within this work). This provides details of Mr Paterson s quest, with an Author’s Note from Messers McCormack and Jenkins adding some additional information. This is followed by the photographs which form the main body of the work. A single-page Index appearing on the book’s last page provides page numbers for the stations appearing within it. The volume contains no maps.

Although the authors’ of this volume (actually ‘Compilers’ in this reviewer’s opinion), state that: ‘An attempt has been made to arrange the images … on a rough geographical basis’,  they have not provided any maps to assist in locating where the images were taken. Although to an ‘enthusiast’, this is likely to be of little consequence, many readers of this volume will not be familiar with the British railway network.  In addition, and despite the excellent captions accompanying the photographs, readers will also be unlikely to know exactly where the photographs were taken. This could well reduce the volume’s usefulness and desirability.

Regrettably, and despite the fact that he is the sole source of the images it contains, the book contains no biographical details about Blake Paterson,  The previously-referred-to Preface and Author’s Note provides details of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, for the volume’s photographs, with full biographical details of the Authors / Compilers appearing on the dust jacket. Mr. Paterson is not however, given the same courtesy. Although useful as the source of the photographs, he remains anonymous. To know more about him, his methods and the equipment he used, would have been of value – especially to those interested in railway photography.

This work is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include railway enthusiasts, especially those with a specific interest in Branch Railways within the British Isles. Railway modellers with an interest in transition–era railways of the British Isles are also likely to find this volume of interest, while transport, social and political historians could find the images (especially what appears in the backgrounds) useful in their  researches.

As previously noted, the absence of both maps and biographical information about the photographer lessens this volume’s value, and for this reviewer, it is ultimately just a collection of very pretty pictures. Were that that was not so.

On that basis, and using a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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 nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘FAMOUS BRAND NAMES & THEIR ORIGINS’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Famous Brand Names & Their Origins

Author: Kathy Martin

Total No. of Pages: 178

Rating Scale (1: very poor; 10: excellent): 9½

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When encountering familiar brands on the High Street or in the supermarket, who hasn’t fleetingly wondered where they came from and/or why they can sometimes have such quaint names? This reviewer certainly has; then promptly purchased something else. Fortunately however, the author of this volume did something about her enquiry and the result is a fascinating and endearing little work.

This is a well-written, slightly idiosyncratic and thoroughly delightful book. That the author knows and loves her subject is very evident. She states that she wrote this volume ‘…To serve as a guide for those wishing to time travel … into the past to look at some of the most popular brands found in everyday life – tracing their origins…development and their place in society today’.  It has succeeded well.  For ease of access the book has been divided into two sections; Part I Food and Drink and Part II House and Home. According to the author ‘In the first you will find chapters covering edible brands. In House and Home … you will find everything from toys and travel guides to Sellotape and supermarkets. To be included within this work, three criteria have been applied. These are that the products ‘… Must be over fifty years old; remain in production today [2016] [and] possess widespread consumer appeal’.  The list of entries that has resulted is large and wide-ranging. Unfortunately some names, although well-known and loved, have now become extinct. ‘The author recognises this and notes that ‘In order to include at least a few of these ‘fallen’, each chapter has a ‘gone but not forgotten’ section. Similarly brief ‘honourable mentions’ have been given to a number of popular brands that have not yet reached their half-century and therefore fail to qualify for full inclusion’.

The volume consists of 10 Chapters.  These are preceded by an Introduction which provides background to the subject material and, as already stated, details the criteria used to determine if a product should be included.  A  Sources section placed at the back of the book acts as a Bibliography. Where appropriate, it includes a list of  product websites for brands appearing within the book. An Acknowledgements section is used to thank those personally-involved in the preparation of this work, while an Index completes the volume.

By its nature, this book is encyclopaedic, and although it can be completely read in one sitting (as this reviewer did), it is more a ‘dipping’ book to be consulted should one be interested in learning more about a specific brand or product.

On that basis, it is likely to have wide appeal, and be of use to both Historians and Joe and Jane Public. The international ubiquity of the brands the work contains (especially in countries of the British Commonwealth), also means that it is likely to have a large audience outside the British Isles. The information it contains may also give it ‘Trusted source’ status at Pub Quiz Nights and in Trivial-Pursuit-type contests.

On a rating scale where 1`: very poor and 10 is excellent, this reviewer gives it 9½; a mark that he believes is well-deserved.

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 nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘FAMOUS BRAND NAMES & THEIR ORIGINS’.