Clark, Gillian, Down by the River: The Thames and Kennet in Reading (Reading, 2009) £16.00 ISBN 9781901677584
It is an unfortunate matter of fact that the history of the upper reaches of the River Thames (arguably England‟s most famous and most important waterway), is one which has been largely neglected by historians in recent years. Gillian Clark has made an important contribution towards redressing this sad state of affairs in her well researched and wide ranging study of the long history of the riverside communities around the Berkshire town of Reading in Down by the River, The Thames and Kennet in Reading. Chapters 1 – 4 cover the period 1100 – 1820 and describe the more important people and events which shaped their lives. However, the major portion of Down by the River is devoted to an examination of the patterns of change throughout the nineteenth century following the coming of the railway in 1840, an event which profoundly altered not only the social and urban landscape of Reading, but also the nature of trade on the Kennet and the Thames. These changes and the personalities they involved are described in vivid detail founded on a broad range of empirical sources. The concluding chapters examine the gradual decline, from 1900 to 1960, of the economic significance the two waterways had on the livelihoods of the riverside communities. My enjoyment of Down by the River was marred by the absence of a bibliography, but nevertheless Gillian Clark is to be congratulated for writing such an interesting and informative account of life on the Thames and Kennet. It is a „must read‟ for anyone with an interest in either the Thames or the Kennet.
by Rosemary Stewart Beardsley