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: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train

Editor: Murray Naylor

No. of Pages: 215

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 9

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In the motor-vehicle dominated Twenty-first Century, the idea of travelling by train to a location with the expressed intention of viewing a Church is, for many people, ludicrous and ‘So Nineteenth Century’. No-one does that anymore; the motor vehicle is so much faster. For many, trains are ‘quaint’ and only to be used to commute to and from work.  Murray Naylor begs to differ.

In this well written and very-readable volume, the reader is taken through the length and breadth of England in pursuit of Church of England (Anglican) churches large and small. There are approximately 16000 such establishments within England’s borders, and of these the author has chosen thirty-two. In choosing these, he states ‘Some are great abbeys or priories…while others are…of no particular distinction but which provided a special interest for me’. To be chosen however, these churches had to fit certain specific criteria. The author wanted to use London as his base and, through the use of standard, scheduled railway services, make rail journeys over as wide a spread of England as he could. He also wanted to get to within 15 miles of each location by train, the remainder of the journey being made using either taxi or bus. With a single exception (that of Milton Abbey) these criteria were met, and the result is part railway narrative, part tourist guide, part history book and part picture book. When combined together the result is impressive.

An Acknowledgements section prefaces the book, with the author thanking those who assisted in its creation. This is followed by a Foreword by the Bishop of Carlisle, then a six-page List of Illustrations. A Summary of Railway Notes section then uses a single sentence format to précis the larger Railway Notes sections which appear within each chapter. An Author’s Note following the Summary of Railway Notes details the reasons for the book’s creation. A Preface (subtitled The Dissolution) is next. This provides an historical background to the creation of the Church of England and the Monarchy’s role within it. Finally, a two-page section titled The Journey provides helpful rail-related information for any reader wishing to visit the churches described within the volume. These sections are in turn followed by the 16 Chapters that comprise the main part of the book. These Chapters replicate England’s geographical regions (South East, Yorkshire, East Midlands etc.). Each Chapter is prefaced by a section titled Getting There. This provides clear rail-based instructions for a reader to reach the locations described within that Chapter. This section is followed by a Railway Notes section in which the author gives a ‘Presentation of information appropriate to railways…’  Sometimes a second Railway Notes section is also placed at the chapter’s end. The individual regions are subdivided into counties (Devon, Northumberland, Suffolk etc.). The chosen church or churches within that county are then described.

At the start of each descriptive section, two short passages précis the structure’s importance, physical location or other salient detail, together with its ‘Points of Note’ (windows, arches etc.). A more detailed description and history then follows.  An Epilogue is placed after the Chapters. Within it the author muses about the future of both the Churches within the book and the national railway network. A one-page Bibliography follows with an Index completing the volume. For unknown reasons, a map and an advertisement for the volume’s companion work are placed after the Index. Numerous colour photographs are provided, together with a small number of black and white images. Clear, well drawn, and easily interpreted maps appear throughout the work.

This reviewer’s only criticism of this book concerns the absence of a Glossary. As not every reader will be English, Anglican or an Architect, providing a list of the various Architectural and ‘Church’ terms used throughout the volume would have been helpful.

It is probable this volume will have wide appeal. At its simplest, and as an informative Tour Guide, it will appeal to the ‘Day Tripper’ with an interest in English history, who wants to travel by train and to see something different. Historians with an interest in Mediaeval and Tudor England, the English Monarchy and the evolution of the Church of England are likely to find this volume of interest. Architectural Historians may also find it of use. Those readers with a more general interest in the Kings of England, their times and tragedies may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘England’s Historic Churches by Train: A Companion Volume to England’s Cathedrals by Train’