Book review: A-Z of Southampton: People-Places-History, Martin Brisland

Book review: A-Z of Southampton: People-Places-History, Martin Brisland

by Sarah Groszewski.

Martin Brisland is a highly experienced, qualified local tour guide and founder of See Southampton, so it stands to reason that his latest book, A-Z of Southampton Places-People-History is full of interesting and little-known facts.

There seems to be a booming market for local history and local interest writing.  I admit to being initially sceptical about how a book about my sleepy hometown could be worthy of the enthusiasm that Martin brings to the topic. Within minutes of opening my copy I was proved wrong, smiling fondly at facts I’d long since forgotten and exclaiming my disbelief at new ones. And I was, of course, promptly corrected about Southampton being sleepy!

Martin is a respected local historian, but this is not strictly a history book as it covers current interest as well as historical information; there is something for everyone. If you grew up round here, you’ll enjoy reminiscing about the sights and sounds of your youth. If you’ve never been to Southampton and are reading this having discovered In Common online, then you may be surprised at how much goes on, and how many famous people have spent time locally. You may already know that the Titanic sailed from here, but did you know all the other ways in which Southampton, as a port, has been so important? What could easily have been an A-Z churned out for the sake of writing an A-Z has been written in Martin’s typically enthusiastic and engaging way, making history and knowledge easily accessible to all.

Each letter of the alphabet has several entries, so there is an immense amount of information contained in what first appears to be a fairly small book. The photography in the book is beautiful and perfectly captures Southampton’s heritage, from Tudor buildings and ancient monuments to businesses and shops. It has been made available just in time for Christmas, although if reports online are to be believed this book is selling out fast! It would be a great gift for anyone over the festive season, though it would be easy to while away an entire day with all the ‘did you knows’ and ‘do you remembers’ that it prompts.

If you’re familiar with Martin’s last book, Secret Southampton, you will recognise his love for all things local, and that love is obvious again in this book (although it is significantly different in content to make it appealing to his dedicated fans). He started writing after a brain haemorrhage in 2017. He notes in the book that this experience has made him see “how fragile life can be” and that now he tries to value his surroundings every day.  He describes this new outlook as “summed up by Leisure by W.H. Davies (1911)” then includes the poem in full.

This really resonated with me, because both of Martin’s books have given me many suggestions of things to go on the ever increasing ‘must see’ list. I rarely take a break from the ‘to do’ list to really enjoy any of these experiences, this book influenced me to do exactly that. Just this weekend I visited a new park and sat enjoying sunshine and seagulls while my son played; I reckon that’s exactly what Martin set out to achieve in the writing of this book.

Out now, published by Amberley Publishing. Available to buy from good bookshops including October Books, Portswood Road, Southampton.