Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday

Author: Neil Matthews

Total Number of Pages: 135

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

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The concept of package holidays is a familiar one as are the advertisements reminding us of the desirability of ‘Two sun-filled weeks in Ibiza’, or Greece or even in the Caribbean. We also think nothing of flying immense distances to, ‘soak up the rays’.  But where did it all start?  This well-written and researched book attempts to answer that question.

The British are no strangers to the concept of ‘holidays’, both at home and abroad and were sufficiently adept at it by the middle of the Eighteenth Century to create what was known as ‘The Grand Tour’. Intended as ‘… A means of education and particularly social finishing’,   the ‘Tour was effectively a journey around both Britain and Europe by the upper classes, with the added bonus that it ‘…Also came to acquire a reputation for one specific benefit; it could improve your health’. Unsurprisingly, the ‘lower orders’ were not encouraged to participate in such ventures. The rise of the British Middle Class and the development of reliable railway transport systems radically changed the situation. Prompted by the perceived health-benefits of both sea and salt air, Middle Class Britain increasingly patronised the seaside towns. Some brave souls even ventured across the English Channel into Europe. It was however Thomas Cook’s railway-based day excursions that really revolutionised British holiday-travel. They enabled the average worker to visit places hitherto reserved for those with money, while his  subsequent development of package holidays gave the British populace access to Europe. However, and although he is probably the best known, Thomas Cook was not alone in developing such concepts. Others were doing similar things and the activities of both Cook and his contemporaries are examined within this work. They are not, however, its main focus. That is reserved for an organisation called the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA).

The Polytechnic Touring association was a natural development of a larger organisation known simply as ‘The Polytechnic’. Privately-funded and developed to provide educational ‘improvement’ for the increasing numbers of ‘White Collar’ workers within the City of London, the Polytechnic was formed in 1888 and was described as being ‘… A blend of club and classroom’.  At the time this concept was revolutionary. The Polytechnic’s founder and (initially) chief financier was a seasoned traveller, and, naturally, travel came to be part of the new school’s ethos. The PTA was the result, becoming an organisation which the author suggests was ‘One of the most enduring and successful travel agencies of the latte Victorian and Edwardian era’. Whether this statement is correct or not will be for the reader to decide.

An Acknowledgements  section at the front of the volume thanks those involved in its creation, and this is followed by an Introduction which provides a general historical background to both British holiday practices, the origins of the original Polytechnic and the PTA itself . The Introduction is followed by 10 Chapters which form the main body of the work. These are essentially detailed elaborations on the information provided in the Introduction. A section titled A Note about Money gives a small amount of information concerning currency-values and invites interested readers to peruse a website for additional calculations. This section is in turn followed by a Select Bibliography, while a two-page Index completes the work. Within the volume, two separate photographic sections provide images of persons and documents important to the narrative together-with examples of postcards relevant to the PTA story. The latter are largely uncaptioned, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. No maps are provided.

This volume is ‘specialist’ in nature and this reviewer believes that it is likely to be of most interest and use to historians specialising in British social history, the history of British education (especially the development of ‘technical’ education), and the British Industrial Revolution. As it details the rise of British mass-travel, social-history researchers with an interest in that subject may also find this work useful, while those with a more ‘generalist’ interest in Britain may well find something to interest them.

For this reviewer, the absence of maps, captions for many of the images, and an indication of the latter’s existence on the Contents page, reduces this volume’s research value. As a result, and on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent: I would give it a 7. It could have been higher.

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

 

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Book Review: ‘Victorians and Edwardians Abroad: The Beginning of the Modern Holiday’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation

Author: John Wade

Total Number of Printed Pages: 288

Total Number of Illustrations: 139

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

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Many years ago, when discussing Victorian ‘inventiveness’ this reviewer was told that ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead  and did it anyway’. That, in essence, summarises this volume; the things that Victorians did because they didn’t know they couldn’t.

The author defines the ‘Victorian era’ as being the period 1837-1891 when Queen Victoria was Monarch  of both Great Britain and the lager British Empire,  this work  naturally tending to concentrate on the eccentricities, successes and failures of ‘inventive’ residents of Great Britain during this time.  As a result, the reader is introduced to such worthies as the builder of the Crystal Palace, the many inventors of the phonograph, and those involved in the design and construction of both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London.  Many other individuals, some perhaps eccentric, who did feats of daring do during this period, also make their appearance  In addition, the subjects covered include such wonders as the world’s biggest camera, electric submarines and London’s well-known Cleopatra’s Needle. Although largely Anglo-centric in its focus, inventors and creations from Germany, France and the United States of America also make their appearance, their relevance to the topic under discussion being explained clearly and objectively.

This book is well written in a clear, easily-read and informative style. It consists of an Introduction, followed by 28 Chapters, each focusing on a specific subject. Within the individual chapter, photographs and engraved images provide visual reference to the subject under discussion. A Bibliography and Index are also provided, while the sources of the images used within the work are noted in a separate Picture Credits section.

Within this volume’s covers, and on the basis of its title, this reviewer expected to find examples of ‘Victorian Inventiveness and Ingenuity’ from both the United Kingdom itself, and from within the larger British Empire. The Victorian ‘Age of Innovation’ was, after all, a time where, as already noted, ‘The Victorians didn’t know something couldn’t be done, so went ahead and did it anyway’. In this expectation he was disappointed, finding instead that the work had a very definite United Kingdom, European and North American focus.

In addition (and despite the title) the work ignores Victorian inventiveness in the field of international commerce. In this reviewer’s opinion, the absence of such items (of which there were many) reduces its appeal and potential audience. Rather than being an authoritative discourse celebrating the inventiveness that saw Victorian Ingenuity accomplish the impossible in many parts of the world, the volume is inclined toward the ‘quirky’ rather than the practical. What results is essentially a narrative of curiousities and oddities.

There will undoubtedly be those who will purchase this work on the basis of the ‘oddities’ that it contains. Such buyers will be seeking a detailed recitation of the more eccentric aspects of the Victorian era, and for them this volume will serve that purpose well. Despite the emphasis on the ‘unusual’, purchasers seeking examples of commercial ‘Victorian Ingenuity’ could also find some of the information of use. Ultimately and despite the promise inherent within the title, for this reviewer, the eccentric has triumphed over the innovative and while the result is an interesting treatise, it could have been so very, very much more.

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: ‘THE INGENIOUS VICTORIANS: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL IDEAS FROM THE AGE OF INNOVATION’