“Taking the next turning to the left, I proceeded along a wide handsome street, leading, as I was told, to Bath …but I could not help remarking a custom, which, however odd it may appear to strangers, is almost universally adopted here: I mean, that of having a pretty little dunghill before each house, composed of road dirt, ashes, straw, dung, turnip parings, cabbage leaves, &c. &c. but these last are not so plentiful as might be wished, owing to some all-devouring hogs, who are continually plundering these precious compounds of the greater part of their beauty. It is true that by express orders of the Paving Committee, hogs are forbid taking an airing in the streets, but this, like many other salutary measures, is wholly neglected, and the consequence is, the streets are not only much cleaner than they ought to be, in the opinion of the people, if we may judge from the pains they take to make them otherwise; but every housekeeper is thereby deprived of the pleasure of imbibing the effluvia of rotten vegetables.”
The Stranger is a lively, witty eye-witness account of Georgian Reading by John Man, a retired schoolmaster and the town’s second historian. Man had strong views on everything from politics, religion and the theatre to umbrellas, beer and beggars, and when the book first appeared (anonymously) in 1810 it ruffled not a few local feathers. In an early example of a town trail he proves himself a militant pedestrian, complaining constantly about all manner of obstructions on the footways.
Adam Sowan’s new annotated edition of this long-neglected text includes an introduction outlining the life of John Man, schoolteacher, bargemaster, bibliophile and historian and also contrast two very different Readings separated by 200 years: a prosperous, well-placed market town on the verge of massive expansion and industrialization, and a post-industrial dormitory, shopping mecca and capital of Silicon Valley, UK.
Andy Clarke’s characterful black and white illustrations vividly portray the characters and the setting; design by Rob Banham.
- A Stranger in Reading
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