Britain's landscape is scarred with haunting and romantic remains; these shadowlands that were once filled with life are now just spectral echoes. Peering through the cracks of history, we find Dunwich, a medieval city plunged off a Suffolk cliff by sea storms; the lost city of Trellech unearthed by moles in the Welsh Marches; and the ghostly reservoir that is Capel Celyn, one of the few remaining solely Welsh-speaking villages, drowned by Liverpool City Council.
Historian Matthew Green tells the extraordinary stories of how these places met their fate and probes the disappearances to explain why Britain looks the way it does today. Travelling across Britain, Green transports the reader to these places as they teeter on the brink of oblivion, vividly capturing the sounds of the sea clawing away row upon row of houses, the taste of medieval wine, or the sights of puffin hunting on the tallest cliffs in the country. We experience them in their prime, look on at their destruction and revisit their lingering remains later as they are mourned by evictees and reimagined by artists, writers and mavericks.
By exploring the lost causes and dead ends of history – places lost to natural phenomena, war and plague, economic shifts and technological progress – the precariousness of our own towns and cities, of humanity, becomes clear. Shadowlands is a deeply evocative and dazzlingly original account of Britain's past.
Dr Matthew Green is a historian, writer, and broadcaster with a doctorate from Oxford University. He has appeared in documentaries on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and has written historical features for the Telegraph and Guardian. He is the co-founder of Unreal City Audio, which produces immersive tours of London as live events, audio downloads and apps. His first book was London: A Travel Guide Through Time.
"Shadowlands is so well researched, beautifully written and packed with interesting detail. Green is both historian and prophet, offering a warning we need to pay attention to [...] alarming and valuable."
– Claire Tomalin
"A beautiful book, truly original. Shadowlands is poetic history written with great literary flair, inquisitiveness, soul-searching and humanity. The part-travelogue, part-history approach conjures up a wonderful series of worlds lost, time passing and sympathy with the dead. It is a marvellous achievement."
– Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England
"An exquisitely written, moving, and elegiac exploration of the dead ends and lost causes of history – a book to savour and cherish."
– Suzannah Lipscomb
"Here is that most mysterious of all journeys, into towns, coasts, settlements that no longer exist, but which – miraculously – are brought back to challenge us, to question our carelessness and neglect. A haunting work of resurrection, stinging in a perpetual present. Shamanic consciousness for the borderlands of memory."
– Iain Sinclair, author of The Gold Machine
"A haunting, lyrical tour around the lost places of Britain, from the Welsh village of Capel Celyn, flooded to bring water to Liverpool, to the once bustling town of Dunwich, now perished beneath the North Sea."
– Charlotte Higgins
"Superb. A beautifully written atlas of Ghost Britain, a summoning of places lost to memory, and a deft excavation of the void underlying myths of national identity."
– William Atkins – author of Exiles
"Consistently interesting [...] thought-provoking [...] Green's passion and historical vision bursts from the page, summoning up the past in surround sound and sensual prose."
– Cal Flyn, The Times
– Cerys Matthews
"Immersive [...] This is a beautifully written, intelligent book, and it is offered as a warning as well as a memorial."
– James McConnachie, Sunday Times
"Fascinating [...] Shadowlands amounts to a sobering reminder of earthly transience [...] Green recounts all this at a measured, engaging clip [...] Shadowlands is a well-researched, highly readable history whose deepest import may be premonitory."
– Nat Segnit, Times Literary Supplement
"In the current climate of anxiety about the future and its possible effects on our familiar habitats, what could be more appropriate than this energetic study of lost places in Britain [...] [Shadowlands] encompasses the totality of human existence [...] [Green's] knowledge and enthusiasm are obvious."
– Gillian Tindall, Literary Review
"An eloquent tour of lost communities [...] [Green] disinters their rich history and reimagines the lives of those who walked their streets [...] By doing so, he makes tangible the tragedy of their loss and the threat we all face from the climate crisis on these storm-tossed islands [...] As Green's book so eloquently shows, people are drawn to these places because they are poignant reminders of the transitory nature of our own much-loved homes and communities."
– PD Smith, Guardian (Book of the Day)
"Startling [...] Green's outstanding achievement in Shadowlands is an extraordinary chapter about land that has been far more recently lost – to requisition [...] Often playful in tone, Shadowlands nonetheless has a serious purpose. In reminding us of the loss of once-thriving communities such as Dunwich and Winchelsea, Green also offers an urgent reminder of what may lie ahead as a result of climate change and rising sea levels."
– Miranda Seymour, Financial Times
"Gripping [...] Shadowlands is both meticulously researched and vividly imagined. The author has a novelist's gift for bringing the past alive [...] it is a thought-provoking and satisfying exploration of vanished places and the enduring forces that put them to the sword [...] it feels strangely prescient [...] splendid."
– Fiona Rintoul, The Herald
"Entertaining [...] While Green's ability to craft a compelling narrative from archive research is impressive, Shadowlands is at its best when the author details his own first-hand experiences visiting each site [...] Green explores the past while actively interrogating the present. With this book he breathes life into what has been lost."
– Robert Greer, History Today