Mrs. Guinness The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, the Thirties Socialite
by Lyndsy Spence (History Press, £17.99) ISBN 9780-75095-9735
Mitford was both controversial and captivating. As the third of the Mitford girls she became infamous for her second marriage to the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, and her links — via her sister Unity — to Hitler.
Once referred to as “the most hated woman in England” Diana was imprisoned with Mosley for four years because of their political beliefs and associations with the Nazi leader. This book charts Diana’s less complicated early life through the tumultuous years leading to her incarceration at Holloway.
As one of the Bright Young Things she dazzled countless suitors inspiring artists and writers with her grace, beauty and intelligence. Winston Churchill, whose wife was a cousin of the Mitfords, nicknamed her “Dinamite” and, in 1929, she married Bryan Guinness, heir to the brewing dynasty. But, despite an adoring husband, children, wealth and a comfortable social position, she felt that her life was shallow and empty. Her interest in politics led to her meeting Mosley in 1932. This — and her blind, unquestioning devotion to the man and his political ideals — proved to be fatal.
The couple’s affair, marriage in 1936, and the hurt caused to their former spouses and families resulted in Diana’s social downfall. All this was set against a backdrop of political upheaval across Europe and a world on the brink of war.
Using previously unpublished first-hand material, the author presents a portrait of a woman whose ultimate choice in love and politics made her a contentious figure until her death in 2003.
MRS. GUINES The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, the Thirties Socialite is available by post from This England. For further details see page 75.
THE COMPLETE NATURALIST
by Nick Baker (Bloomsbury, £25) ISBN 9781-47291-2077
of of our population is brought up in towns and knows relatively little about the countryside. Help is at hand, however, because this excellent and well-illustrated book gives a superb insight into what we usually miss on rural outings.
Different chapters cover birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, plants, amphibians, insects and invertebrates. Helpful hints and tips make this a most worthwhile publication.
THE AUDACIOUS CRIMES OF COLONEL BLOOD
by Robert Hutchinson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20) ISBN 9780-29787-0180
Oneof the most mysterious and charismatic characters in history, Thomas Blood was involved with an attempted coup in Ireland, plots to assassinate King Charles II and an unsuccessful attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. Amazingly, after he had been taken to the king in chains, he somehow managed to escape execution, possibly because royalty feared an uprising from his followers.
Thereafter the former Royalist turned Roundhead turned Royalist again, acted as a special agent for the monarchy although never far from controversy and even after he was buried near St. James’s Park in 1680, was reinterred to check if it was really him.
WILD RUINS The explorer’s guide to Britain’s castles, follies, relics and remains
by Dave Hamilton (Wild Things, £16.99) ISBN 9781-91063-6022
Thelatest in this splendid series covers all the best properties which have fallen into decay. Some are remote and require a lengthy walk across barren countryside, notably Top Withens, the deserted Elizabethan farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors which reputedly inspired Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
More than 250 ruins, ranging from crag-top castles to crumbling houses in hidden forests, make this a superb reference book for family trips.
Unless stated at the end of the review, books featured on these pages are not available direct from This England. For details of books that can be ordered from us, please see “Books by Post” on page 75.
HEATH ROBINSON ON TRAVEL (Amberley, £10) ISBN 9781-44564-5957
Heath Robinson described himself as having “A secret satisfaction in being considered rather mad.” His wacky drawings are legendary and this delightful collection concentrates on travel by road, sea and air. Although many of the cartoons appear dated because of the period in which they were created, some are futuristic. Although he lived until the end of the Second World War, many of his best creations came between 1914 and 1918 when he was particularly clever when poking fun at the enemy.
THE COUNTRYSIDE BOOK
by Tessa Wardley (Bloomsbury, £14.99) ISBN 9781-40818-7036
Theauthor and her young family love playing in the great outdoors and this excellent volume, a sequel to her River Book and Woodland Book, is a splendid guide for all those keen to explore what nature has to offer. Whether it be down on the beach or trekking high in the hills, there is something here for everyone, including camping under the stars. Other activities mentioned include cheese rolling, wassailing and maypole dancing. Highly recommended.
(208pp, paperback) FIRST LADY The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill
by Sonia Purnell (Aurum, £25) ISBN 9781-78131-3060
Churchill is widely regarded as the outstanding Englishman of his generation but behind him was a woman who supported and cheered him up when things were looking bleak. This in-depth analysis of their marriage and wider family, chronicles the ups and downs of their political and private life.
FIRST LADY The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill is available by post from This England. For further details see page 75. THROUGH THE YEAR WITH WILLIAM BOOTH
by Stephen J. Poxon (Monarch, £12.99) ISBN 9780-85721-6144
Booth of the Salvation Army packed more into his 83 years (1829-1912) then most people could in several lifetimes. Amazingly, these 365 daily readings are as fresh and relevant as the day they were written. If you are looking for sermon illustrations or simply an interesting short daily devotion, then you can do no better than acquire this splendid volume. Few people have had such an influence on society as Booth and it is crystal clear from his writings exactly how and why he was so well-respected by young and old, rich and poor, sinner and saint.
by Martyn Beardsley (Amberley, £20) ISBN 9781-44561-9828
Ifyou would like to know what the Battle of Waterloo was really like then these first-hand accounts will tell you all about it. The deafening roar of the cannons, the cries of the injured and the dying, and the heroism shown by both sides are described by those who actually experienced them.
BACK IN TIME FOR DINER
by Mary Gwynn (Bantam, £20) ISBN 9780-59307-5241
“From spam to sushi: How we’ve changed the way we eat” this is an excellent account of how meals have changed in recent decades. The arrival of frozen foods such as fishfingers caused the demise of some tinned-food companies and other changes saw off names like Angel Delight and Vesta curries. Remember them?
Illustrated with adverts from 1955 onwards this is pure unadulterated nostalgia. Great!
by Nigel Sharp
DUNKIRK LITTLE SHIPS (Amberley, £14.99) ISBN 9781-44564-7500
InMay 1940 a huge fleet of around 700 small boats helped 200 military vessels with the evacuation from Dunkirk, rescuing an astonishing 338,226 troops over the space of nine days. Where the big ships had to anchor offshore, however, the little boats were able to go close in to the beaches where men were able to climb aboard. Many of the boats made several trips and more than 100 still survive.
This magnificent book is packed full of colour pictures of many of those remaining, some of which have made several commemorative trips back across the Channel, plus the Queen’s Jubilee procession down the River Thames. A fine publication.
(96pp, paperback) BRADSHAW AT THE SEASIDE Britain’s Victorian Resorts by John Christopher and Campbell Mccutcheon (Amberley, £14.99) ISBN 9781-44564-3823
Thiswell-illustrated book summarises Bradshaw’s account of every seaside resort in England and Wales, accompanied by excellent descriptions.
In The Story of the Thames by Andrew Sargent we learn all about the longest river wholly within England, and arguably the most important because it flows through our capital city. Upstream from London it is now used mainly by pleasure craft but that was not always the case and this readable account goes back to earliest times in order to satisfy our curiosity about what is still a working waterway. (Amberley, 222pp, paperback, £20)
If you are interested in walking the length of the same river then you will be keen to acquire Thames Path by Joel Newton. It contains 99 largescale walking maps as well as guides to 98 towns and villages along the way, including places to eat and stay. (Trailblazer, 272pp, paperback, £11.99)
Staying afloat, Stuart Fisher’s admirable Guide to Britain’s 50 Best Canals, is beautifully illustrated with colour photos and maps and will have you pining for a narrowboat to wend your way slowly around the country. (Bloomsbury, 334pp, paperback, £14.99)
An alternative to boating is hiking and if you are a hardy type then maybe the Lake District will appeal in which case the latest reprint of Wainwright’s Walking Guide to the Lake District Fells (Book 1: The Eastern Fells), might find a home on your bookshelf or in your anorak pocket. (Frances Lincoln, 280pp, paperback, £12.99)
Matthew Oates is a keen lepidopterist who has spent a lifetime wandering across peat bogs, chalk downs, hills, sea cliffs and anywhere you can find our most glorious insect. In Pursuit of Butterflies is a resume of his many detailed diaries. (Bloomsbury, 478pp, hardback, £18.99)
We owe a great debt of gratitude to all who serve in wartime and women are definitely included among their number. To mark the 70th Anniversary of VE Day, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi have put together a compilation of several servicewomen in a well-written book called The Girls Who Went to War. Subtitled “Heroism, Heartache and Happiness in the Wartime Women’s Forces”, the reader must therefore be prepared to hear about both triumph and tragedy. Dame Vera Lynn described it as “important and inspiring” and you can’t say fairer than that. (Harper Collins, 340pp, paperback, £18.99)
Frank Binder was a distinguished English academic at Bonn University from 1921 to 1933. A Journey in England, edited by Michael Rines, covers several English cathedral towns which formed the basis of some of Binder’s many erudite lectures on his home country before he was expelled by the Nazis. (Farthings, 222pp, paperback, £11.50)
Pocket books are always useful, especially outdoors and Matt Sewell has come up with a dinky little volume entitled Spotting and Jotting Guide — Our British Birds. Instead of the usual real-life paintings or photos, however, he has drawn almost 90 quirky coloured cartoons such as the one below of the Great Spotted Woodpecker. (Ebury, 222pp, hardback, £6.99)
Right: Some of these old World War Two forts in the Thames estuary were used as pirate radio stations and can still be visited by boat. (see Wild Ruins).
Left: A woodpecker feeding its young (see The Complete Naturalist).