Review of ‘Peat and Peat Cutting’, by Ian D. Rotherham

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Ian D. Rotherham
Published by Shire Publications
ISBN 978-0-7478-0705-6 (2009)

The extraction of peat in the Peak District has all but faded from living memory, yet this activity played a major role in country life and industrial history both here and on a far wider scene. Peat was the main domestic fuel in Britain for thousands of years - its cultural heritage is traceable to the Iron Age. Peat bogs have occasionally given up ancient human remains; the preservation of bodies in the Peak is not unknown, albeit not dating back to prehistoric times.

In modern times, commercial extraction has replaced traditional hand cutting and there are serious conservation issues connected with the use of peat in horticulture. Writes Ian: 'Sites which had evolved slowly over millennia were destroyed overnight.'

Simply described as 'undecomposed vegetation forming in conditions of waterlogging or high rainfall', there is nothing rotten about peat, rather the opposite. Mineral-rich peat baths were pioneered as a healing and therapeutic treatment in the heyday of health spas, notably at Buxton. Its antiseptic qualities and absorbent texture led to the extensive use of peat as horse bedding for the military during the First World War. And we should not overlook whisky distillation, where peat is used to fire the kilns. Peat has been associated with illicit distilling even in South Yorkshire! In fact peat moss was extracted from this part of Britain into the 1960s albeit for less secretive purposes.

Peat and Peat Cutting, from Shire Publications, is full of surprises and is the only book to cover this fascinating topic. Generously illustrated, including some delightful colour photographs. Author Dr Ian D. Rotherham is Reader and Director of the Tourism and Environmental Change Research Unit at Sheffield Hallam University.

Review by Julie Bunting

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