The Making of our Urban Landscape by Geoffrey Tyack – Review
By Sandra Callard
This new book is a fascinating and scholarly read that brings to life things that we take for granted regarding towns, and which we may not even be aware of. The Making of Our Urban Landscape by Geoffrey Tyack focuses on why communities, towns and cities develop as they do in vastly differing ways throughout history.
We are all aware that our land was taken over by people of many differing cultures from very early years, and towns, albeit very different from the towns of today, arrived eventually with the Roman occupation around the first century. Apparently the population doubled between the years of Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror, so from 1066 onwards towns rapidly prospered.
The author gives information methodically and fully as we discover that towns became self governing by the twelfth century. The wealthy built castles to show their power, and apparently the White Tower of London was “unparalleled” north of the Alps”. Durham had a cathedral which held the important relics of the famous Saint Cuthbert, with a Norman castle standing directly opposite.
But towns as we know them were slow to materialise, but the author shows an incredibly detailed account of the ordinary people, as well as the Kings, and life in general as the towns began to grow. They were initially trading areas serving the surrounding countryside, but the building of roads made it possible for trade from afar to reach them.
The knowledge of the author is vast as he follows the advancement of the towns’ development. He also highlights dozens of individual places and tells how their towns developed. If your own town is mentioned make sure you read it through as I have no doubt you will find it absorbing. I particularly enjoyed the information about my home town of Leeds, despite the author’s information that the city in 1819 “had made encouraging social changes in the character of the people of Leeds as their rudeness, which is peculiar to them, had lessened”. A wonderful compliment indeed!
Each description of a town has an appropriate plan of the streets with it, but I found these were quite difficult to follow for the willing but inexperienced reader of this subject, so I unfortunately had to abandon some of them. I much preferred the written word, which is astute and informative and did indeed bring forth an exciting image of the old and new town.
The author’s joy in his subject invades the pages as he explains each new adaptation of the skills of building with infinite care and a discernible light hand. The book is not an easy read to the uninitiated but it is worth reading as it is packed with information that throws up some surprising and interesting information, which gives much satisfaction on completion. If it can do that to the willing but inexperienced reader it should be a complete walkover for the inaugurated.
‘The Making of our Urban Landscape’ by Geoffrey Tyack is published by Oxford University Press, £25 hardback