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Archaeologia Cantiana - Vol. 126   2006 page 411 - Book Reviews - continued

The North Downs. By Peter Brandon. Phillimore 2005. xvi + 288 pp. 258 b/w illustrations and maps + 30 colour plates. Hardback £25. ISBN 1 860 773532.

In her review of Dr Brandon’s book on The Kent and Sussex Weald, Sue Petrie concluded that readers would want to put their walking boots on and go to discover its secrets for themselves. The same could equally well be said of this latest study of the South-East of England. This is a book that is difficult to put down not least because of Brandon’s fluent and engaging prose style which adapts so well to his delight in the different facets of the Surrey Hills and the North Downs in Kent. The geographical spread of the Downs provides, at its boundaries, a wealth of different communities and topographies, not least the ever-spreading tentacles of London which provide scope for examining the social and economic interaction between the capital and its southern neighbours, from the time when Southwark was part of Surrey to the picture of a Eurostar train speeding through the Kent countryside.
   The early chapters are products of Brandon’s strengths in historical geography as he introduces the reader to the landscape, the geology, the natural history and, gradually, the inhabitants and their impact on the Downs. By ‘tracing with a finger on a map’, or in his case with words, ‘the rib[s] of chalk hills’, he is able to pause and look in detail at selected sites to illustrate his evaluation of the nature of the area, such as the deeply secretive group of villages on the ‘high chalkland between Maidstone and Sittingbourne’, Stockbury, Hucking, Bredgar and Bredhurst, or the exposed, and so very familiar, coastal chalk cliffs at Dover.
   Although the whole book is arranged in chronological order, once he reaches the early modern period Brandon introduces some more thematic chapters, which allow the reader to dip into short essays on a fairly eclectic range of topics. The short chapter on the sensitive landscaping of Wotton by Sir John Evelyn (grandson of the diarist), after the timber had been decimated under financial pressure in the previous generation, clearly highlights Brandon’s concern for the careful management of what riches remain in the landscape of this corner of England. The chapter on the ‘Literary inspiration of the Downs and Hills’ is also a very personal excursion into a selection of prose and poetry inspired by their authors’ contact with the area. His comments on Chaucer and H.E. Bates, for example, say nothing new, but do serve to remind us that they can be revisited with pleasure. However, this reviewer believes she is not alone in being relatively ignorant of the love of the landscape of the Downs in the poetry of George Meredith who ‘was the Londoner’s poet and his country was London’s countryside’. On the other hand rather surprisingly, in his discussion of the influence of Kent, and in particular Godmersham Park, on the writings of Jane Austen, Brandon does not mention Mansfield

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