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People down on their luck fleeing to the colonies on the first available ship is a mainstay of 19th century fiction. It was a convenient way for an author to either get rid of an unnecessary character, or to bring a surprise new person into the narrative mix with dramatic effect.
This impressively researched and finely written study is an ambitious attempt to use the history of specific regions and localities to explore wider themes of national identity and attitudes to landscape and the environment across the long 19th century, from around 1780 to 1914.
I knew David Hey for 30 years, and it is with great sadness that I offer this review of his last and posthumous book. I recall well how I first met him. It was Easter 1985 and I was on my way to the British Agricultural History Society conference to give a paper. I hadn’t been to that conference before, nor had I ever given a paper to a conference (as opposed to a seminar).
How fortunate are historians of that broad band of southern Somerset covered by seven topographical volumes of the Victoria County History (VCH) compared with those of most of the historic county for whom no such resource yet exists. It is the distant ideal of the complete set for Somerset that is most urgently required.
The Victoria History of the Counties of England, more commonly known as the ‘Victoria County History’ or simply the ‘VCH’, founded in 1899, is without doubt the greatest publishing project in English local history.
A biography conventionally covers a whole life and the term is now popular with publishers as a substitute for the word history. We see it applied in recent titles to a city, a river, a building and now an organisation.
I was looking forward to reading this book very much, mainly because the study of the shipbuilding industry, on Tyneside in particular, has been a personal interest for ten years, providing the subject for a PhD thesis as well as other works.
Tony Cooke has made a notable contribution to our understanding of early industrialisation and its impact, including some important studies of textile history and the heritage of the industry.
I recall a discussion with my supervisor at the outset of my postgraduate research about whether I should use a database to organise my findings. I was nudged not to follow in her Linnaean footsteps with an index card system. Her tale of laying out thousands of cards on her office floor and connecting them with lengths of coloured string in order to visualise linkages drove the point home.
Debates, disputes, and even injustice lay just beneath the outward signs of vaunted Victorian technological progress. The ascendancy of the imperatives of industrialization and urbanization over all other considerations was not inevitable or automatic; there were moments when those imperatives were challenged and rival ones championed.