Book reviews - August 2001
'The Moving Metropolis: A history of London's transport since 1800', edited by Sheila Taylor
Published June 2001 by Laurence King Publishing; ISBN: 1856692418. 400 pages, hardcover. £30
The title of this weighty hardback volume is perhaps misleading, as this is not a connected historical account, and exactly what is 'London' is not clear. This is, perhaps, a different sort of coffee-table book, as its essence is the 1,200 illustrations, many in colour, albeit most of them rather small. Alternatively, the work could be considered to be an illustrated, but partial, catalogue of the visually appealing material held in the London Transport Museum's archives, although some material from other sources is also reproduced. The greater part of the text is represented by extended captions to the illustrations. And indeed the content seems to have been geared to the availability of visually appealing material. It could find a role as a useful, but expensive, introduction for beginners wishing to find out about London's transport history, but is hardly geared up to directingc researchers wishing to follow-up particular topics in greater depth.
After a short introductory section on 'The first world city', there is a chapter entitled 'Horse power and steam power: transport for a growing metropolis.' This chapter, reasonably enough, contains more about road vehicles than it does about railways. Railways have been more than adequately treated in popular and accessible works in comparison with street traffic. A brief entry for the Surrey Iron Railway is accompanied by an illustration of the contemporary painting of the Chipstead Valley overbridge on the legally separate and historically later Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway.
The following chapters are 'Overground and underground: the Circle squared 1850-1900'; 'Electric power and petrol: from city smoke to suburban dream, 1900-1914'; 'The Great War: from Home front to Western Front 1914-1918'; 'The birth of London Transport: designed for the capital 1918-1939'; 'A world at war: to shelter and to serve 1939-1945'; 'Public transport in decline: the car is king, 1945-1970'; and 'From decline to renaissance: a new beginning 1970-2000.'
The mainline railways receive relatively little attention, this being, after all, a London Transport-sponsored book. An inappropriately labelled 'bibliography' lists 28 books, all but two of them published between 1974 and 2000. There is a six-page index. Paul Sowan
'Clean and Decent: The fascinating history of the bathroom and the water closet', by Lawrence Wright
ISBN 0-141-39035-2. Price £4.99. 282 pages. Published by Penguin (Classic History)
I have long regarded this work, first published by Routledge Kegan Paul in 1960, as one of the foremost in the field of sanitary engineering although it is equally at home alongside books on social history. The author has researched the subject of personnel hygiene from Greek, Roman and Egyptian periods through to the modern day, and delights in introducing the reader to many implements and contrivances invented to give man a healthier life.
I was most pleased to learn that Penguin have reissued this book in their 'Classic History' series. For those wishing to learn more of the history of the 'bath-tub', ablutionary habits throughout the ages or that seldom mentioned device, so essential to health in the 'developed' world, the water closet, this book is for you.
Dare I suggest you find a quiet room, sit, and read in peace, this most edifying book. Peter J Skilton
© GLIAS, 2001