Book Review : York Cinemas by Mervyn Gould

York Cinemas by Mervyn Gould

Published by the Mercia Cinema Society, ISBN 9780946406586 in 2005

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This comprehensive 210 page book looks at the history of cinema in York, from the first film shown in the city in 1896 at the Theatre Royal through to today’s multiplex cinemas.

The book is written in chronological order and so is easy to follow the development of cinema in the city, especially the heyday of film in the 1920s and 1930s. There are plans of cinemas when they were built, and there are some interesting passages quoted from the notes of Roger Bullivant, a designer for the York Odeon. These sections refer to the efficiency of the companies which constructed the cinemas in record time, and just how quickly the buildings were put up.

The cinema went into decline in the 1980s, and many of the cinemas started to close or were redeveloped into bingo halls or retail units. The book covers this period and also how by the later part of the twentieth century cinema started to make a recovery again.

Book Review : Lost Houses of York and the North Riding by Edward Waterson and Peter Meadows

Lost Houses of York and the North Riding by Edward Waterson and Peter Meadows
 
Published by Jill Raines, ISBN 095164940X in 1990 

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This book is a fascinating look at the old country and town houses which used to be common place in York. The book is split into the bulk of the houses around the county, and then towards the end there is also a description of the lost houses of York.

In a foreword to the book, written by the late Giles Worsley who was then Architectural Editor of Country Life, he notes that given how many houses have just a fleeting single reference to be remembered by, how many have been entirely lost with no trace of their existence.

The book is 72 pages long and is comprehensive, although some of the stories of the houses which have been demolished and lost are sad to see. Houses such as Rounton Grange in East Rounton, a large nineteenth century house, which was offered to the National Trust in the 1950s, but rejected as the owners couldn’t provide an endowment to help defray the costs. A similar fate came to Halnaby Hall, which also couldn’t be sold in the 1950s, but much of this property dated from the eighteenth century. Pictures in the book show a grand dining room all laid out, and then underneath the same room half-way through its demolition.

Most of the houses were lost because of the high cost of death duties, which couldn’t be afforded, especially if two generations of a family died close together, such as at Rounton Grange. Not all were lost in the 1950s and earlier, the demolition continued into recent decades, with Hutton Bonville Hall and Park House being demolished in the 1970s and Tollesby Hall in the 1980s.

This interesting book is worth a read, especially given the number of properties which no longer survive in the city of York, and there are many photographs throughout the book. The book is no longer in print, although copies are currently available for a few pounds on Amazon.

Not a Guide to York by Trish Colton

Not a Guide to York by Trish Colton

Published in 2012 by The History Press. ISBN 9780752480589.

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This small book by Trish Colton notes on the back cover that “this isn’t a guidebook”, and is instead more of a compilation of facts about the city. The book isn’t structured into sections any particular way, but this does have the advantage of allowing readers to dip into the different pages on ghosts, festivals, Archbishops of York, Stonegate and tens more other subjects. In a way that standard guide books might not achieve, the book also gives a broad indication of subjects relating to York, which might well pique the interest of a reader to a new aspect of the city’s history.

One interesting paragraph is in the section on the “Battle of Fulford”, and reads, “had our forces stayed within the city walls, the English army’s losses would have been substantially fewer – the city walls providing good protection. Harold would then have had a much larger army to fight the Battle of Hastings and, who knows, William might have gone back to Normandy licking wounds instead of being known to history as the Conqueror”. Like on so many other occasions, there are many different paths throughout history which so nearly could have ended up with very different results, and as one of the country’s most important cities over the centuries, York and the surrounding area has had an important role to play.

The Noble City of York edited by Alberic Stacpoole

The Noble City of York edited by Alberic Stacpoole

Published in 1972 by Cerialis Press. Out of print.

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A substantial volume of over 1,000 pages which covers all stages of York’s history. The information on each subject is deep, but still accessible, and various different authors write on their specialisms. There is coverage of the Monastic and Religious Orders in York from the editor, as well as interesting pieces on the York Religious Plays by Canon JS Purvis, the Castle Museum by the curator R Patterson and the University by the Vice-Chancellor Lord James.

Unfortunately the book is expensive to acquire now, as it was issued in a limited edition, with each copy being numbered. The book is well illustrated throughout and of both sufficient detail to be of academic interest as well as understandable enough for the general reader to enjoy.

A History of the City of York by Charles Brunton Knight

A History of the City of York by Charles Brunton Knight

Published in 1944 by the Herald Press. Out of print.

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This is a very long 800 page book which presents by date order a history of the city. It covers the city until the beginning of the twentieth century, but the most interesting sections are possible the very comprehensive coverage of the early and late medieval periods, a period often over-looked by other books.

The style of the book means that each entry is given a date, and these are then batched together in similar subjects, so that the reader can read through the book in a chronological order, but not in an entirely disjointed way. The book also has some pull-out maps which are an interesting look at how the city has developed.

Unfortunately this book is quite hard to find now, and often costs upwards of fifty pounds. However, as an introduction to the city this is a very useful resource, despite it being written over sixty years ago. Highly recommended.

The History of York From Earliest Times to the Year 2000 edited by Patrick Nuttgens

The History of York From Earliest Times to the Year 2000 edited by Patrick Nuttgens

Published in 2001 by The Blackthorn Press. ISBN 0953507289. Out of print.

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This 400 page hardback book is split into nine sections, all by different authors and each covering a different time period. The sections are:

Roman York by Patrick Ottaway

Anglo-Saxon and Viking-Age York by Richard Hall

Early Medieval York by Chris Daniell

Later Medieval York by Barrie Dobson

Tudor York by Claire Cross

Seventeenth Century York by WJ Sheils

Eighteenth Century York by Alison Sinclair

Nineteenth Century York by Edward Royle

Twentieth Century by Patrick and Bridget Nuttgens

The book is useful given that experts in each period have contributed to it, and the book is a useful reference book across such a long time period, although the styles of each writer do vary somewhat, so inevitably it doesn’t have the same consistency as if it had been written by the same author.

On a slight negative, given that the book is quite professional in its intent, there are a number of spelling mistakes, and a bizarre line about how the Baedecker (sic) raids were “imposed on German towns of historic or tourist importance”, when the raids were actually on British cities. Indeed, the final chapter is possibly the most disappointing, a rather jumpy chapter which has a surprisingly small coverage of the Second World War.

Overall however this is an interesting book, which provides a solid introduction to the history of the York from over the last two centuries.

York : Horrible Histories : Gruesome Guides by Terry Deary

York : Horrible Histories : Gruesome Guides by Terry Deary

Published in 2010 by Scholastic. ISBN 9781407110790. Price £5.99.

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This book is the York edition of the Gruesome Guides series by Terry Deary. Designed for children the book captures some of the more frightening and gruesome periods of York’s history, such as the Vikings, Brigantes, the Normans as well as individuals such as Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes. The book is written in a light-hearted way which will appeal to many children, but the historical basis is accurate and so the book is an educational tool rather than just entertainment.

The book is illustrated and is 96 pages long. The 2005 edition is the slightly older version, with the word York in blue on the front cover, the 2010 edition has a red cover with the word York in white. The contents are however otherwise nearly identical.

Steam Around York and the East Riding by Mike Hitches

Steam Around York and the East Riding by Mike Hitches

Published in 2012 by Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781848684447. Price £16.99

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This 160 paperback is packed with information about steam trains in the York and Yorkshire East Riding area, and covers the subject in fine detail. The book is split into various different lines starting with (i) York and then others, such as (ii) The Hull and Selby Railway, (iii) Hull, (iv) the Hull to Bridlington line, (v) the Hull to Doncaster line, (vi) Other Branch Lines (such as Driffield and Market Weighton), (vii) The Withernsea Branch Line, (viii) The Hornsea Branch Line and then a brief look at some of the locomotives at the National Railway Museum.

There are a large number of photos of the various locomotives and a helpful list of the York Train Station shed codes. Sadly many of the lines featured in the book have long disappeared, some of which were doomed long before the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s because of their low usage levels.

The book is recommended both for reference and for light reading, and is especially interesting given the range of photographs in the book. Photos of York railway station are reasonably common in books, but this book features a much wider range, including some more rarely seen stations, some of which have now gone. The main strength of this title however really is the description of the locomotives themselves and the work they did in both transporting passengers to the seaside as well as moving some much freight around.

Overall, this is a recommended title, which does so much to help relive the old steam railways.

Ghosts of York by Rob Kirkup

Ghosts of York by Rob Kirkup

Published in 2012 by Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781848682368. Price £12.99

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This book is the story of how in 2011 the author and some of his brave friends toured a number of locations in York in search of ghosts and also looking for evidence that they exist. They visited an interesting variety of locations around the city, some were obvious candidates such as York Dungeon and the Treasurer’s House, others are more surprising, such as the National Railway Museum and the Watch Tower at Siward’s Howe.

It would give too much away to reveal what they found, but they certainly had lots of experiences which must have been both intriguing as well as terrifying. They include a bridge at the National Railway Museum, which they found afterwards had a sad past, as well as experiences with a lightning effect in a cellar, fingers dug into backs and air conditioning units switching on without explanation.

The book is accessible and written in an engaging way, relating also in passing to the various visits to JD Wetherspoon outlets, as well as other pubs in the city, and how much luggage was packed by various participants as well as their purchases of “ghost hunting sweets”. This helps to create a little more of a personal nature about the book, sometimes the back story is just as interesting to help build up a picture of the whole event.

The authors concluded that they saw and felt enough evidence for ghosts, and they also name many others who have had similar experiences in the various locations they visited. The sceptics may not be converted, but they will at least take from this book an interesting tale of the city’s history, a printed version of a ghost walk. But for those who believe in ghosts, or who don’t disbelieve in them, this is an engaging story of how some very brave people explored some very dark parts of the York.

Overall, a recommended read and the section on the visit to York Guildhall with its various rooms and hidden tunnel leading to the River Ouse added a new dimension to the building for me.

York Industries Through Time by Paul Chrystal and Simon Crossley

York Industries Through Time by Paul Chrystal and Simon Crossley

Published in 2012 by Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781445602141. Price £14.99

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This book looks at the role of business, tourism and industry throughout the history of the city, and is split in seven sections. These sections cover (i) The Guilds, (ii) Streets, Rivers and Markets, (iii) Industry, (iv) Retail and Shops, (v) Cafes and Hotels, (vi) Tourism and (vii) Other Businesses, such as insurance. The book is comprised of photographs, with accompanying text.

There are some fascinating photos in the book, such as the old railway photos, showing the signalling control room in 1951 and the old varnishing shop at Holgate. The book though covers a wide time period, and there is a photograph from 1989 of the old Evening Press Offices in Coney Street, notable for a lack of technology and some very over-burdened shelves!

Although the book looks at some of the large businesses which have been an integral part of York’s history such as Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Craven’s, there are also photographs of some smaller businesses which traded for many decades in the city. Examples include Barnitts home and garden store, which is still trading on Colliergate after over 100 years, and others such as Bowman Removals on Monkgate, which was established in the 1840s and lasted until the 1970s.

Overall, this is an interesting book with many photos to browse through, representing a light read but which reminds the reader of some elements of the history of the city, and some new sites to look for.