Book reviews: Scotland’s Lost Industries | Perth | The Photography of Victorian Scotland

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Michael Kerrigan reviews the latest book releases

Scotland’s Lost Industries by Michael Meighan

(Amberley, £16.99) * * * *

“Is there any other kind?”, it’s tempting to ask – for Scots of a certain age it’s hard to see software development as a substitute for shipbuilding or financial services as an industry at all. Inevitably, then, this absorbing study is to some extent an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s also a fascinating window on the past. The Scotland we rediscover here was one of the workshops of the world, making everything from bricks to linoleum, steam locomotives to cigarettes. Granite was shipped from Aberdeen to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge; there were silver mines on Islay, sewing machines in Clydebank. Scotland’s first paper mill was opened at Dalry, Edinburgh, in 1590; the Nobel Company was established here (exiled from Sweden after a factory explosion); shale oil was the centre of a major industry a century and a half before “fracking” was ever thought of: you name it, and you could find it made in Scotland. Meighan’s readable text is complemented by fascinating period photos.

Perth by Jeremy Duncan

(Luath, £14.99) * * * *

Being the “Gateway to the Highlands” (one of several) has been an ignominious position for Perth. Never content with the rank of “large burgh” it was given by an unsympathetic London government in 1929, it spent more than half a century hankering after city status. There was general rejoicing when that was restored for the Royal Jubilee last year. The photo of a flock of sheep on Tay Street here underlines Perth’s inability to convince as a metropolis – though other images remind us of its handsome architecture and striking setting. Duncan’s lively portrait captures all the personality of a place which, small as it may be, has always had a city’s self-esteem and style.

The Photography of Victorian Scotland by Roddy Simpson

(Edinburgh, £24.99) * * * *

Scottish photography was shaped not just by technical advances but by shifts in sensibility: the Industrial and Romantic Revolutions came together not just in subject-matter but in style. Louis Daguerre had been a painter first (conceiving memorable canvases at Rosslyn and Holyrood), but the relationship between art and photography was dynamic and enduring. Roddy Simpson is particularly interesting on the mutual influence of photography and Pre-Raphaelite painting. But social conditions came into it too – on one hand, the demand for family portraits and tourist scenes among a growing middle class; on the other, the documentation of industry and city slums. Alexander Gardner’s pictures from the American Civil War were pioneering works of photojournalism. You’ll do well to resist the temptation simply to flick through this book for the illustrations.