Everyman’s Castle by Philippa Lewis

Everyman’s Castle by Philippa Lewis was first published in 2014, and it’s subtitled The Story of our cottages, country houses, terraces, flats, semis and bungalows.

This is such an interesting and informative read, but it references quite a lot of other books, mainly novels which of course I’ve taken a note of – it has bumped up my book list considerably! It also has plenty of lovely illustrations, and obviously there’s quite a lot of social history involved too.

I had always wondered why a great-uncle of Jack’s had insisted that his house was NOT a bungalow. They were the kind of house popular in colonial India amongst the Anglo Indians or ‘ex-pats’. But the early UK versions were often little more than wooden shacks, often built by soldiers after the end of WW1 when decent housing was difficult to find. Then after WW2 the prefabricated bungalows erected to try to alleviate the housing shortage tended to be despised, although they were loved by the people who actually lived in them.

I was surprised to discover that people in England were really reluctant to live in flats, so they were difficult to sell or let when builders first offered them. Eventually service flats became popular among the wealthy in London, it must have seemed like living in an hotel as meals could be sent up from the kitchen or you could go down to the restaurant, but there would have been more privacy than in an hotel. But flats have always been very popular in Scotland’s cities, they tend to be roomier than the narrow terraced housing on offer in England, but even those tiny houses ended up being split up into bed sitting rooms with kitchens being shared as the housing difficulties got worse.

It’s not all about grim housing problems though, having said that the ‘nobs’ who lived in country estates had problems of their own as new death duties took effect, and some were just abandoned and demolished but others such as Longleat took on the challenge and made a successful business out of the estate. It’s the suburban villas and semis section that I enjoyed most, and it was interesting to read that people in privately owned homes were building walls to separate themselves from newly built social (council) housing nearby.

This book has all sorts of interesting bits and pieces in it about old places such as Edinburgh and Bath as well as information about the ‘garden cities’ that became popular.

So this was a really good read, and I love the cover too. I really like those 1930s art deco homes – Crittall curved windows and all.

Glitter of Mica by Jessie Kesson

Glitter of Mica cover

Glitter of Mica by the Scottish author Jessie Kesson was first published in 1963. Previously I’ve read Another Time Another Place and The White Bird Passes and I enjoyed those ones but I didn’t like this one nearly as much.

The setting is rural Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland, the parish of Caldwell and the book begins in the 1930s. Hugh Riddell is a farm worker who is never kept on after his year of contracted work is up, which means that every year he has to find a new job in the area at a different farm. His wife is sick fed up with the constant moving, she can’t even plant a garden as she would be working for whoever would take over the tied house that goes with the farm work. They had a son, also Hugh and it’s his family that this book is mainly involved with.

The marriage of Hugh and his wife Isa isn’t any more successful than that of his parents, Hugh despises Isa and she seems afraid of him, they did manage to produce a daughter though, Helen does well at school and goes to university, but her mother is disappointed that she is only doing a diploma in social sciences and won’t come back with the MA that past ‘scholars’ have attained.

Helen gets work as a youth worker and unknown to her father starts a relationship with Charlie Anson, someone else that Hugh despises. As you can imagine it all ends in tears.

There are some flashes of humour in this book such as ….for she was a tight woman and had she been a ghost she would have grudged giving you a fright.

The characters in this book remind me, if I ever needed to be reminded of why I am ‘pining for the west’ as they are almost all miserable and mean spirited and are their own worst enemies. Love doesn’t seem to enter into anyone’s life, people get married because they have to marry someone and quickly go right off them it seems. There’s only one character who seems to have any human warmth – and she’s the talk of the place – being a wee bit too friendly with some of the local men. But the women have to admit that she always hangs out a ‘bonnie white washing.’ High praise indeed among the women.

This is supposedly Jessie Kesson’s best book but I just found it too depressing, I have no doubts that it is a very true portrait of the area and the times. Some readers wallow in misery, but it’s not for me

You can read what Jack thought of the book here.

The Pursuit of Paradise by Jane Brown

The Pursuit of Paradise cover

I think it must be a few years since I bought The Pursuit of Paradise – A Social History of Gardens and Gardening by Jane Brown. I wasn’t really too sure what to expect of it. Sometimes gardening books are a bit like ‘teaching granny to suck eggs’, not that I think I know everything about the subject, but as I’ve been gardening since I was a wee girl, over fifty years!! – it’s inevitable that you pick up a lot of information one way and another.

But this book was informative, it has eleven chapters:
1. The Purest of Human Pleasure
2. The Secret Garden
3. The Military Garden
4. Emancipated Gardeners
5. The Rise of the Small Garden
6. Acquiring Eden
7. Science Lends a Hand
8. It’s Clever, but is it Art?
9. Labour of Love
10. The Formative Garden
11. Future Gardens

I found The Military Garden most interesting as it hadn’t dawned on me that so many gardening terms come from the arts of warfare – cordon, earthing-up, trench, bastion, palisade, covered way and more. It seems that when generals were at a loose end after wars were won, they went home and started to plan gardens where they could keep everything under control, just as they had commanded their men. All that topiary stood in for regiments of men!

This one is definitely worth reading if you enjoy social history and gardening.