Apart from the fact that most are beautifully illustrated and have a simple crisp text they are clues to how the study of history has changed. Victorian and Edwardian books tend to emphasis the growth of the British empire and well into the 1930’s much of the story is told bottom down through Kings and Queens and the brave, rich and great.
But by the 1950s the depiction of our “island story” has changed and much more emphasis is placed on social history.
Historians like R. J. Unstead produced books with fine illustrations which describe the lives of everyone from the nobility to peasant.
And I suppose my favourite of this new wave of books was A Valley Grows Up by Edward Osmond.* It was published by the O.U.P and sold for 12s 6d. The magic of the book is that it told the story of an imaginary valley from 5000 BC to 1900.
|The valley, 7,000 years ago|
Here was the development of the valley’s landscape from prehistoric to Victorian taking in changes from an uninhabited forest through to tree clearing and early settlements.
All are here, from the Celts and Romans through to the Saxons, Normans and beyond.
His wife Laurie Osmond, produced a companion book, The Thames Flows Down, O.U.P., 1957.
|The Valley, 2,500 years ago|
All the more a pity because it has long gone out of print. I did however get a lovelly letter from Laurie Osmond who I had written to in the 1980s.
She thanked me for writing was pleased I still enjoyed both books and and kindly gave me permission to use the colour plates in a slide presentation I did for students which took the magic to a new generation.
I must confess to owning two copies of the Valley and one of the Thames.
Picture; cover of A Valley Grows Up
* Other posts on the book at http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/A%20Valley%20Grows%20Up