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: ‘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’.