Matthew Green is a historian with a supplementary gig running “immersive tours” of ye olde London, also the subject of his first, previous book. His new one, Shadowlands, subtitled A Journey Through Lost Britain, profiles settlements of greatly varying sizes that no longer exist. The modern-day interest factor might lie in what they once were, what they now are, or the reason they ceased to be.
Beginning chronologically with Skara Brae, an unusually well-preserved Neolithic-era community on a Scottish island, and concluding with Capel Celyn, the north Wales village that drowned in the 1960s to provide water to Liverpool, Green writes evocatively but is careful to emphasise that where hard facts have been lost to the ages, most of us are indulging in speculation. The other Welsh chapter of Shadowlands addresses Trellech, a Monmouthshire village claimed by some to be a medieval city: the dispute over this played out in the Daily Mail among more credible outlets, seems exhausting and vaguely tawdry.
Where possible, Green visits what now exists in these places and relays his experiences. The effect is sometimes akin to an on-location rolling news broadcast which could have as usefully been filmed in a studio. However, he is granted rare access to Norfolk’s Stanford Training Area, ran by the UK military since WWII and latterly home to a replica Afghan village – the surreal existence of which is outlined in suitably lurid detail.
Shadowlands, Matthew Green (Faber)
Price: £20. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
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