BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’

81. History of the Port of London

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations

Author: Peter Stone

Total No. of Pages: 250

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


At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, London was described as being ‘The workshop of the world’. It was, according to the author of this volume, ‘…The [British] Empire’s economic capital… and at the heart of the vast emporium was the Port of London’. This book is that port’s story.

To state that this book is comprehensive is to be given to understatement. It is well researched, well-written and quite readable, with the qualification that it is more thesis than light romance. Because of its subject, it is also very wide-ranging in its narrative. When reading it the reader is taken from the Ice Age and the formation of both the British Isles and the River Thames, to the Twenty-first Century (specifically 2017), and the problems attendant to redeveloping a port system which technology and commerce have now passed-by. In the course of this perambulation through time, the reader partakes in the social and maritime histories which moulded and influenced the port and its surrounds, together with the occasional dose of warfare and politics for good measure. The result, as previously noted, is comprehensive and readable. It is also extremely interesting.

The bulk of this volume consists of eight Chapters preceded by an Acknowledgements section where tribute is paid to those who assisted the author in creating the book. That is in turn followed by a Preface This is six pages in length and summarises what is to follow. The Chapters are divided into sequential blocks, with each covering a specific time period. Subheadings within each Chapter provide additional detail about a specific topic appearing within that section. Reproductions of five lithographs appear within the volume to illustrate relevant points of the narrative.  They are supplemented by sixteen photographs placed within a small section in the book’s centre. The images are informatively captioned, although several give no indication of their source. There is no reference to the existence of the images (or even of the ‘Photographic’ section per se’) on the Contents page or within the Index. The volume also contains several Maps. These show both the development of the port itself over the centuries and its relationship to Great Britain, Europe and the larger world. As with the previously-mentioned images, neither the Contents page nor the Index contains any reference to the existence of Maps within the volume. A Selective Bibliography is placed after the last chapter, the author noting that the titles it contains ‘…Have been consulted to varying degrees’. An Index completes the volume. While comprehensive, this reviewer found the presence of unexplained italicised words within the Index puzzling.

While some were evidently the names of ships, others appeared to be Latin in origin. Unsourced quotations also appear within the volume. The discovery that HMS Belfast (p. 222) was a ‘Battle cruiser’ instead of her designated class of ‘Light Cruiser’ was also of interest. This reviewer hopes that this misclassification was only an isolated aberration and not indicative of other, similar, errors. There is no way to know.

Because it covers a multitude of topics under the broad umbrella of being a ‘History’ of the specific Port of London area, this book it is likely to have a wider audience than just those interested in ‘ships and the sea’. By default it is also a ‘Social’ history; its descriptions of social behaviour and micro-societies associated with the Port of London being possibly useful to social historians as a result. Political Researchers investigating British politics and their effect on the Port of London and international trade may also find it interesting. Those with an interest Twentieth Century warfare in general and the World War II London ‘Blitzes’ in particular,  may also find it worth perusing.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor; 10: excellent), I have given it an 8½.




BOOK REVIEW: ‘The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of All Nations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

80. Marine artist's portfolio

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais

Author: Susanne Fournais Grube

No. of Pages: 103

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


In this volume’s Introduction, and when explaining the reasons for this volume, the author states ‘I’ve been very fortunate in being able to demonstrate [my] love of and fascination in the sea through art’ and that she has been ‘Lucky enough to be able to devote time to painting those subjects that I find of interest as well. These paintings form the basis of this book’. It is an accurate precis of a beautifully-illustrated volume.

This volume contains no Contents page; the first section being an Introduction where-in the author provides a historical and personal background to her nautical interest, while also acknowledging the assistance she received in the book’s creation. A small, single-column section titled My Painting Techniques appears on the extreme left hand edge of the following page (page six) ; the title being self-explanatory. The six ‘Sections’ forming the main part of the work then follow. These are analogous to Chapters. They are however un-numbered and cover a wide variety of subjects from Liberty ships to Lighthouses, to Crustacea and to Shells. Although nominally on a single subject (for example Tugboats, ferries and pilots in ‘Section’ Two), the section ‘titles’ are frequently ‘catchalls’ for the artist’s work; the previously-mentioned section containing images of both naval vessels and maritime paraphernalia; subjects falling outside the nominal range implied by that section’s ‘title’. Each Section is prefaced by an introductory essay. These provide background to the types of vessel likely to be found within the section (Wooden boats and yachts in ‘Section’ 6 being one such example), and set the scene for the images that are to follow. That the images within the section might include subjects that are neither ships nor boats is not however mentioned. The images, when they appear, are spectacular, and portray their subjects (whether on land, in the sea or from below it) in all sorts of settings and situations. The majority of images are single-paged in format. However, for unexplained reasons, several pages contain groups of smaller images, provided perhaps to display as many of the artist’s works as possible within a constrained environment. The image colours are beautiful, sharp and very evocative. They display the artist’s talent and distinctive style to full advantage. Such Captions as are provided are the titles of the individual pieces. The volume contains no ‘technical’ information about the subjects being portrayed. An Epilogue placed after the last image (Marie) provides information about the artist’s travels, whereabouts and her future intentions. The volume contains no list of the images that appear within it. There is no Index.

As previously-noted, the images within this volume are beautiful and a credit to their creator. They are equally however, the source of a major criticism concerning this work; namely that there is simply no way to find a specific vessel or image. Should a reader to whom ‘A ship is a ship, is a ship’, merely want a ‘Pretty picture book’ of marine things, they will have no problems with this aspect of the volume. However, should said reader (perhaps a ship modeller or a crew-member of one of the vessels portrayed), wish to find an image of (for example) Mineral Zulu (page 51), they will have to spend time trying to find if the vessel is even actually within the work, with no guarantee of success for their efforts. In this reviewer’s opinion such searching for a possibly-disappointing end-result should not be necessary; things could have been done better.  An Index, or (at the very least), a page containing a List of Plates / Images and the appropriate page numbers, would have been extremely helpful. A Contents page showing the titles and locations of the various ‘Sections’ (while also numbering them), when combined with the previously-suggested list of plates, would have also contributed to reduced searching times.

There is no doubt that this is a beautiful book and a pleasure to view. Followers of the artist will, of course, be delighted with its content. Lovers of ships and ‘Things Nautical’ may well find it worthy of their attention, while ship modellers and other marine artists may find the colours and details useful. On the presumption that the vessels portrayed actually exist, it is also likely that the crews of such craft will find the images and the artist’s interpretations to be of interest. It is also likely to appeal to those who simply like beautiful images of ships and the sea and who would purchase a volume of images for just that reason. It is indeed a ‘Work of Art’.

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




BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A Marine Artist’s Portfolio: The Marine Paintings Of Susanne Fournais’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’

49. DSCF0674 (2)

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Wartime Standard Ships

Author: Nick Robins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 177

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


In wartime, the impossible tends to become commonplace, with previously-insurmountable obstacles suddenly being overcome. Such was the case with the merchant vessels of all shapes, sizes and varieties used by the combatants during both the First and Second World Wars. Large numbers of such craft were needed, quickly and at low cost. This is their story. As it was the Allies who had the greatest need for such ships (to carry all sorts of materials essential to the war effort), the main focus of this volume is inevitably on vessels produced to meet their need. Axis merchant-vessel production is not however ignored. Although primarily concerned with the ships themselves, the volume also provides the ‘…Political and military background’ that resulted in the creation of these vessels; something not previously attempted’. The result is a well-written, exhaustively researched and very readable volume about a hitherto-neglected area of maritime history.

A Preface opens the volume. It briefly summarises what follows, while also relating the reasons that this book was written. A Foreword elaborates on what has gone before, and is in turn followed by the 16 Chapters which form the main part of the book. Within these, the reader is taken in logical steps through the history and development of mass-produced wartime merchant vessels. As they epitomise the success of wartime shipbuilding (at least by the Allies) specific reference is made to the Liberty and Victory ships; arguably the best known of all the many types that were produced by any side. Chapters devoted to German and Japanese efforts to build similar cargo vessels are also included. The volume includes numerous clear, informatively-captioned and clearly-sourced monochrome photographs,. However, the Contents page carries no acknowledgment of their existence, while the Index states that ‘Page numbers in italic refer to illustrations’. Tables and half-tone illustrations also appear where necessary, but again, neither the Contents page nor the Index, acknowledge that they exist. Within some Chapters, clearly-delineated subsections contain reprinted articles that provide additional information relevant to that specific Chapter. A single-page References section is placed after Chapter 16. This acts a Bibliography and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. Despite mentioning many shipbuilding locations, the volume provides no maps to show where these might be.

For this reviewer this volume was let down in two areas: article sources and the explanation of freely-used technical terms. Of these, the most important was the absence of source citations and, (specifically) page numbers, for the numerous articles that are quoted within the text.  Although when quoting an article, the author refers the reader to its source volume, when the latter is many pages in length, the futility of searching for a small paragraph within it becomes evident.  Provision of specific page numbers within the source volume would have been of considerable assistance. The absence of any Glossary of the nautical terms used within the volume was also surprising, the author evidently believing that he was writing to an already technically-familiar audience. Unfortunately, not all potential purchasers will be so-equipped. What, (for example), is a ‘Scantling’ (p.68) or ‘Deadweight’ (p.102)? In the absence of any definition and without recourse to a dictionary, a reader with no maritime knowledge can but guess, and, baffled by jargon, could well decline to purchase.

Although aimed primarily at those interested in wartime shipping, this book could well be of value to any merchant-shipping enthusiast. Modellers of ‘Emergency’ cargo ships could also find it of use. Finally (and despite the previously-mentioned ‘limitations’), for this reviewer it is in his (very rare), ‘Must have’ category.

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




BOOK REVIEW: ‘Wartime Standard Ships’