Book Review: The Making of Wales (by John Davies) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews

The Making of Wales, by John Davies, Sutton Publishing Limited, 260 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10001, 212-213-2775. $22.95, softcover (hardcover published in 1996). 160 pages.

In The Making of Wales, author John Davies reflects upon the human influence on the Welsh countryside, beginning with the earliest known evidence of human habitation–a tooth dated 250,000 BC. During the Ice Age, settlements hugged the coastline. Later, after the ice thawed, a vast forest covered the country, and people laboriously cleared land for fields and pastures. Sheep, by their habit of grazing, played their own unwitting role in keeping trees at bay. Over the centuries, the forest-clearers (and sheep) were so successful that during World War One, the Government decided Wales had grown too reliant on foreign timber and decreed the reestablishment of forest lands. As a result, incongruously squared-off patches of nonindigenous trees now march across the sides of hills and mountains in orderly rows.

Davies chronicles the development that left its mark on the land–Roman roads; paths created by the droving of cattle to English markets; the building of fortifications, castles, churches, homes, and towns; and the birth, flowering, and decline of industries such as farming, mining, and woollen mills. He also looks at the recent emphasis on tourism and the impact it has had on the landscape. Little escapes Davies’ notice, from the reasons the population has migrated in and out of towns and cities to the impact of plagues and the way religious decrees influenced what we see today in Wales.

Color and black-and-white photos and artwork handsomely reinforce Davies’ text. There are also maps, some of them paired with photos and drawings to show change or the lack of it. With admirable consistency, all the maps are oriented with north at the top, though many of the accompanying images have another perspective, leaving the reader tilting his head, trying to reconcile the two. Perhaps when the book is reprinted, a kind editor will rotate each map to match its corresponding image.

Judy Sopronyi