Academic journal article History Review

Richard Wilkinson Finds Much to Enjoy in the Opening Volumes of a Comprehensive New Series on British Social History

Academic journal article History Review

Richard Wilkinson Finds Much to Enjoy in the Opening Volumes of a Comprehensive New Series on British Social History

Article excerpt

Shire Living Histories

****

8.99 [pounds sterling] each

Roman Britain, Richard Russell

Lawrence, 77pp,

ISBN: 13 978 0 74780 778 0

Tudor England, Derek Wilson, 77pp,

ISBN: 13 978 0 74780 780 3

The Industrial Revolution,

Jonathan Downs, 85pp,

ISBN: 13 978 0 74780 7810

1930s Britain, Robert Pearce, 77pp,

ISBN 13 978 0 74780 779 7

'How we worked. How we played. How we lived.' These are the questions identified by the publisher and addressed by the four authors. The General Editor of the series, Peter Furtado, has issued general instructions, as all authors cover the following specified areas: family life, home and neighbourhood, work, food and drink, shopping and style, transport, entertainment, education, social services, health.

I mean no disrespect to our highly competent authors, who write authoritatively and eloquently, when I suggest that to a great extent the illustrations make the series. Shire Books are to be commended for the quality and quantity of the photographs, paintings, cartoons, maps and diagrams, many in colour. To market the books at such a competitive price is indeed a triumph. I commend in particular Pete Urmston's reconstruction from the air of Roman Silchester, the 15th-century French illustration of the horse litter, the medical treatment of a husband and wife with syphilis, the use of corsets in the eighteenth century and the elementary female school-teacher showing her boys how to throw in. Given the books' sociological themes, pictures are essential. There are indeed plenty of them.

So have I cause to be critical of our authors? Absolutely not. Each book has about 80 pages of description and commentary enclosing the pictures. The questions identified above are capably answered. Downs memorably describes the working conditions of men, women and children in the factories and mines of the industrial north, while Pearce backs up a horrifying photograph of a miner stripped to the waist crouching in a claustrophobic tunnel, extracting coal with his pick. Wilson correctly includes public executions among the entertaining spectacles offered to the more sadistic members of the public. Lawrence analyses recipes and staple foods in Roman Britain, while Downs contrasts the disgusting gluttony of the rich with the starving poor. Pearce accompanies his working-class families from pub and cinema at home to sand and sunshine at Blackpool. …

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