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Books on Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire & South Wales

Henry Vaughan and the Usk Valley

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edited by Elizabeth Siberry and Robert Wilcher

Paperback, 128 pages with over 30 illustrations, most in colour
ISBN 978 1 910839 02 7     Price £10

The poet Henry Vaughan (1621-1695) is widely known as one of the so-called ‘Metaphysical’ poets. It is not so well known that he was born, lived most of his life, and died in the Usk Valley; hence his soubriquet ‘Swan of Usk’. His grave, in the churchyard of St Bride’s, Llansantffraed, is an important site of literary pilgrimage. The age in which Vaughan wrote was one of political and religious upheaval. As a staunch Royalist, he fought for the king and suffered the loss of friends and a beloved younger brother in the Civil Wars.
    This book contains essays on Vaughan’s connections with the landscape, the church, and nature by Jeremy Hooker, Helen Wilcox and Jonathan Nauman, and on the political context of the wars of the 1640s and the interregnum of the 1650s by Robert Wilcher. During the last forty years of his life, Vaughan was a respected country doctor and this aspect of his life is discussed by Simone Thomas, herself a GP. Finally, Elizabeth Siberry explains how Vaughan’s work was rediscovered in the nineteenth century and describes his subsequent influence on writers, artists and musicians in Brecknockshire and beyond. Each chapter is accompanied by the full texts of some of Vaughan’s best loved and some of his lesser known poems, with explanatory notes and brief commentaries.

Blaenavon: from Iron Town to World Heritage Site

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by Jeremy Knight

Paperback, 208 pages with over 60 colour and 30 mono illustrations
ISBN 978 1 910839 01 0     Price £12.95

Blaenavon was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 as ‘an outstanding and remarkably complete example of a 19th-century industrial landscape’, with blast furnaces, coal and iron ore mines, quarries, railways and the houses of workers, dating from a time when South Wales was the world’s largest producer of iron and coal. In this book, Jeremy Knight, a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments with Cadw, sets out the history of ironmaking in the area from medieval times onwards. A greatly increased demand for steel in the 18th century led to radical change in the industry. Single blast furnaces fuelled with charcoal, with the blast blown by water wheels, were replaced by batteries of coke-fired furnaces, blown by steam engines, whilst a supporting infrastructure of canals and railways was laid down. Blaenavon ironworks is a unique survivor of the first generation of this new industry. Blaenavon also played a significant role in creating the modern world when two cousins, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Carlyle Gilchrist, by their experiments at Blaenavon created the Basic Bessemer process, opening the way for the bulk steel industries of America and Germany to develop. The society created at Blaenavon, with its benefit societies, bands and choirs, religious life, truck shop and plethora of pubs and chapels, is described, using a rich collection of source material. The struggle for fair wages and better living conditions, the role of women in society and the experiences of Blaenavon in two World Wars is not forgotten.

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The Wye Tour and its Artists
by Julian Mitchell

176 pages,115 colour and 30 black and white illustrations
Paperback     £12.95    ISBN 978 1 906663 32 2   Now reduced to £5

Published to accompany an exhibition at Chepstow Museum and Art Gallery

The Reverend John Egerton, rector of Ross-on-Wye in the 1740s and ’50s, was a rich young man with a well-connected wife, much given to entertaining.  He had a pleasure boat built so their guests could enjoy a day on the river, visiting Goodrich Castle and Symonds Yat and venturing as far, perhaps, as Monmouth.  From such small private beginnings developed the popular two-day commercial Wye Tour from Ross to Chepstow, with a stop-over in Monmouth, and a long pause at Tintern Abbey.  
    The Tour was part of a general increase in travel among the British middle classes, especially among those in search of the picturesque. The high priest of picturesque theory was another clergyman, the Reverend William Gilpin, who took the Tour in 1770, and published his Observations on the River Wye in 1783. A schoolmaster, he laid down rules as to which views were and were not ‘correctly’ picturesque, but the concept was open to many interpretations, and debate about the picturesqueness or otherwise of ivy and beggars raged for half a century. When the Napoleonic wars of the 1790s made travel on the continent both difficult and dangerous, the Tour became very popular, and remained so well into the age of the first steam packets from Bristol and then the railway. A version of it was still available into the early twentieth century, the argument about the picturesque still unresolved.
    The playwright and novelist Julian Mitchell has been researching the subject for twenty-five years and with wit and keen observation he has made use of visitors’ diaries and poems and local guidebooks to recreate what may have been the first British package tour. The text is illustrated by a rich array of paintings and drawings by over 30 artists including John Sell Cotman, David Cox, Joshua Cristall, Edward Dayes, Thomas Hearne, Samuel Palmer, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker’, Thomas Rowlandson, Paul Sandby, John ‘Warwick’ Smith, Thomas Tudor, J.M.W. Turner, Cornelius and John Varley and James Wathen.

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Usk Castle, Priory and Town
edited by Jeremy K. Knight & Andy Johnson

216 pages, with over 120 black and white and 20 colour illustrations
ISBN: 978 1906663 01 8 (hardback)   £17.50    978 1906663 02 5 (paperback)   £12.95

The Norman borough (or town) of Usk was established around its castle and priory and these are at the heart of this book. Through a series of chapters, the contributors explore the life of the town through the history of its inhabitants, and what can be learned about them from the buildings which still make up the town, as well as the archaeology of former times. Whilst it was the Normans who founded the castle, priory and borough, the Romans preceded them, although the evidence of their presence is now largely below ground. Before them, prehistoric people and then the Celts lived in the surrounding area, and the first chapters of this book book at these phases of Usk’s history, the period under Roman rule in some detail. Subsequent chapters then look at the development of the Norman town and its hospitals and almshouses; the building and life of the priory, with its community of nuns and its shrine to St Radegund; the long history of the construction of the castle and its gradual expansion and strengthening; relations between the Norman incomers and the Welsh over the centuries, and the effect on the region of Owain Glyndŵr’s uprising, seen through the eyes of one of Usk’s most famous sons, Adam Usk, first from a distance and then at firsthand, as he became embroiled in the events that surrounded him. Later chapters reflect on life in Usk during the period of religious upheaval in the 16th and 17th centuries, telling the story of the town’s own martyr, St David Lewis; and chart the development of the medieval town through the Georgian period, as well as the more recent transformation of the castle wards into a remarkable garden. Coming to more recent times, a chapter is devoted to Usk’s secret Auxiliary Unit and its operational base, established in preparation for a German invasion in the early 1940s; whilst a final chapter considers current problems and highlights issues on which decisions need to be made to help ensure that Usk has a thriving future. This book forms a mini series with other Logaston Press publications: Ludlow Castle: its History and Buildings; Tewkesbury Abbey: History, Art and Architecture; and Chepstow Castle: its History and Buildings.

We Will Remember Them

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by Charles Whitney

Paperback, 96 pages, photographs of many of the individuals
ISBN 978 1 906663 85 8    £5

We Will Remember Them commemorates all former pupils of Dean Close School, Cheltenham, who are known to have died as a result of conflict whether in the Boer War, the two World Wars or more recently. Each pupil has a brief biography that also contains a note of where they are remembered. This book also informs the reader about the contribution made by all Old Decanians involved in serving their country in the Armed services in time of war, especially during the two World Wars. There is also an appendix detailing members of staff who made similar sacrifices and have similar service. There is a glossary and bibliography.

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At Close Quarters: Dean Close School 1884-2009
by C.E. Whitney

400 pages, 160 colour and 160 b&w/sepia illustrations
Paperback    978 1906663 20 9    £19
Hardback    978 1906663 19 3    £27 Hardback now out of print

This book marks the 125th Anniversary of the laying of the Cornerstone of Dean Close Memorial School on 11th November 1884. The School opened later in May 1886. This volume absorbingly chronicles the development of the Dean Close community since then, its Christian ethos, the evolving relationship of the School with the local community and beyond, the emergence of first the Junior (Preparatory) and later the Pre-Preparatory Schools and also the decision to become co-educational. It looks at the effect of outside events such as wars, legislation, the financial problems of the 1930s and the social revolution of the 1960s. How the Preparatory School became the Choir School for Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum is revealed. A chapter is also devoted to Old Decanians.
    The text is enhanced by over 150 boxes, each one describing particular details of the school's story. More than 300 illustrations, together with indexes and an appendix showing the School layout, confirms this book as an invaluable aid to anyone interested in the tale of this remarkable school.

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Chepstow Castle: its History & Buildings
Rick Turner & Andy Johnson (eds.)

328 pages, 200b/w & 15 colour illns
Paperback   ISBN 978 1 904396 52 9  £17.50    Hardback    ISBN 978 1 904396 53 6    £23.00   Hardback out of print

With 24 chapters by a variety of expert authors, this books looks at Chepstow Castle from its inception to the present day. Chapters deal with its history from Norman origins (under William fitz Osbern and the Conqueror) to its substantial enlargement and refurbishing under both the Marshal and the Bigod families, its hunting preserves, the Civil War period, its time as an artillery fort, its relationship with the town, the Picturesque, a base for pageants and recent conservation efforts. Rick Turner studied archaeology at Cambridge University and is an inspector of ancient monuments for Cadw. Famous for his discovery of Lindow Man, his research interests now centre on the study of medieval and later buildings in Wales. Andy Johnson is proprietor of Logaston Press and has written and edited many books about the history of the area.