BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

120. GRIMY BRITAIN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century

Author: Andre’ Gren

Number of Pages: 117

Rating Scale (1: Very poor, 10 Excellent): 4

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When writing in this volume’s Introduction, the author notes that ‘Thus book does not attempt to offer an authoritative account of the reasons for the growth in  Britain’s population in the nineteenth century [sic] but concentrates instead on the consequences of that growth and the increasing need for what was called ‘nuisance control’. The result is a ‘…Series of snapshots from Britain, which was struggling to cope with rampant population growth and urbanization…’ It is a fair summary of what is to follow.

Within the volume, an Acknowledgements section placed immediately behind the Contents pages thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted in this book’s creation. The volume’s Introduction follows and précis the 14 Chapters which form its largest section. These now appear. With the exception of Chapter 1 (Nuisance Control and Removal in NineteenthCentury Britain), which provides a general background concerning the legislation which is about to be discussed, each of these is devoted to a specific subject. The subjects are diverse and range from Grime: Wells, Drains and Discharges (Chapter 3), to Human Waste: Water Closets and Shrimps (Chapter 8) to Burial Grounds (Chapter 14). Essentially, if it involved ‘Dirt’ in any form it will be discussed. The Chapters themselves follow an interesting format, and, for this reviewer, reveal a major flaw.  In respect of the format, within each Chapter, several specific Bills relevant to the subject under discussion are presented. These relate to specific locations. As part of the legislative process, the sites to which specific Bill related were visited by a Committee of Review; the intention being to obtain local feedback to what was proposed by the legislation. The volume is essentially a collection of the responses by local officials to that process. A small Table placed below each Bill subheading, shows the population growth of the area concerned. A section titled Conclusion follows Chapter 14 (Burial Grounds), and as the title suggests, acts as a summary of what has gone before. This is followed by three Appendices. These are variously of Table and Column format and cover Population Growth (Appendix 1), Occupations of  the Witnesses (Appendix 2) and Locations to Which the Evidence Secessions Relate (Appendix 3). Appendix 3 is followed by the Index; the volume’s last section. Eight pages of images appear in a dedicated section in the centre of the volume. These are monochrome in format and accompanied by informative captions. None carry Source Citations, although the author does note (On the Acknowledgements page) that ‘The selection of illustrations was eased by assistance from Rav Gopal at Newbury Library’.  neither the Contents nor Index sections carry reference to the existence of these images. The volume contains neither Maps or Bibliography, and where Quotes appear within the work, they are not supported by authenticating citations. They might just as well be imagined.

Although this volume is well-written and easy to read, for this reviewer the complete lack of authenticating and supporting documentation in the form of Citations and reference material raises severe concerns about its authority. Put simply, there is no way of knowing if what is presented as ‘fact’ is actually ‘true’ and an authentic record, or just a convenient ‘imagining’ to fit a predetermined narrative. For a volume purporting to be a ‘Work of historical significance’ this is a major failing, and on that basis (the complete lack of any authenticating documentation), this reviewer found it difficult to not conclude that the result is, at best, a highly-imaginative work of fiction. Failings in the volume’s Index only serve to compound the problem, with random checking finding numerous situations where items appearing within the narrative were not accorded the courtesy of an Index entry. The discovery that (for example) there were no  Index entries for Playfair, Museum of Geology, Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Bill, House of Commons and Department of Woods and Forests (all on page 37) raised additional questions about what else may have been omitted from the Index, and, inter alia, about its authority and veracity. There is no way to know, but as subsequent random checking for other entries produced a similar result, the problem would seem to be widespread.  The above, when combined with the previously-noted lack of verification for the Quotes appearing within the work, has resulted in what could at best be described as ‘A collection of interesting stories.’

As previously-noted, this volume is well-written and easy to read. As a result, it may well appeal to readers who are seeking a ‘once over lightly’ view of life in Nineteenth-Century Britain\, with the qualification that there  is no way of knowing if any of what is written is actually true or accurate. This complete lack of supporting, authenticating, citations also means that, for Historians, the work has little value and is very definitely not to be considered ‘Authoritative’ in any way.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very poor, 10 Excellent, I have given this volume a 4.

Were that that was not the case.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage & Sanitation In The Nineteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges’

112. British bridges

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges

Author: David McFetrich

Total Number of Printed Pages: 444

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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When writing in thus volume’s Introduction, the author states that ‘The purpose of this book is to give some outline facts about as many interesting bridges and types of bridges as possible’. It is a reasonable summation of what is to follow and has resulted in a work that is remarkable in the depth of its coverage of its subject.

It should be noted that this is a second edition of a work believed to have been previously published in approximately 2011.

In common with many such encyclopaedic works, this volume contains no Contents page, with the first formal section being a Foreword placed after its Title Page. This is followed by a section titled Introduction. This section is a multi-faceted and contains three subsections. Included in these is a Preface to Second Edition [sic], a Brief History of Britain’s Transport Infrastructure and How Bridges Work. The titles are self-explanatory. The Introduction is followed by a comprehensive and very informative Glossary and a section titled List of Abbreviations to Common References. The section’s sub-title is Books and pamphlets (see the Bibliography for full details) and while the title of the Glossary is again self-explanatory, the latter is anything but. Numerous published resources were used in the preparation of this book, and to save readers the need to constantly refer to the Bibliography, the titles of said resources have been reduced to multi-letter abbreviations and placed after each individual ‘Bridge’ entry within the volume. The section titled List of Abbreviations to Common References is the result and contains the majority of the abbreviations appearing within the volume. The section is followed by one titled The Bridges, which, although containing no text itself, carries a subsection bearing the title Notes. Within this, the format used for the individual bridge entries is defined. The 311 pages comprising the bulk of the volume now appear. According to the author, the section contains 1,600 individual entries, and ‘Allowing for entries that give details of predecessor bridges or several co-related bridges at one site, there is information describing more than 2,200 different structures.’ In that context, it should be noted that structures such as piers have also been included in the list, the rationale for such inclusions being that they are ‘…Effectively one-ended bridges.’ As would be expected, the individual entries are arranged alphabetically, with the majority of the entries being accompanied by a monochrome or colour image of the structure being discussed. The entries are informative and follow a standard format. This consists of a history of the site and, if replaced, the structure as it currently exists and, where known, its dimensions. One or more of the previously-mentioned abbreviations appears at the end of each entry. The section is followed by another titled Bridge Miscellany. This is a 52-page section best summarised as being ‘All the things you might need to know about Bridges and never thought to ask’; a catch-all of information about bridges in general and British bridges in particular.. Within it, the subjects range from Aesthetics of bridges to Pageantry on bridges to Zigzag bridges, with each entry, after defining its subject, and where applicable, giving examples of where the item may be found within the British Isles. A section titled Record Breaking Bridges follows the ‘Miscellany; its title being self-explanatory. This section contains 50 sub-sections and is largely United Kingdom-focussed. However, and due to the paucity of such bridges in Britain, the majority of entries in Subsection 49 (World’s longest single spans) consists of entries from Europe, Asia and North America. A four-page Bibliography follows and is in turn followed by a 30-page Geographic Index. Amongst other things, this comprehensive section enables readers to locate the structure, its geographical location, and historical status. It is followed by the volume’s General Index. Within this and ’To save space…names and words appearing within the Bridge Miscellany are not repeated within this index, which is limited to the main bridge entries on pages 23 to 234.’ The Index entries are divided into subsections, a detail which pre-supposes that a reader actually knows the type of bridge he is looking for; many may not. An Acknowledgements section follows the Index; it is the volume’s final section. Within it the author provides reprints the biographical details relating to his interest in bridges which appeared in the book’s first edition, acknowledges those who assisted in the upgrading and publication of the second edition, and provides sources for the images that appear within it. Where appropriate to the narrative, the volume uses Tables, Diagrams, Plans and Drawings to clarify technical terms or provide additional information. Curiously, it contains no Maps.

This volume is well-written and researched and eminently readable, to the extent that this reviewer could find little to fault it. The comments made previously about the use of subheadings within the Index do however still stand, while the absence of any Maps would seem to impose unnecessary limitations on those wishing to view the structures mentioned within the volume; if a reader can’t locate an item they will be unable to visit it should they so desire. The use of Grid References pre-supposes an ability to know what they are and how to use them; many readers may not have that ability or inclination.

Because of the ubiquity of bridges throughout Great Britain, this volume should have wide appeal. Being an encyclopaedia, it is eminently suitable for random ‘dipping-type’ subject- searching and would be entertaining on that basis alone. Historians and those interested in bridges in both civil-engineering and general interest areas may find it of interest, while readers seeking information about a local bridge-type structure 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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BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Encyclopaedia Of British Bridges’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’

92. Analogue Technology

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914

Author: Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 158

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In this volume’s Introduction, the author observes the ‘The roots of our modern Information Revolution are to be found in the Edwardian Era’. With that pronouncement made, he then proceeds to provide reasoned and well-considered argument to support his case, using the Twenty-first Century’s Digital Revolution as a reference point for what follows. The result is a well-written, well-researched, highly informative and eminently-readable volume

Within the volume, a List of Plates immediately behind the Contents page lists, in abbreviated form, the captions carried by the 20 images appearing within an eight page images’ section in the book’s centre. The ‘List, is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this the author precis’ what is to follow within the 10 Chapters which form the bulk of the volume.  The Chapters take the reader from the Victorian-era to the start of World War I and, in Chapter 10, to The Enduring Legacy of the Analogue Revolution, in which he discusses the ‘The astonishing durability of the physical manifestations of the information technology perfected during the Edwardian period’ and the reasons why such machinery is still ‘earning its keep’ over a century after it was originally constructed. An Endword follows. In this the author considers the similarities and differences between the current Digital Age and its Edwardian predecessor, and presents his thoughts as to what the future might hold. A two-page Bibliography follows, and is in turn followed by the Index; the volume’s final section. As previously-noted there is a small (eight page), ‘images’ (Plates) section at the centre of the volume. In addition to the usual photographs, the images appearing within it include postcards, advertisements, plans and etchings. All are monochrome, informatively and clearly captioned and are alluded to within the volume when appropriate to the narrative.

As already noted, this volume is well-written, well-researched, highly-informative and eminently readable. For this reviewer however, it is let down by its Index. While reviewing a volume, this reviewer randomly looks in its Index for words which interest him. When reviewing this volume however, he found that, in many instances, the words being sought did not appear within the Index. While numerous examples could be presented, those found on page 52 will suffice.  With words such as Port Arthur, Alan Moorhead, St Petersburg, and Petrograd appearing on that page it would be reasonable to expect to find them in the Index. Such was not the case, while the omission of Frederick Lee (on page 57, and despite appearing in the same sentence as Edward Turner; his fellow patentee) is even more curious. The omissions were both widespread and random, to the extent that this reviewer eventually ceased to rely on the Index as a reliable source of information. He now has serious reservations about the Index’s authority and veracity. Unsourced Quotes have been used throughout the volume. In the absence of verifying citations, they have little research value and authority and, indeed, could well have been written by anyone.  How important such things might be will, of course, depend on the reader / purchaser’s requirements.

Due to the width of its research, and despite the ‘limitations’ previously described, this volume bids fair to become an authoritative work on its subject. As it combines both technology and social history, this volume is likely to appeal to Historians with an interest in either or both of these subjects, particularly in the context of Great Britain in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.  Those with a specific interest in the invention and use of such things as Cinema, the Telephone, Radio /Wireless etc. may also find the volume of interest, while due to its easy-to-read style layman-readers wishing to learn more about the origins of both ‘Digital’ and Analogue’ technologies, and their inter-relationships, may also find it worthy of their attention.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Analogue Revolution: Communication Technology 1901-1914’