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Book reviews - December 2001

'Croydon's Transport Through the Ages', by John B Gent
ISBN 0-906047-17-X. £8.75 plus £1 p&p from Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, 96a Brighton Road, South Croydon CR2 6AD. 96 pages with 222 illustrations
This is the eighth of a series of illustrated history books on Croydon commenced by the publishing society (to celebrate its 100th anniversary) in 1970. The earlier titles have now all been through numerous editions, and this latest one, again edited (and written) by John Gent, fully deserves to be at least as popular.

The book contains chapters headed Early Roads, Early Railways and the Croydon Canal, Railways, Roads, Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses, Croydon Tramlink, and Aeronautics and Aviation. There are 222 illustrations, many of them in colour. These include first-edition Ordnance Survey 25" to 1 mile plan extracts, and some exceptionally interesting 'compound' maps showing historic transport features along with modern features - the interpretation of the sequence of events in space and time at West Croydon, for example, is a most welcome essay in historical research in itself. Railway maps of 1840 and the 1880s contrast with historical and modern maps of bus and tram routes. The numerous photographs inevitably include some well-known views, but there are also many not previously published. Of exceptional value are some superbly reproduced coloured illustrations of the Croydon Canal, the early (horse-drawn) 'iron railways', and the cutting of the Brighton main railway line through Park Hill.

Unusually, this book does not fail to describe Croydon's road history, with substantial sections on the turnpike era, and on horse-drawn vehicles, early cycling and private motoring.

A half-page bibliography, for suggested further reading, lists some 30 titles, the majority of which are still in print or have been recently published and of which lending copies are readily accessible in local libraries. Most of these titles provide further details, especially for the more 'popular' areas of local transport history (more railways and trams than anything!).

Croydon's transport history, it is pointed out, includes a number of 'firsts.' It claims the first 'public railway', the first railway flyover, the first UK sodium street lighting, the first light-controlled pedestrian crossing, and others. It was the first town in the country to be served by both canal and railway, among the four places to experiment with atmospheric trains; it has had horse-drawn and electric trams, and trolleybuses. And its airport was arguably the birthplace of civil aviation. The town is, therefore, of more than ordinary interest to anyone interested in any aspects of getting from A to B. This work presents an excellent overview, but also conveys much (very well-presented) historical detail. Paul Sowan

'London's Lea Valley: More secrets revealed', by Jim Lewis
ISBN 1 86077 190 4. £14.99. 144 pages (hardback). Published by Phillimore and Co Ltd. Website:
In this companion volume to London's Lea Valley: Britain's Best Kept Secret (see review), Jim Lewis continues to uncover a wealth of Lea Valley 'firsts', such as the world's first monorail, or the invention of corrugated iron.

'A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough', by Nigel Balchin and Peter Filby
Association for Industrial Archaeology 2001 (ISBN 0 9528930 4 5) 54 pages illustrated, price £4.95. Copies can be obtained from the AIA, School of Archaeological Studies, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH. Tel: 0116 252 5337. Fax: 0116 252 5005. Email: The cost is £5.50 including post & packing
This is one of the standard AIA Conference booklets and was produced for the 2001 conference based in Cambridge. The gazetteer is arranged according to electoral districts and is if anything of even higher standard than usual. Such a booklet scarcely needs recommendation for readers of this newsletter - it is of course really excellent with numerous photographs and cheap at the price. A refreshing innovation is the inclusion of telecommunication antenna masts with explanatory text. Bob Carr

'A Guide to the Industrial Heritage of Northamptonshire', complied on behalf of the Northamptonshire Industrial Archaeology Group by Peter Perkins, Geoffrey Starmer and Roy Sheffield
(ISBN 0-9541132-0-9), published 2001, price £4.95. Copies can be obtained from Roy Sheffield, 7 Elysium Terrace, Northampton NN2 6EN. Price £6 including post & packing
This is a substantial well-produced work of 102 pages listing 400 sites and is rather larger than the usual area booklet we have become used to, even though it is presented in that form. Sites are listed by parish in alphabetical order and there is a centre-spread county map and some local area maps. It is well illustrated with photographs. A useful index of site numbers at the back groups entries by type. There are large numbers of disused factories, transport items, earthworks etc and the entertainment and leisure industries are included. In the main only sites dating from 1945 or before are included but you will find the disused Express Lift testing tower of 1982 on page 69 with a photograph. This is now listed grade II. Another notable entry, with photograph, is the singular mid-1930s ex Birch Brothers coach station in Higham Road (A6) Rushden. The frontage is in a striking art-deco style with tower. Accidentally coming across this building in Rushden gives one quite a surprise. However it should be stressed that most of the buildings in this guide are of relatively conventional 19th-century type.

Financial support was received from Northamptonshire County Council and this is an excellent guide for anyone visiting the county by motor car. The area covered is within easy reach of London for the day and this publication deserves wide distribution. Bob Carr

© GLIAS, 2001