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Geoscientist Online

Subterranean Norwich: The Grain of the City

Williams subterranean NorwichIn writing this book, Williams set out to develop a rational, four-dimensional model of Norwich in a clear and simple manner.  He was successful.  The book is extensively illustrated—there are 177 figures, most in colour—and that helps significantly in getting some of the author’s points across.

Norwich has been an active centre with a market since at least the tenth century and the site was occupied by the Anglo-Saxons some hundred of years before that.  (The Romans chose to settle in Caistor St Edmund—Venta Icenorum to them—which is about 5 miles south.)  The city stands close around the river in the Wensum Valley, its centre underlain by recent sediments, including marsh deposits and gravels, and more generally by chalk.  The surrounding hills, however, comprise crag generally overlain by glacial sands and gravels.  The current topography of the area arises from a combination of glacial effects and relatively more recent erosion and weathering under the rather gentler, post-glacial climatic conditions.  All of this is covered in the book in a way that can be taken in quite readily by those with limited geological knowledge.

Perhaps the most important point and, indeed, the purpose of the book, is that in order to treat the city’s (immediate) environment in four dimensions, the text and figures between them cover time and space in both cross-sections and picture series.  Thus mental images can be developed not only of the city’s existing underlying form and structure, but also, on the basis of the structural changes made in different areas over time, how and why it has ended up as it is.  The structure of the book’s content plays into this.  The first section—four chapters—deals with local geology, including groundwater.  Subsequent sections cover activity over the last thousand years (including flooding), mythical and real tunnel systems, ground movement and management of the risks arising from it, and, finally, landscape interpretation, which ends with a brief chapter on psychogeology.

Infrequent and new visitors to Norwich who wish to know and understand more about the city in its geological setting will find “Subterranean Norwich” well worth reading.  It provides a good, logical picture of how what has happened was guided by the geology, written by someone who has been involved with the city for several decades.  The author’s point that “geology drives everything” is made very clear in and through the book, and that is an excellent thing.

Reviewed by Jeremy Joseph

SUBTERRANEAN NORWICH: THE GRAIN OF THE CITY
, by Matthew Williams, 2017.  Published by: Lasse Press, Norwich, UK.  160 pp. (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-9933069-6-9.  List Price £19.99. W: http://lassepress.com/subterranean.html