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Book reviews — April 2010


'Engineers and Officials: An Historical Sketch of the Progress of the "Health of Towns Works"'
pub .Bibliolife 2010 — a facsimile copy of the 1856 book. 227 pages
This book gives a fascinating insight into the incredibly bitter arguments in mid-19th-century centring around the man the author calls the 'Prussian despotism of the Great God of the Sanitary Ephesians', namely Edwin Chadwick. Much of the content in the book relates to sewerage and water works in the London area, aspects absolutely critical to the health of the metropolis. There were two issues at the time which generated so much conflict. Firstly, it was between those, like Chadwick, who strongly promoted central and detailed government control over public health matters throughout the country and those who jealously fought to retain the powers of local government. Secondly, although Chadwick was a lawyer he forcefully imposed what were basically engineering solutions with the result many in the engineering profession not unsurprisingly took great offence at this.

The author, apparently Edwin Britain, is not identified in this contentious book — perhaps just as well!?

'Dirty Dustbins and Sloppy Streets: a Practical Treatise on the Scavenging and Cleansing of Cities and Towns' by H P Bulnois'
First published 1881, reprinted now in facsimile by Kessinger
Percy Bulnois was a well-known engineer and, at the time of the writing of the book, was City Surveyor of Exeter. Unlike the previous book, this one is a well-written, instructive work in spite of its rather gimmicky title. The same issues which then confronted the municipal engineer/surveyor have a familiar ring, for example: 'The unthinking ratepayer frequently exclaims of snow in the street, "Why cannot the authorities order this abominable snow be immediately carted away?"'.

'A Practical Treatise of the Making and Repairing Roads' by Edmund Leahy, 1844
Reprinted by General Books LLC, 2010
This another straightforward and interesting textbook, but this time regrettably not reproduced in facsimile instead by using scanning and Optical Character Recognition. Sadly, there appears to have no attempt whatsoever at proof checking the result — for example, the chapter heading 'Eoad Maieeials' can be easily translated but other sections such were tables and formulae in the original have become unintelligible and the figures unfortunately are not reproduced. Nevertheless, one can get quite a reasonable impression of contemporary road construction practices. If you buy the book then a website is available on which one can gain access to a facsimile of all the 329 original pages.

The above three books, directly or indirectly, touch upon London but there is another classic work worth noting (in facsimile again and published by Kessinger), it is 'The Life of John Metcalf, commonly called Blind Jack of Knaresborough' dated 1795. This anonymous work is almost certainly autobiographical by the remarkable blind pioneering road-maker Metcalf himself.

All four of the above four books are available in soft cover form and can be obtained through Amazon or Abebooks. Don Clow

© GLIAS, 2010