One of Literary Hub's Most Anticipated Books of 2022
A “brilliant London historian” (BBC Radio) tells the story of Britain as never before—through its abandoned villages and towns.
Drowned. Buried by sand. Decimated by plague. Plunged off a cliff. This is the extraordinary tale of Britain’s eerie and remarkable ghost towns and villages; shadowlands that once hummed with life. Peering through the cracks of history, we find Dunwich, a medieval city plunged off a cliff by sea storms; the abandoned village of Wharram Percy, wiped out by the Black Death; the lost city of Trellech unearthed by moles in 2002; and a Norfolk village zombified by the military and turned into a Nazi, Soviet, and Afghan village for training.
Matthew Green, a British historian and broadcaster, tells the astonishing tales of the rise and demise of these places, animating the people who lived, worked, dreamed, and died there. Traveling across Britain to explore their haunting and often-beautiful remains, Green transports the reader to these lost towns and cities as they teeter on the brink of oblivion, vividly capturing the sounds of the sea clawing away row upon row of houses, the taste of medieval wine, or the sights of puffin hunting on the tallest cliffs in the country. We experience them in their prime, look on at their destruction, and revisit their lingering remains as they are mourned by evictees and reimagined by artists, writers, and mavericks.
A stunning and original excavation of Britain’s untold history, Shadowlands gives us a truer sense of the progress and ravages of time, in a moment when many of our own settlements are threatened as never before.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Imagine waking up to find your neighbors and every trace of your town swallowed up by the ocean. In his astonishing history of vanished British villages, historian Matthew Green looks at real-life cases just like this. We loved the story of Skara Brae, where a storm excavated the beach, revealing a prehistoric settlement that had been underfoot for countless generations. Or the tale of St. Kilda, an island so remote that its population knew nothing of the outside world—until it strangely became a tourist attraction. Shadowlands is even better than a whodunit; it’s a what-happened that both mystery lovers and history fans will love.
In this intriguing travelogue, historian Green (London: A Travel Guide Through Time) explores eight British settlements that "exist only as a shadow of their former selves." The lives of some villagers, such as the inhabitants of Skara Brae, an archaeological site dating to the third century BCE on the Orkney Islands, remain mysterious despite the discovery of beads, paint pots, bed frames, and other artifacts. Other ruins figure in modern rivalries, such as the dispute between amateur archaeologist Stuart Wilson and professionals over whether he discovered the lost medieval city of Trellech in a Welsh field in the early 2000s. In some cases, the reasons for a site's abandonment remain murky; in others, however, they're crystal clear. In 1942, 750 villagers in Breckland, East Anglia, were relocated in order to establish a military training area, and in the 1960s, the Welsh town of Capel Celyn (the "Village of the Dammed") was flooded to create a reservoir for Liverpool. The last ruins of the medieval city of Dunwich collapsed into the North Sea in 1922 a fate that will be increasingly common, Green warns, as climate change worsens. Full of evocative imagery and fascinating lore, this vibrant account eulogizes the past and issues a stark warning for the future. Illus.