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British Social History Volume Two From The…
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British Social History Volume Two From The Seventeenth Century to the…

by James Mainwaring

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So - how to summarise this undated second volume of a two-part work from the New Educational Library of the 1950's with its mismatched engravings and old, black-and-white photo-illustrations which feels like a home-economics book for armchair historians?

Brilliant, that's how!

The 16 chapters here, covering a time-span of 350 years from 1600 to 1950, are serious, educational, big-picture history. The expositions on offer, on - for example - the origins of the National Debt (pg. 55), the history of Ireland (pp. 94 & 227 et seq), the Enclosure Acts and their effects (pp. 108 & 126) and the introduction of the Workhouse (pg. 116), rival Wikipedia in their accuracy, brevity and historical relevance.

And the pieces on the link between the cotton and slave trades (pg. 138),the exploitation of children in factories and mines (pg. 148), the Navigation Laws (pg. 185), the Royal Lancasterian Institution (pg. 203) and Richard Cross's important Acts of Parliament in the 1870's (pg. 217) all add to our understanding of important, yet not very well-known aspects of British history.

The articles on the Peace of Vereeniging in 1902 (pg. 256), the People's Budget of 1909 (pg. 264), the 1911 Parliament Act (pg. 267), the First and Second World Wars (pp. 278 et seq, and pp. 316 et seq) are all factual, concise and to-the-point.

Moreover, there are some lovely surprises as well, for example : a clear explanation, at last, of what a "Whig" was, the origin of "union" as applied to a group of parishes within the meaning of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and, last but not least, a meaningful description of the significance of the Atlantic Charter of 1941.

Some of the later photographs are new to me, too: the stretcher-party stuck in the mud at Boesinghe in 1917 (pg. 286) and the miners of Williamsthorpe Colliery reading the notice that shows their coal-mine had been nationalised (pg. 339) are two examples.

The whole work is rounded off with a series of "Test Yourself" questions at the end of each chapter, with accompanying model, essay-type answers at the end of the book.

That is followed by a guide, with some useful references to architecture and literature as reference points for historical study, and a list of books for further study by topic: General Histories, Political Histories, General Social and Economic Histories, The History of Particular Industries, Transport, Particular Social and Economic Topics and, lastly, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Finally in this very comprehensive work, the authors include a time-chart from 1600 to 1950 showing, year-by-year, events in Britain, Social Changes, Events Abroad and Literature and Architecture.

Densely-packed reading like this won't be to everyone's taste. This work is first and foremost educational in a strict, old-fashioned, almost Victorian sense.

Of its kind, however, it is remarkably good. I learned a lot from it, and it is a welcome addition to my library. ( )
  SunnyJim | Feb 2, 2016 |
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