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Book reviews — December 2018

'The King's Cross Story: 200 Years of History in the Railway Lands', by Peter Darley
Published 1 October 2018 by The History Press. £20. Paperback. ISBN 9780750985796. 236 illustrations and 55,000 words in 216 pages
The author of this book is well known for his interest in the Camden Goods Yard. He now moves south-eastwards to write about King's Cross, if anything an even more daunting task. It should be made clear that this book is exclusively about King's Cross and its Goods Yard, there is little mention of the Midland Railway and St Pancras.

The first impression on looking at this book is the quality of the illustrations; maps, plans and photographs, drawings and works of art. Expense was not spared in procuring the best images and this has cost the Camden Railway Heritage Trust more than £4,000. There is now the challenge of recovering this cost. The first chapter, A Sunday stroll up Maiden Lane, is delightful — introducing the reader to the area of King's Cross well before the coming of the railways. Compared with the Railway Lands we knew, this was the countryside beyond London, and although some industrial archaeologists might regard this almost as pre-history there was even then plenty of industrial archaeological interest. There were brickfields and tile kilns — and great dust heaps where scavengers picking over the refuse engaged in an early form of recycling. From about 1812 The Regent's Canal was being built. Already by 1824 the imposing works of The Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company was in production: and at the time this grand establishment was said to be the largest of its kind in the World.

Later on the book is dominated by the steam locomotive and its pollution. Already we are beginning to forget just how dirty our mainline termini and their environs used to be. Photographs of Gresley Pacific's dominate; there might have been more on the important suburban traffic. However although this book is a feast for the railway enthusiast it is remarkable in the very wide range of topics it has managed to include. Here there is a good deal on the horse, it is also partly an art book with numerous illustrations including pen and wash drawings by Käthe Strenitz (1923-2017). There is little on engineering but in this book we have local politics, especially regarding debates over the areas redevelopment, prostitution, a model railway, people, statistics, pop music and fringe art happenings. This is a book for a very wide general readership which in its production has almost attempted a gesamtkunstwerk.

The approach is popular rather than scholarly, there is a bibliography but references are not given. Sadly there is no index and if a second edition is produced this should be rectified. There must have been many contributors to this volume but apart from within captions there are no Acknowledgements — from the breadth of topics one might have expected Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Our vice president Malcolm Tucker contributed some of the photographs.

Time and space dictate that this cannot be a very full review, there is a great deal of content here and readers are urged to buy this book and discover it for themselves — you will not be disappointed. For readers requiring more information, the author introduced his book in 'Ham and High' 1. Bob Carr

'London's Docklands: An Illustrated History', by Geoff Marshall
Second edition, the History Press published 2018; 168 pages, 40 Illustrations in colour, 100 Illustrations black & white. Paperback £20, ISBN: 9780750987790
This book concentrates on the Dockland areas of the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Southwark. Starting with the early up-river Port, the reader is taken through the commercial Docks from west to east. Later chapters deal with dockers, riverside wharves and the redevelopment of the area over the past 40 years.

Since this book deals with the area as it is now, ships are very much in the background — as is the subject of cargo handling. This is a book for the tourist, either from London or further afield and is generally about the here and now — but giving an account of how the present situation came about. Geoff Marshall leads walks for the British Guild of Tourist Guides and each section generally gives the reader surviving remains to visit and explore — including public houses. Unfortunately the book contains little in the way of maps; more might be expected in a book at this price. The volume is sensibly organised and easy to follow; there are references and a short index.

Chapter 13 gives some political background to the redevelopment of Dockland and there is a refreshing quotation from Michael Heseltine's autobiography Life in the Jungle. Round about this time the traditional name London Dockland began to be replaced by London Docklands, the plural representing a change of attitude. No longer was this the Land of the Docks but a region composed of parcels of land ripe for purchase and redevelopment. The London Docklands Development Corporation was set up in 1981 with far-reaching powers.

Generally speaking this book is quite free from errors; however the two captions at the bottom of page 127 are misleading. The pair of photographs were probably taken quite recently: the names C J Mare and Thames Ironworks are almost certainly recent additions, painted long after 1912 when major shipbuilding on the Thames came to an end.

This is a well balanced book written by a knowledgeable author and for anyone unfamiliar with the subject this London's Docklands book can be recommended as an introduction and it is quite good value: probably the best book on the subject currently in print. Bob Carr

© GLIAS, 2018