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Book reviews — February 2012

‘The Royal Ordnance Factory at Hayes: the story of a World War II gun and tank factory at Hayes in the London Borough of Hillingdon’, by Nick Holder
Published by: MOLA 2011. ISBN 978-1-901992-88-5. Paperback, 48pp. Col ills throughout. Price: £7.00
At the outbreak of war in 1939, the Government drew up plans to convert a large number of factories to military use; and to build 22 new government-owned Royal Ordnance Factories. One of these was built on a greenfield site at Hayes. Work began in July 1940 and was largely completed by November 1941. There were over a hundred separate buildings. Construction costs were £311,000 and the specialised machinery and equipment cost almost £2 million. The factory was used to produce tank and field guns and was particularly involved in re-equipping US Sherman tanks with 17 pounder guns, which featured in the Battle of Normandy. In a small publication of some 48 pages, including numerous illustrations, the author covers the construction and fitting out of the buildings, with descriptions of the major ones; the weapons it produced; how the factory worked; the people — nearly 2,500 were employed there — and how they were looked after; the defence of the factory; and its use after the war as a government archive depository. It includes quotations from some of the workers — unfortunately for family historians, no staff lists survive. The factory also featured twice (anonymously) on BBC radio in the famous Workers’ Playtime. Brian James-Strong

‘Psychogeography’, by Merlin Coverley
Pocket Essentials 2010. 157 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1 -84243-347-8. £7.99
The term psychogeography appears to be getting increasingly popular, and this slim volume goes some way towards explaining what it means. Actually no one really knows what it does mean – but a useful definition is the study of the effect the geographical environment has on the emotions and behaviour of individual people. As such it is just within the remit of industrial archaeology, and is now becoming rather more so as the subject is being ramified by all kinds of people jumping on the bandwagon. The definition above which comes from the Paris of the 1950s has now been so extended and ramified that what now passes for psychogeography is getting increasingly difficult to recognise. In this book however, Merlin Coverley tackles psychogeography very much from a London perspective and in particular in terms of literature dealing with London, especially its exploration on foot. Whether he is entirely successful is a moot point and things really do sound better in French. Coverley includes Daniel Defoe, William Blake and Thomas De Quincey under the heading of psychogeography, taking the subject backwards in time as far as the early 18th century, as well as forwards to include some decidedly New Age writers. There are some good stories here but as with many good stories they are not necessarily true: the credulous should beware. The quotation on pages 129-130 about Greenwich not being the spiritual centre of the British Empire is a peach, and that on page 133 ending ‘London was the first metropolis to disappear’ is worth an entry in pseuds’ corner, Private Eye. However there are some surprising omissions. Ian Nairn does not appear to be mentioned: surely he was a psychogeographer? And what of professor Pevsner and his perambulations — does he not count? Perhaps the author regards a Pevsner survey as too focussed and systematic to be an aimless exploration or drift, but even here is the possibility of a happy chance encounter entirely absent? The above covers only a tiny fraction of what is generally regarded as psychogeography and if you want to find out more look at the book. Probably the most useful aspect of Merlin Coverley’s opus is that it’s good source of quotations and references – excellent if you want to spice up your English. Bob Carr

© GLIAS, 2012