of Recently Published Books
Subterranean Norwich: The grain of the city. By Matthew Williams, published by Lasse Press 2017.
Review by Adrian Read, August 2017
This is a most unusual and stimulating book, a whole new synthesis of the uneasy symbiosis
between urban growth and its geological constraints. Matthew Williams is well qualified for
the task: he has first-hand experience working with the various physical layers involved and
has successfully intergrated this three-dimensional reconstruction with the fourth dimension,
time. The present urban landscape is clearly explained and presented, and not only with the
experience of many years with site investigations. Matthew is also an ardent cyclist, familiar
with the terrain of Norwich as only a cyclist can be!
All settlements, excepting a few that were planned towns from the outset, began their
existence in locations that were dictated chiefly by the geology and landscape. At the time,
these factors would have been quite obvious: flat dry ground for some buildings, springs or a
stream for water supply, cultivatable land nearby, and either an all-year land route for
transport or a navigable waterway. A thousand years later, if the settlement has thrived and
grown, not only are its origins obscure, so are many of the geology-related problems that were
encountered along the way. In the case of Norwich, extensive exploitation of the geology
within and surrounding the growing city has also created some of the townscape we simply
take for granted, and on a surprisingly large scale.
The geological setting is described in language uncluttered with jargon and is extremely well
illustrated. Indeed, one of the great attractions of the book is the abundance of relevant
illustrations, 177 of them, leading us through the streets and down through the layers. The
figures are well chosen; this is not a book written around a collection of pretty pictures. They
essentially fall into three categories: historical photographs and texts, modern photographs
showing recent and present urban features, and an array of excellent schematics that clearly
explain both the text and Matthew’s approach and analysis of the subject.
The book is divided into sections with some intriguing headings. Geological Norwich is
followed by Norwich resculpted, which includes Raised ground and Lowered ground, as well
as much about drainage under Lost watercourses and Flooding in Norwich. Then there is an
enlightening section, Riddled with tunnels?, followed by a geotechnical engineer’s more
pragmatic approach in When things sink. The final section draws everything together in
Geology drives everything. At this point I quote Brian Ayers in his Foreword that ‘by the time
we reach this point, the statement has long ceased to sound like the sort of hyperbole that one
expects from a man passionate about his discipline. Instead, it has become a self-evident
statement, so compelling is the evidence presented.’
This is not an expensive book, just a very valuable one. Buy a copy, and safely recommend it
to your friends! It is published by the Lasse Press, Norwich, and is in local bookshops.
The Geological History of the British Isles, Arlene Hunter & Glynda Easterbrook,
That this book is published by the Open University is a recommendation in itself; students intensely criticise and search for errors in the textbooks that they are asked to read, and demand clarity. Consequently a textbook for the summer school basic geology course, SXR260, authored by one of the course tutors and revised in time for sale to the public, is bound to be good. This is certainly true of this book. It has been improved with even better diagrams since I took the course and now includes at least some material relevant to East Anglia! However, for local experts, its wide coverage of one of the most diverse geological areas of the world is bound to make it a bit superficial in places. But at the same time it’s comprehensive coverage makes it an excellent primer for anyone wishing to learn the essentials of British Geology. It stays clear of controversy and all its explanations are tried and tested. Diagrams and coloured photographs are plentiful and clear, and there are frequent references to palaeogeography and climate with some good maps. Incidentally many of the photographs are taken on OU field trips in the north of England; all persons wearing yellow safety helmets are students!
Being originally intended for students the readers are invited to test themselves at strategic points in the text. But if you are awake and consciously trying to learn you should find the questions fairly easy.
But it is not intended for raw beginners, being originally aimed at readers in their first year of a degree course. So if you feel lacking in sufficient background knowledge I recommend “Geoscience-Understanding Geological Proceses” by Dee Edwards and Chris King; the ready availability of a dictionary such are “Dictionary of Earth Science” by would also be helpful.
I can recommend this book unreservedly; £18.95 from Amazon.com
Jones, A P., Tucker, M E., & Hart, J K (eds) 1999. The Description and Analysis of Quaternary Stratigraphic Field Sections. Technical Guide No 7, Quaternary Research Association. London. ISBN 0-907780-47-4 [£10.80]
Evans, D J A and Benn, D I (eds) 2004. A Practical Guide to the Study of Glacial Sediments. Arnold. London. ISBN 0-340-75959-3 [£19.99]
Both these books offer guidelines and recommendations to those wishing to undertake research on Quaternary sediments. How much use are they likely to be to amateurs?
The first three chapters in Jones, Tucker & Hart and the first seven chapters of Evans & Benn, deal fairly briefly with topics such as facies, stratigraphy, and the characteristics of sediments – which seems curious, given the ready availability of texts devoted solely to these topics. One might have expected their target audience – students and researchers – to be familiar with this sort of thing already.
Basic field techniques such as graphic logging are covered adequately, Evans & Benn devoting more time to them basics than Jones et al – who clearly assume a higher level of pre-existing knowledge; accordingly some of their text consists of little more than numbered checklists of what to do. Evans & Benn offer better value for the complete beginner, but even they do not always cover topics adequately. I defy anyone to determine the dip of a clast a-axis using their photograph (Fig. 5.5), which shows a compass perched on top of a clast, rather than being clearly aligned parallel to any planar surface. (The Geological Society of London handbook series, including Basic Geological Mapping, by Barnes (1981), and The Field Description of Sedimentary Rocks, by Tucker (1982), even though not aimed specifically at Quaternary sediments, cover many of these basic techniques equally well.)
Evans & Benn cover a number of advanced topics that are not mentioned in Jones Tucker & Hart, such as geochemical techniques, environmental magnetism and engineering properties. These chapters certainly help to raise awareness of the potential usefulness of the techniques, but would not be of much practical use in actually trying to use the instruments involved. Extensive further reading of the references provided would be required; but, in any case, access to such specialised equipment is unlikely to be available to amateurs. Rather than having spent so long covering basic sedimentology and stratigraphy, it might have been more useful to explain some advanced topics, such as the use of stereo nets and eigen values, in more detail.
Jones, Tucker & Hart, having dealt with the basics in a preliminary section, then illustrate these by reference to a series of detailed case studies. Evans & Benn also illustrate principles by reference to case studies, although these are integrated into the text. In both cases extensive use is made of photographs and diagrams; these are generally of good quality. Evans & Benn, however, also have a useful section of colour photographs illustrating structures, textures etc. at the back of the book.
Both these books are about the same length – so, which represents the ‘Best Buy’? Evans & Benn deal in more detail with the basics of sedimentology, and explain the basic techniques in rather more detail. They also introduce topics that, although unlikely to be available to an amateur geologist, would at least enable them to read professional papers with a greater level of understanding. On the other hand, Jones Tucker and Hart do have some nice case studies, one of which is based on Happisburgh. The opportunity to go out, book in hand, and see what the professionals have made of it, is very useful! And, at half the price, it leaves one with more petrol in the tank, to go out and do fieldwork.
For a real beginner I would say than Evans & Benn represents the best buy; for someone a bit further along the road, Jones et al might prove more stimulating.
Barnes J W. 1981. Basic Geological Mapping. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Tucker M. 1982. The Field description of Sedimentary Rocks. Chichester: John Wiley.