BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Severn Valley Railway

Author:  Michael A. Vanns

Total Number of Pages: 104

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½

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According to its author ‘This book provides a brief history of the Severn Valley Railway, from its earliest days through to the twenty-first [sic] century, providing a guide for all those who love the sight and sound of steam engines making their way through a particularly beautiful part of the midland landscape’. It is a fair summation.

The volume is prefaced by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow. Although not specifically defined as such, four Chapters follow the Introduction and form the main (and central) part of the volume. They cover specific periods of the railway’s history from its Eighteenth Century origins to its state in 2017. They also introduce the reader to the various industries which sparked the Severn Valley Railway’s (SVR) creation and the economic and social factors which contributed to both its existence and its demise. The events which resulted in its passing into preservation are also covered as are events and experiences on the ‘Preservation’ journey. The narrative is well written, the facts both well-researched and presented, and the over-all story an engaging one. A Bibliography follows the final Chapter (Preservation) and is, according to the author, ‘…A list of those [books] used as references in the compilation of this book’. An Index completes the volume. The book is copiously illustrated with well-captioned photographs, the colour images in particular being a delight to view. While the majority of those taken in the railway’s industrial heyday are monochrome, a small number of colour images are also present within those sections (Chapters 1-3) In contrast (and with only two exceptions) all the ‘Preserved’ images  (Chapter 4) are in full colour. The volume contains but one map. This dates from before World War I. As it shows all the railways in the vicinity of the SVR rather than just that line itself, its usefulness is questionable. There is neither a large-scale ‘General’ Ordinance-Survey Map of Great Britain nor maps relating specifically to the SVR. As a result, unless they are personally acquainted with the SVR, the reader can have no idea of its location. While for some, this will not be a problem, this reviewer believes otherwise, since if one does not know where the SVR is located, how can one visit and support it by doing-so? International readers in particular are also likely to find the absence of maps frustrating and may question why it is necessary to consult an atlas when the information should be readily available within the volume.

The matter of maps notwithstanding, the combination of information and photographs is such that this book could well become an authoritative volume on its subject. While definitely a ‘souvenir’ volume; suitable for taking home after a visit to the SVR, it also has value as a provider of historical and social information for those interested in such matters. Railway modellers and members of the railway enthusiast community may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Severn Valley Railway’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young

Author: Peter Higginbotham

No. of Pages: 310

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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As is evidenced by this volume’s subtitle, it is ‘A history of institutional care for Britain’s young’.  The author notes that ‘The total number of children’s establishments that operated over the years [ran[ into many thousands and the children that lived in them probably into millions.  As a result, and by ‘Casting its net wide, this book takes a look at how these many and varied institutions operated and evolved in the context of changing views of how to best serve the needs of children in their care’.  It is a fair summary.

The volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject. Within it, the reader is take from the Christ’s Hospital (claimed to be ‘..England’s first institutional home for poor or orphaned children’), to the Twenty-first Century and beyond. The story that is presented between these two points is well-researched and written. it is eminently readable, and is both enlightening and (not unexpectedly), at times somewhat depressing.

The main part of the volume consists of 25 Chapters preceded by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow.  Of the Chapters, 23 relate directly to the subject. Chapters 24 (Children’s Home Records) and 25 (Useful Resources) are however intended to assist genealogists and researchers seeking further information on the topic. Each Chapter covers a specific time-period, with subheadings within it providing more details about specific subjects. There are numerous informatively-captioned illustrations, although these are not sourced, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. Endnotes are employed to provide additional information within each chapter. Chapter-specific and numbered sequentially, their citations appear in a dedicated References and Notes section placed after Chapter 25.  A Bibliography follows that section, with an Index completing the volume.

That this book is well-researched is very evident. However, for this reviewer, it was badly let down by its Index. While reviewing the volume, he had occasion to check the Index for additional information concerning British Home Children (p.209). Nothing was found. Subsequent (and random) searches for Australia, Canada and Ontario (subjects which figure prominently within the narrative) had the same result, while a final (also random) search for Hampton (p.213) also found nothing. For a volume with the potential to be an authoritative work on its subject, this discovery was disconcerting. While it cannot be known if other omissions have occurred, for this reviewer, the authority of the Index is now under question. Whether or not this is important will depend-upon the reader.

The mater of the Index notwithstanding, it is possible that this volume may become a major research-tool for those interested in British social history, orphanages, child welfare and the evolution of child foster care within Great Britain.

On a Rating Scale Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Lady Lucy Houston DBE: Aviation Champion and Mother of the Spitfire

Author: Miles Macnair

Total Number of Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent) 8 ½

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When delivering his famous monologue in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, Lord Jacque states: ‘All the World’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts…’ The  monologue  effectively summarises the life of Lucy, Lady Houston DBE. It could indeed be a fitting epitaph, although, after reading her biography, this reviewer suspects that the Lady’s response would be both unprintable and perhaps a little more abbreviated.

In the Twenty-first Century, Lady Lucy Houston is little known. Her name, if recalled, is invariably linked to the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft via her financing of the British entries 1930’s-era  Schneider trophy seaplane races; events which  resulted, eventually,  in the development of internationally-renowned aircraft and aircraft engines.  This contribution is acknowledged in the volume’s sub-title ‘…Mother of the Spitfire’. Yet there is so much more. Lady Houston was the epitome of contradiction.  She was a very strong-willed and determined woman, who literally rose from rags to riches via a set of carefully planned marriages and conquests. She was obsessively patriotic, passionate about aviation and contributed large quantities of money to its development. Yet equally, Lady Houston could be simultaneously bossy, manipulative and incredibly loyal. She could also be wilfully-blind about human frailty and became completely besotted by a member of the British Royal family. Yet these were only some small facets of her remarkable life. . There were many, many others. Contradictory certainly, infuriating, definitely, and ‘Eccentric’ in the best ‘English’ tradition. Despite (or perhaps because of) these traits, the subject of this work is ultimately, quite endearing. We will never see her like again.

The author has undertaken extensive research on his subject and has produced a well-written and very readable biography of a remarkable woman. Yet the work is not just about a single individual.  The reader is also introduced to other notables of the subject’s era,. Contemporary history is included to both ‘frame’ the larger narrative, and to add colour to it, with the chapter devoted to King Edward VIII being especially interesting. Colour and Monochrome photographs, together with reproductions of relevant documents and cartoons, provide visual assistance to the narrative. Where additional Reference Notes are used, these are End-note in format.

The work contains 21 Chapters and four Appendices, together with a Foreword, an Acknowledgements section and an Introduction. As previously-noted, a List of Illustrations is provided, and within this, separate sections (FiguresPlates-Black and White and Plates-Colour) detail the images that the book contains.  A Bibliography, an Index and a Notes section are also provided.

This reviewer was disappointed to find that despite the Mother of the Spitfire subtitle, the Schneider Trophy Races from which the Supermarine Spitfire evolved, form only one chapter of this volume, although their connection with the later aircraft is acknowledged. The races, together with the Mount Everest flights which she also financed, are presented purely in the context of Lady Houston’s life.  The numbering of the photographs within the work, (where ([B] for Black and White; [C] was for Colour]), was initially disconcerting, while this reviewer would also have liked to have seen better definition of both the Lowe cartoons and the various printed documents that appear within the work.

This reviewer believes this volume will be of value to those who are interested in both the British aristocracy and the British Monarchy (especially King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson).  Historians interested in both European and British politics of the 1930’s, together with those with a more-general interest in that era should also find it of use. Readers seeking additional information about the Schneider Trophy seaplanes and the Supermarine Spitfire may not however, find what they are looking for within its pages.   Were that that was not so.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it 8 ½.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘LADY LUCY HOUSTON DBE: AVIATION CHAMPION AND MOTHER OF THE SPITFIRE’.