Readers looking for something local and original as gifts should check out the website of Bath-based publisher Akeman Press. Run by writers and historians Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott, the company has two new books out in time for Christmas, as well as a fine backlist of books of local interest.
The first new book, by Andrew Swift, is called Walks from Bristol’s Severn Beach Line. If you want to explore our neighbouring city and its surrounding countryside, this is the way to do it.
No need to worry about parking – just jump on a train to Temple Meads and walk over to find the Severn Beach Line train (usually on Platform 1). Then, with book in hand, you are ready to undertake a series of walks.
They range from shorter city walks, taking in such varied delights as Clifton and Stokes Croft, the industrial past of Lawrence Hill and the mysterious, monumental tombs of Arnos’ Vale cemetery, as well as lost spas and gardens.
Those who prefer the countryside have a choice of much longer walks – one even ventures into Wales as you cross the Severn Bridge on foot – an experience only to be undertaken in fine weather, as Andrew Swift tells us.
There are visits to nature reserves and some of Bristol’s secret places and, as you might expect from a writer who also blogs about beer, plenty of pubs to visit. One of these is the Seven Stars near Temple Meads, which Andrew Swift calls ‘The pub which changed the world’. A double page spread in the book tells us why. By using the train, you can even enjoy a drink or two without worrying about whether you should be driving.
There is also a chapter on the story of the Severn Beach Line itself – once rated by Thomas Cook as one of Britain’s top scenic rail routes, it became known as the Cinderella Line as the operator ran fewer and fewer trains. It looked set to be replaced by buses but a vigorous local campaign saved it, and it is now used by more people than ever before. If you have never used this line, and/or want to discover some of the quirkier aspects of Bristol’s history, this is the book for you.
Those familiar with Andrew Swift’s style will know he wears his academic qualifications lightly – the book is meticulously researched but will appeal to all readers. The book, which is paperback and in full colour, costs £15.
Another author from Bath, Colin Fisher, also combines academic rigour with lightness of touch, as shown by the second book published by Akeman Press this month. With the intriguing title Pieroni’s Fountain, it tells how Italian immigrant Stefano Pieroni struggled to find respectability in Victorian Bath. He managed to participate in some public-spirited developments, including designing the fountain which now stands on Bog Island (from which the book gets its title).
Another of his works is the large vase which stands in the garden below Royal Crescent and every summer forms one of Bath’s most spectacular floral displays. He also restored the coat of arms on Bellott’s Hospital – now part of the new Gainsborough Hotel.
The book not only relates Pieroni’s history, it gives a glimpse into the everyday workings of the city in the mid-Victorian period – the burning issues of the day that featured in the local paper, the heated political campaigns, and above all the efforts of ordinary people to establish themselves. Sadly, it also shows how hard life could be without the Welfare State to protect them as they aged and could no longer work.
The book includes the curious story of Speke’s missing bust and an interesting discussion of how radium was used to promote Bath’s healing waters – and why it abruptly stopped.
Illustrated in full colour, this paperback is entertainingly written but well annotated for the serious historian, and retails at £10. Both books are available from all good bookshops as well as the Akeman Press Website http://www.akemanpress.com, where you will also find a list of their other publications.