What da cover says: Those who know the downs and chalk streams of Hampshire are quietly fortunate but rarely boastful. So it is fascinating to rediscover this home county, on the eastern edge of Wessex, as a place of extraordinary richness. Those rounded chalk hills have protected not only the ancient capital of Anglo-Saxon England but also the two-thousand-year-old arsenal-harbour of the Royal Navy. It was in Hampshire that the novel reached its fullest expression through the native genius of Jane Austen, where fly-fishing and cricket were first organized and whence D-day was launched. But not the least of its claims is that it is also the heartland of nature writing, where Gilbert White first opened up a whole universe of observation to the world, by confining himself to the infinite details of his Hampshire parish of Selborne. It is a tradition which was furthered in the county by W H Hudson, observing nature in the wooded heathlands of the New Forest and reached its apogee with the night walks of the poet Edward Thomas before his early death in the trenches. If Hampshire is revealed to be a crystalisation of all quiet virtues of England, we also get to delight in the affectionate mocking attention of Beryl Bainbridge, P G Wodehouse and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
What I says:
This was an interesting book, I think you have to live in Hampshire or know the area to really appreciate this book. Alistair Langlands has done an amazing job looking through literature of the last 400 years finding any references to locations in Hampshire. The book starts of with Hampshire which included some of the oldest writing on the county, I found it very tough going, the style was a brief line about the following text and then the text itself, and it just repeated itself throughout the chapter. As the book moved on and there are chapters on Southampton, Portsmouth, North Hampshire and chalk streams I started to warm to the writing, as more and more places I knew got mentioned the more enjoyment I got from the book. A couple of issues I had though, some large chunks of novels were used which briefly mentions a place, I found I ended up skipping a couple as they bought nothing of use to the book, far more enjoyable to read was the travel and nature writers and the letters that had been written by well know authors, most interesting was Jane Austen’s letters, pretty much talking about dancing with boys. Second issue was the Isle of Wight seems to have been left out, the island is a big part of the county and deserved more than it’s brief mention, I would have thought there would have been something written about it.
Highlights in the book for me were John Arlott, a cricket commentator, was from Basingstoke and has an interesting book on his life in Basingstoke. One of the first proper car journeys around the country in 1899, another book to look for, had me laughing when they were impressed it took 1hr 25min to do 17 miles. The cover, staring Moses Mills, possibly the happiest chap to ever live in Hampshire. And finally a huge section on my home town, Basingstoke, lived here all my life and the following excerpt catches the town perfectly…
“Basingstoke is one of the most derided towns in England. Its reputation is as an over-developed eyesore of numbing dullness. Its very name lends itself to mockery. Basingrad, Basingjoke, Bazingsmoke, Boringstoke and even more ironic Amazingstoke are variants thought up and used by its own residents, not always with affection.
Though it is best known for its bewildering succession of pointless roundabouts, the curse of the town is its ridiculous, often hostile ‘Modernist’ architecture, much of it illustrated and described on Joe Tozer’s witty website (It’s Basingstoke not Boringstoke). The most notorious feature is the so-called ‘Great Wall of Basingstoke, a huge retaining wall, built in the 1960s, for ‘the great mass of concrete poured over the razed remains of the old market town’. Also of note are the ‘Hanging Gardens of Basingstoke’, a misfired attempt at horticulture on the top of a 1970s steel-and-glass block, and the ‘Costa del Basingstoke, a gaily-coloured apartment complex in the style of a ‘Costa’ resort (‘however as Basingstoke has no beach it has to make do with a view over the town’s enormous car park’). The town’s most risible attraction is surely the prominent sculpture that locals have dubbed the ‘Wote Street Willy. Said to be an image of a mother and chid, it is actually ‘the largest phallus on public display in Britain’. One thinks also of the ‘Toy Town’ tower that looms over Festival Place, and wonders if it, too, is a phallic reference. A town that treats itself as a joke can hardly expect to be taken seriously by outsiders.”
Basingstoke and its contribution to World Culture (2011)
Here is a photo of the “Wote Street Willy” so you can decide for yourself what it really looks like.
All in all this is a grand collection of literature that has been well researched, a must read for those in Hampshire.
Many thanks to Eland Books for the copy of this book which you can purchase HERE>