Colin Richmond

Colin Richmond a professor of Medieval history at the University of Keele, recently published The Paston Family in the 15th Century, the first volume of a three-volume study.

Diary: Love of Killing

Colin Richmond, 13 February 1992

‘The impact which the newsreel films of Belsen made at the end of the war was enormous,’ Alan Borg, the Director-General of the Imperial War Museum writes in his foreword to The Relief of Belsen, a collection of eye-witness accounts. ‘Many still remember exactly where and when they first saw these awful images.’ I am one of the many: I sat in about the tenth row (in an aisle seat on the left-hand side) of the circle, the Regal Cinema, High Street, Sidcup, Kent. It was either late April or early May 1945. I was not yet eight years old. Ten years later in Wuppertal, on the fringe of the Ruhr, the German boy with whose family I was staying for the summer said in response to a remark of mine about the catastrophe Hitler had been for Germany: ‘Well, at least he got rid of the Jews.’ There are undoubtedly other reasons why I am writing this piece, yet I know I have to go back to those two experiences, and particularly the first, in order to understand why from the haven of North Staffordshire in the last decade of this terrible century I study and teach the Shoah.

Halls and Hovels

Colin Richmond, 19 December 1991

This is a big book: 29 x 25 centimetres, 372 photographs (between a third and a half of them coloured, a large number of them full-page), a densely written, authoritative and properly referenced text, close on 1200 informative footnotes. As one has come to expect from Yale, the volume is value for money. Despite the quality of the text, this is first and foremost a picture book. And what pictures those of Mr Kersting are. If one needs to be seduced into visiting Cleeve, or Wells, or Norbury, or St Mawes, or Astbury, or Abbey Dore, or Caerphilly, or Kells, or Caerlaverock, or Threave, these photographs make such places (among numerous others) irresistible. Mr Kersting is superb, and Mr Platt comes close to matching him. My reservations stem principally from the difficulties inherent in a book of this type: not all buildings which were interesting, or remarkable, or intriguing, or marvellous, have survived; not all surviving buildings are interesting or, for that matter, beautiful. Most castles, for instance, are ugly; almost all Norman buildings, especially Norman cathedrals, are large and little else. The aesthetics of Heritage History come into play here. Caernarvon Castle is an imperial monstrosity; the nave of Durham Cathedral is colonial brutalism pure and simple. Yet time, forgetfulness and the demands of tourism, have turned them into Art; and their history has been rendered anodyne. The pictures in books such as this one do no service to that history. Still, if these pictures do seduce, they may also impel the smitten to discover more about the object of desire. For the intellectually curious the footnotes are a more than adequate bibliography.

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