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Book reviews — June 1988

(Methuen 1907) 160pp, 26 ill, £6.95. (ISBN 0 413 16110 2)
This book considers the large number of new museums being opened (one every two weeks) and as a first example the reader is taken to the Wigan Pier Heritage Centre where actors play scenes from the lives of Wigan people circa 1900. (Actors in, costumes have already been tried out at the Science Museum. South Kensington). Wigan Pier was lovingly recreated in 1984 by students from Wigan Technical College and the warehouses opposite became the Heritage Centre where seven actors with a director recreate a coal mine, a classroom, a miner's cottage with the miner crushed in a roof fall a month previously, add now, having died, awaiting his funeral screwed down in a coffin and a political meeting addressed by a suffragette. This start is promising, but after a time the book becomes tedious and one realises the author is simply repeating the same old formula.

The stately home industry is dealt with and in Chapter 4 we meet Drs. Gossans and Buchanan, Anthony Burton, The Association for Industrial Archaeology and discuss the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Beamish and Styal. Considering Robert Hewison's credentials the Heritage Industry is not a little disappointing and scarcely rises above the level of a popular-media investigation. Indeed Mr. Hewison presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary 'A Future for the Past' and was involved with BBC Newcastle in the film 'The Man Who Made Beamish'.

The author's main theme is that current popular interest in the past is highly undesirable and symptomatic of Britain's sad state of mind. However it can well be argued and I imagine most GLIAS members would incline to the view, that nostalgia is normal and healthy and is always with us. In times of rapid change it is especially prominent. If it is true that we are undergoing another industrial revolution, that of the micro-chip, then a period of great nostalgia could well be a promising sign.

The book is illustrated with line drawings by Chris Orr, who admits he has been a frequent visitor to Paddington Station since the age of nine, when he was a train spotter and certainly the frontispiece will provide much mirth, illustrating many facets of the preservation movement, railway preservation being especially prominent. The diminutive locomotive with first, second and third driver and the ranks extending down to second fireman is not so far from the truth. Behind the railway prance the 'Little Bumpstead Morris Men' in a street containing a Windmill Heritage Centre and Old Forge Museum, while overhead a biplane advertises a Historic Flying Centre. The photographs by Allan Titmuss who works for the Observer run the risk of being dismissed by at least some GLIAS members as arty/abstract/irrelevant.

However even in this book all is not total despondency. On page 143 Stuart Smith, Director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, is quoted as follows: 'If you are not careful you will wallow in nostalgia, in this sort of myth that the past was wonderful. I personally believe the past was awful. And that sustains me all the time because I believe what is going to come in the future is much better. And museums have a vital roles I feel, to play, in telling people that the past did produce some wonderful things, did produce great people, but their main contribution to society was actually changing society, that people who come to my museum can actually look at what other people have done in the past and go away and do similar things themselves.'

The Heritage Industry could be condemned as patronising. In any case it is not a serious study and might have been more appropriately published as a Sunday newspaper article. Things are scarcely put in context and few of the major issues are mentioned. The book cannot wholeheartedly be recommended to GLIAS members, for what it has to say is overlong, probably 50 pages would have sufficed, but if borrowed from the library it will provide some amusing if not greatly edifying reading. BOB CARR

Pub. Peter Marcan Publications, 1988. A4. pp. 83. £15 + 75p. post and packing. From: 31 Rowcliff Rd, High Wycombe, Bucks HP12 3LD
This volume is a borough by borough guide to local history organisations, their activities and publications. It covers the period 1983-1987 in terms of publications. Two additional sections cover Family History societies and those organisations such as GLIAS which cover whole or part of the area. Compilations such as this must be difficult to compile accurately but the editor appears to have gone to great pains in gathering his information and there are few of the 'no further information available' entries that so often mar this type of publication. GLIAS get probably the biggest entry in the whole volume, covering a full page.

The only problem is the price which is high for such a volume and that will no doubt affect sales to individuals but hopefully all suitable libraries will stock this extremely useful information source. DAVID PERRETT

© GLIAS, 1988