It is this tantalizing sense of the almost-at-hand that informs the historian Matthew Green’s fascinating new tour of Britain’s lost towns and villages ... amounts to a sobering reminder of earthly transience ... Green recounts all this at a measured, engaging clip, although he is not above straining for effect ... At times, Green pays insufficient attention to the surface of his prose ... If the project is to resurrect Britain’s lost places, then lapses like these can only send them back to the bottom of the reservoir. For the most part, however, Shadowlands is a well-researched, highly readable history whose deepest import may be premonitory. The re- emergence of Aceredo was caused by a historic drought attributed to climate change; climatologists expect rainfall in Portugal to drop by up to forty per cent by 2100 ... By helping us to identify with their lost inhabitants, what the stories of Skara Brae and Dunwich evoke most powerfully is not the past but our probable future, when our cities have been abandoned or swept out to sea.
[Green] disinters their rich history and reimagines the lives of those who walked their streets, revealing 'tales of human perseverance, obsession, resistance and reconciliation'. 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.
By drawing on the slow erosion of places as remote as Orkney’s beehive-like community at Skara Brae, created before both Stonehenge and the Pyramids, Green uses the engulfing past to warn of future upheaval ... 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.