Matthew Green 20 €
As climate change reshapes our coastlines, you wonder how recognizable future maps will be – after all, in the Mesolithic era we were connected to mainland Europe by Doggerland, “a vast plain of lakes, marshes, forests and wood”.
Civilization seems entrenched, but Britain’s shadowy topography – lost cities, abandoned islands, sunken colonies – reveals its fragility.
You probably don’t need to remember this if you live in the Yorkshire village of Skipsea, which has the fastest eroding coastline in northern Europe, or in the Welsh Fairbourne, a “ghost town waiting” slowly being engulfed by the waves.
Matthew Green’s enthusiasm is infectious and at times the detail seems exhaustive, but Shadowlands is a fascinating journey through place and time.
But the problem is urgent and widespread: 800 buildings in England and Wales could be under water in 20 years, and London by the end of this century.
Enter Matthew Green, author of London: A Guide to Time Travel and a new book, Shadowlands, a poetic story of ‘Ghost Britain’ – a subject as romantic as it is relevant.
Green articulates both qualities in evocative prose that oscillates between lyrical and dry humor. His enthusiasm is contagious, which is just as well, because sometimes the detail seems exhaustive.
Nonetheless, Shadowlands is a fascinating journey through place and time, “loss and absence.”
As Green travels from the buried Neolithic houses of Skara Brae in Orkney to the drowned medieval town of Dunwich in Suffolk, from the evacuated Hebridean island of Hirta to the flooded Welsh village of Capel Celyn, he explores the factors that led to their demise and traces the evolution of community and culture.
Perhaps most intriguing are the model villages at Stanford’s training area in Norfolk, land seized by the army before World War II and which, controversially, never returned.
We Brits are said to love outsiders, and Shadowlands is a sanctuary for them, “the places that have slipped through the fingers of history”.
A local response to Cal Flyn’s best-selling Islands Of Abandonment, Green’s book offers “a terrible foreshadowing of what lies ahead” and an elegiac resurrection of our past.
Dolphin Square Scandal: A Notorious Story
Simon Danczuk and Daniel Smith The Historic Press £20
One address in London has attracted more celebrities and criminals, and sometimes criminal celebrities, than any other.
Dolphin Square, a spectacular 1930s apartment block on the banks of the River Thames in affluent Pimlico, consists of 1,200 homes, ranging from chic little pied-a-terres to three-bedroom family homes.
The square’s Art Deco architecture has made it a familiar location for television series such as Poirot.
As Simon Danczuk and Daniel Smith explain in this frenzied book, Dolphin Square has welcomed everyone from Charles de Gaulle to Christine Keeler (above).
As Simon Danczuk and Daniel Smith explain in this frenzied book, Dolphin Square has welcomed everyone from Sid James and Princess Anne to Oswald Mosley, Charles de Gaulle, Christine Keeler and Shirley Bassey.
He has always been popular with politicians in the nearby Palace of Westminster.
Spies are also very important in this book, probably because MI5 and MI6 are right around the corner. There’s John Vassall, a mild-mannered Admiralty clerk who sold secrets to the Soviets.
It was his Dolphin Square apartment, clearly out of reach of Vassall’s modest income, that betrayed the game when authorities called in 1962.
Before World War II, a wonderful pair of single sisters called Ida and Louise Cook risked their lives by regularly flying from Pimlico to Germany, where they smuggled expensive jewelry and furs belonging to families Jews who risked having everything confiscated by the Nazis.
As Ida would note years later: “The funny thing is, we weren’t the James Bond type – we were just respectable civil service typists.
The other women in Dolphin Square were the opposite of respectable. There was Sybil Benson, who in 1972 was exposed by the People newspaper for running “a house of torture” from her apartment.
Here, she dealt with the many establishment male figures who loved nothing more than to shop around for a good flogging. When the story broke, Benson relinquished his lease.
Other residents adopt a more confrontational attitude when it comes to defending the new permissive society: in 1965, three women decide to go swimming in the magnificent swimming pool on the square.
Slipping through the fingers of a police officer, each woman was fined £2 ‘for engaging in insulting behavior likely to harm the peace’.
Less lighthearted are the many stories of residents who died in their apartments without anyone knowing, sometimes for weeks.
For older residents who have spent decades in the square, there is a lingering sense of sadness and decay baked into the beautiful brickwork of London’s most famous housing estate.