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Book Review: Unmitigated England

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Peter Ashley's book is a delightfully quirky look at an almost lost England. Quirky because this is a very personal and different view from most books about the subject. He has cleverly combined traditional things: a village and its church, the countryside, agriculture, the seaside with commercial things: the red phone box, local shops, railways, Southdown coaches and plenty of products like Golden Syrup, Coleman's Mustard, Oxo, Hovis, Craven A or Shredded Wheat.

The ten chapters explore all this with a words and lots of images. For example chapter seven: The Open Road has a page of six milestone photos, a lovely spread with twelve signposts from past decades, car company logos, photos of village garages, road maps from the thirties and more. Chapter nine: Shopkeepers' Shops has a rich selection of grocers, butchers, Post Offices, chemists and hardware shops all described and pictured.

The traditional is here, too. Chapter ten: Coloured Counties is a wrap-up of cottages, windmills, small villages nestling in woodland, rural lanes winding through the countryside and on pages 208 and 9 twelve photos of what could rightly be called traditional views of the landscape.

Chapter four: Guidebook England is an interesting look at the various books from the thirties onwards including the famous Batsford English Life series with their amazing color covers. Gas companies were strong promoters of books covering each county with Shell re-issuing and updating their well-known series.

I think this is a lovely book about England from the recent past (it's beautifully designed and printed also) and the bibliography mentions another title that covers the Nation with a fond look backwards: The English difference by Paul Jennings and John Gorham. Well out of print now but copies are still available. Well worth searching out also are the Robert Opie scrapbooks to each of the past decades starting with the Victorian Scrapbook (The Robert Opie Collection).

Unmitigated England is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN)

Unmitigated England - 01
Typical spread.

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One of twelve spreads throughout the book with photos devoted to one subject.

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The Royal Mail pillar box and the GPO telephone box.

Unmitigated England - 04
Signposts to the likes of Norney, Hurtmore and Shackleford (all just south of Guildford if you're curious).

Unmitigated England - 05
From the chapter about Guidebooks.

Unmitigated England - 06
Typical spread.

Unmitigated England - 07
From the Guidebooks chapter showing the stunning covers for Batsford's English Life series.

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