The Birth of Modern Britain, By Francis Pryor


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The Independent Culture

This grandly titled volume is actually an archaeological ramble over the past five centuries. Revelations range from the toilet manufacturer Thomas Crapper ("his name is... entirely coincidental") to how clay pipes can date a site within five years.

Pryor specialises in the personal touch. This can be informative – noting the separation of a brewhouse and washhouse, he states, "Having spent two years working in a brewery, I know only too well that the malty smell... can be quite overpowering" – though more often intrusive.

At one point, his use of the first person assumes a God-like quality: "If I had been offered the entire coastline of Britain to build a port, I doubt whether I would ever have selected Merseyside".