Sunday, September 14, 2014

Historical novels seen at English historical sites

Although it may not have been apparent from this blog, I just got back from two weeks' vacation in England – Mark's and my first extended trip in some time.  We flew into Heathrow, rented a car, and drove north, stopping at York, Durham, Alnwick, then Berwick upon Tweed, England's most northerly town... and then we turned around and headed back south, with an excursion to Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield.

I found it noteworthy that historical fiction had a presence in most of the gift shops at the historical sites we visited, whether they were managed by the National Trust, English Heritage, or a more local organizing body.  What better way to continue to experience the atmosphere of a historical locale than to read a novel set there?

Here are some examples.


At the Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham, the shop had numerous copies of Janet MacLeod Trotter's historical sagas set in England's North East.  This was a fabulous and large site, with restored buildings dating from the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and WWII eras, as well as costumed interpreters. We spent most of a day wandering around here.



It shouldn't surprise anyone that Bernard Cornwell's Saxon novels about Uhtred of Bebbanburg were in evidence at the shop at Bamburgh Castle.



The shop at Lindisfarne Priory offered a selection of historical novels set in and around monasteries and abbeys, such as Cassandra Clark's medieval mysteries about the Abbess of Meaux.  The Holy Island is accessible by causeway only at low tide, which gave us a few hours to explore the area last Monday morning.  It's definitely worth a trip.



The Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, near Chollerford in Northumberland, hosts the well-preserved ruins of a British Roman cavalry fort; it's located on Hadrian's Wall.  The gift shop at this site sold the historical adventure novels of Ben Kane and Simon Scarrow.



Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the grand Elizabethan-era country house commissioned by powerful noblewoman Bess of Hardwick, had a nice array of books in its shop, below, including novels by Philippa Gregory and C.J. Sansom.  There was plenty of historical nonfiction about Tudor notables, too.



As a result, many visitors to these historical landmarks will be introduced to historical fiction and popular history.  I don't recall seeing this happening to such an extent on my last trip to the UK two years ago.  If this is a new trend, I hope it continues.

10 comments:

  1. Gift shops in London tourist draws like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey also have an impressive selection of historical fiction and history books on relevant topics. My absolute favorite, though, is Knole Castle, home of Vita Sackville-West and the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's Orlando, where I spotted vintage copies of both writers' books. Makes such a lovely change from those made-in-China souvenirs...

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    1. How nice - it's been years since I've been to the Tower or Abbey but good to know they've got a decent selection... especially with the huge crowds they draw. That's very cool about the old books at Knole Castle, too. I did see lots of tacky souvenirs at some places, but the smaller the shop, the more they tended to concentrate on "serious" stuff.

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  2. Oh, this is wonderful! Not only being able to visit these wonderful historical sites but then take home a book to read that is set in and about there and picture it in your mind.So enjoyable.

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    1. I thought it was a great idea and hope other historical sites follow suit - including those in the US.

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  3. Anonymous2:47 PM

    It's a very smart marketing move and produces more revenue. I guess you could call it "deliberate information acquisition", as opposed to deliberate - you set out to find more information. And certainly the urge is strong while you are right there!! I know I've bought books while visiting various sites; whether I actually read them when I get home is another matter . . . ;-)

    Sounds like a fun trip as well!

    Sarah OL

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    1. Definitely a fun trip. I would have been tempted to do some book shopping at those sites if I didn't already have copies of most of them at home!

      The bookshops I went into mostly highlighted the same stuff, even if they weren't chains. I'd been hoping to discover some new local historical authors and found a couple such books, but not as many as I wanted.

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  4. Interesting how books (in a shop window, in a coffeehouse, in a bus station) always civilize the scene.

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    1. What you say is very true!

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  5. Oooo, oooo, OOOO! Thanks for all the photos and the accompanying text. You did a journey that I very much wish I could take as well!

    Love, C.

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    1. Glad you liked the post and pics! If you're interested in seeing any more, Mark's Flickr page has even better photos. It was a fabulous trip!

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