Jacqui Banfield-Taylor: The River Ver, A Meander Through Time

Halsgrove Books £24.99
ISBN 978-0-85705-160-9

I doubt that I will ever have the privilege again of reading so much about such a little river should I live to be a hundred - and that is understating how much the author has managed to pack into the 160 pages of this large quarto volume. This is the story of 24 kilometers of water, which flows from Kensworth Lynch in the Chilterns to join the River Colne at Bricket Wood, which means that technically, the Ver is a chalk stream, although you could have fooled me about that when I was a kid. Fortunately, better management means that the water quality in the Ver has improved since then, the major threat now being the water quantity, which, as with rivers all over the south of this country, is dropping alarmingly.

This great scrapbook of a history really has two authors, Jacqui and her father, Ted Banfield, who loved the Ver enough to live his life around it, but sadly ran out of time and never managed to complete the book which his daughter has finished. Having read it, I can’t help thinking that Ted won’t be complaining, because she has done a fine job.

The best way of describing this “meander through time” is that it is a potpourri of legend, history and story telling, which vacuums up every single event, place, or person connected with the Ver during its very long history. When you bear in mind that Sopwell Priory, the reputed home of Dame Juliana Berners, is within spitting distance of the Ver; and that the superb Roman site of Verulamium was built right next to it; and that the right to fish the Ver was one of Wat Tyler’s minor demands during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, there is a lot to go at.

The bulk of the book is given over to a tour down the Ver, which results in chapters with delightful titles like “Doolittle Mill to Kingsbury Mill”, all of which are heavily illustrated in both colour and monochrome. This particular chapter illustrates how one of the book’s greatest strengths is also its weakness, because it races past the Fighting Cocks, which is arguably the oldest pub in England and definitely the most interesting, in eight short paragraphs, before the author is swept downstream to Abbey Mill. There is so much to cover in this historically rich corner of the land, that the author has no time to do more than introduce her readers to a subject before she is forced to move on, and when you combine this with a rather busy layout, the effect is slightly exhausting, but this is a minor complaint.

If you live anywhere near the River Ver, you should own this one, as you should if you have any real interest in how a river can change history. If I had known half the things about the Ver when I was a kid that I do now, I would have chucked stones in it with more reverence.

Signed copies of the book are available from: riverver@btinternet.com

Review date: 4th November 2012