Maritime Greenwich

David Ramzan, The History Press, £12.99

I like a picture of a boat as much as the next Phantom. And I am happy to study one for a nice amount of time. So when I saw David Ramzan had come out with another book, hot on the heels of his splendid Greenwich, Centre of the World, I was very pleased indeed.

In many respects Maritime Greenwich follows on quite neatly from his 2007 treasure. It has the same chatty captions to the illustrations, (his publishers clearly acknowledging the fact that many people don’t actually bother with text any more, prefering to look at the pictures and read the labels.) They’re well-researched little nuggets of info, and Ramzan’s chosen some really excellent photographs, most of which I’d never seen before. Some of the modern ones I could have handled in colour, but I guess that’s down to economics, rather than personal choice…

But this differs in one large respect from Greenwich, Centre of the World. It’s a far less personal book. In his earlier work, I felt that Ramzan had poured his very soul into the pages. There were snippets about himself and his family, expertly woven into the fabric of Greenwich’s history.

To me, Maritime Greenwich, just doesn’t feel as ‘connected’, which is mad – I mean – if I knew nothing about him, and this was just presented as a stand-alone, I’d be perfectly happy. I wouldn’t miss his recollections and personal links. But I have read his earlier stuff. And I do sort of miss his personality here.

I guess what I love about Greenwich’s history, when it comes down to it, is the humans that made it. Maritime Greenwich, perhaps, by its very nature, is more about how Greenwich made the humans. We have to wait until chapter four to actually get anything concrete about people, and although when we get there, it’s very nice stuff (I particularly like the Greenwich Pensioners’ cricket match between 11 men with one arm and 11 men with one leg…) I could have handled a hell of a lot more of it.

Instead we have a lot of pictures of ships. Now – as I’ve said, I like a nice boat. And each of these pictures IS interesting and DOES warrant being in a book. But all together they’re – well – a bit overwhelming. I found myself skipping through pages, when normally, if I was just shown one or two boats, I’d be really interested.

Don’t get me wrong – there is definitely enough in this book to well-warrant twelve-ninety-nine of your English pounds.

It is a volume to keep going back to rather than guzzle in one hit, which is my usual wont with books. It is for keeping close by and dipping into every so often. A good addition to your bulging Greenwich bookshelf. It’s just that if you only going to get one of David Ramzan’s books – I’d have to suggest the excellent Greenwich – Centre of the World.


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