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WE ARE ALL FLOURISHING: The letters and diary of Captain Walter JJ Coats MC 1914-1919 edited by Jan Chojecki and Michael LoCicero (Helion 2016 xxi+360pp ISBN 978 1 911096 39 9) £25; THIS GHASTLY AFFAIR: Great War Letters from the Leathersellers' Archives by Jerome Farrell (Leathersellers’ Company 2016 256pp ISBN 978 0 9523621 7 3) £25
Walter Coats served as a commissioned officer of the Territorial 9th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry right through the First World War. He was a battalion machine-gun officer until 1917 when he joined the staff and earned an MC. His survival at the sharp end on the Western Front over four years was remarkable. Equally memorable was his devotion to the men of the Glasgow Highlanders and his philosophy of service and stoicism. Not making a fuss was the way of the Coatses, a large and comfortably off family of Scottish lawyers. Coats and his brothers were educated at Fettes College and were natural officer material. Neither histrionics nor poetry characterised his response to the ordeal of war.
We Are All Flourishingcontains two main sources. Coats’ frequent letters to various members of the family were common property among them, as he recognised. The letters relate the ins and outs of a junior officer’s daily life at the front, the parcels, the billets, the discomforts, whether he is in action or elsewhere, and the fate of friends and comrades. He may have felt the censor leaning over his shoulder but achieved his purpose of sending the family reassurance about his mental and physical state while faced with death on a regular basis. The second source is an account that revisits his time on the front. He put this together when he was waiting around in France to be demobilised in 1919. The account is synchronised with the letters by date in the book. Although the editors call this source a diary (and Coats may have done so), to me it reads as retrospective notes and a partial memoir. Here Coats gives a sharper account of the horrors of the Western Front and of the Highlanders’ campaign history than do the letters, allowing interesting comparisons and contrasts.
A striking example of Coats’ style addresses the dreadful time that the Glasgow Highlanders had at the Somme. On 27 August 1916 Brigadier General Baird wrote a strong protest to HQ about the fate of his Division, eight weeks into the offensive. He pointed out the many weeks that his units, including Coats’, had been in the thick of it, their appalling losses, deterioration in morale and the urgent need for a break. Coats’ battalion had gone into frontline action on the 16 July and was eventually relieved on the 30 August. His gentle criticism of the Battle of the Somme in the ‘diary' runs as follows: ‘How anyone thought we were going to reach Martinpuich which was our objective and hold it when we got there has always struck me as rather strange’. His usual understated style is on display in the letter he wrote to his mother on the 16 July ‘I am still flourishing though we have been having as cheery a time recently as we have had since I came out. I am not the least bit keen to have any more like it’. ‘Cheery’ here means its exact opposite and figures a great deal in his letters, alongside the equally ambiguous ‘flourishing', while the concluding sentence acknowledges anxiety and fear. The reader has to decipher the mix of irony and code and self-presentation that is found in these letters.
After the war Coats slowly progressed to a partnership in the family law firm and was a cherished unmarried uncle in a large clan. He served in several positions in the Home Guard in World War Two and said he enjoyed being a private and looking like ‘a convict in rompers’. The publication of We Are All Flourishingcoincides with the centenary years marking World War One. It’s worth considering what else brings such a book before the public. It benefits from the personal interest of one of the editors (Coats’ great-nephew is Jan Chojecki), a recommendation by Alexander McCall Smith and a publisher (Helion) with high production standards. It will appeal to both a Scottish readership and beyond.
The desire to commemorate is also in evidence in This Ghastly Affair. Tucked around the biographies and letters of three clerks from the Leathersellers’ Livery Company who went to war is an account of the adjustment of a historic City institution to the war at home in London as well as to the war abroad. The three young clerks who left their safe berths in the City to volunteer were aware that they were lucky to work for the paternalistic Leathersellers. They had all had decent elementary education, were of the respectable working-class and were modestly aspiring. There are many bread and butter letters of thanks and acknowledgements of kindnesses written by the three men and their families to George Sutton, the assiduous and kindly company clerk. They were as keen to tell how their families were faring on the home front as to relate their own experiences.
Cyril Glaysher was a 28-year-old married clerk when he enlisted under the Derby scheme in 1915 and was called up in May 1916. He was scandalised by bad language and rough behaviour and found adaptation to army life difficult. He was conscientious in keeping Leathersellers informed of his location and in telling them about life on the Western Front where he was a rifleman and signaller. There is plenty of mud and lice and homesickness in his correspondence and he commented that he could write more frankly to his work colleagues than to his long-suffering wife, who suffered a nervous breakdown. Glaysher yearned to return to civilian life. After the war he returned to Leathersellers and stayed there for the rest of his working life, rising to be the company accountant.
Wallace Allen was twenty when he volunteered in August 1914 in the expectation of going to France but his battalion was posted to India as part of the Home Counties Division. His account of service in India and on the North-West frontier, and of being kept there for nearly a year after the war during nationalist unrest, expressed frustration, boredom and guilt at not being in the thick of the war. His fellow clerk Glaysher, writing from the Western Front, implied that Allen was fortunate to be out of harm’s way in India and also that Blake (see below) was lucky to be discharged after just a few months in France. Allen left Leathersellers in 1924 and rose to be a company chairman and managing director of several construction companies. The third clerk, Horace Blake, had a more turbulent life. He was personable, musical and artistic, and a womaniser. During the war he had marital difficulties and asked Leathersellers to send his half salary to different places and women. He was an NCO and then a commissioned officer, finally leaving England in 1917 for Ypres during the Passchaendale action. After four months on the Western Front he returned home with gas poisoning and shellshock for which he was treated at Lockhart Hospital in Scotland. Blake was discharged from the Army in summer 1918. He did not return to Leathersellers but spent the rest of a chequered life in South Africa. George Sutton seems to have extended a great deal of tolerance towards Blake.
I found the portrait of a City institution whose purpose was public facing and charitable very interesting and covered excellently by Jerome Farrell who is the current archivist at Leathersellers. The Liverymen, mostly men in middle age or older, were keen to help with the war and willing to put their revered ceremonies and ways on hold. They cast around, not always successfully, for patriotic and charitable London causes to support. We are reminded that many organisations subsidised employees who volunteered, paying 50 per cent salaries to their men in the armed services, providing moral support to their families and keeping post-war employment open. The Leathersellers were kindly and generous with further gifts of money and made sure that men in khaki received pay rises. A fourth clerk lost a leg in the war and was looked after solicitously on his return to work. The primary sources that make up this book result from these policies and relationships. Additionally the company looked to maintain its profile in London and to sustain a community that stretched across property holdings and charitable schools and colleges in East and South East London. The book is beautifully produced and fully achieves its purpose as a memorial and tribute.
Sally Sokoloff is honorary lecturer in history at the University of Northampton and has worked extensively on aspects of the Home Front in the First and Second World Wars. Her paper ‘The Home Front in the Second World War and local history’ was published in The Local Historianin 2002 and she has also been a regular reviewer of books on these topics for the journal.
THE FOREST AT WAR Life in the Forest of Dean during World War One edited by David Harris, Cecile Hunt, Cheryl Mayo and Keith Walker (Forest of Dean Local History Society 2018 280pp ISBN 978-09928-959-52) £15; BERKHAMSTED IN WWI members of theBerkhamsted Local History Society and Museum Society (Ludo Press 2017 123pp ISBN 978-1-99985-55-0-5) £10; NORWELL AND THE GREAT WAR The Norwell Parish History Group (Norwell Parish Heritage Group 2018 58pp ISSN 2040-2406) £4+£1.50 p&p from Elizabeth Jones, Secretary NPHG, Parr’s Cottage, Main Street, Norwell NG23 6JN (cheques payable to Norwell Parish Heritage Group); A LONG SLOW WALK FROM THE STATION: The story of Brocton Prisoner of War Camp 1917-1919 by Beryl Holt (2017 158pp ISBN 978-0-9527247-9-7) £10+£2.50 p& p from Beryl Holt, 53 Old Croft Road, Walton on the Hill, Stafford ST17 0NL (cheques made payable to Beryl Holt)
The four-year centenary of the First World War that began in 2014 has prompted many local history societies to produce war histories of their communities, focusing on such aspects as military service, voluntary service at home, women’s war work, and the hardships suffered on the home front, including food and fuel shortages. Three of these four volumes, though differing widely in their presentation, are fairly typical examples. The fourth is different, concentrating as it does on a less common feature of the home front, the existence in the community of a prisoner-of-war camp.
The largest of these four accounts, The Forest at War, consists of essays on various themes by different authors, some of which were previously published in the Forest of Dean Local History Society journal. The result is a wide-ranging if somewhat miscellaneous collection, but what it lacks in continuity it makes up in comprehensiveness. Wartime regulations, fund-raising, volunteering, women’s war work, refugees and auxiliary hospitals are all well covered, and each essay has endnotes, including source references, most useful for any reader wishing to find out more for themselves.
Four individuals were responsible for producing Berkhamsted in WWI, with contributions from others, although we are not told who wrote which parts. As with The Forest at War, the first chapter is an overview of the war years as a whole. This is followed by four main chapters, on the military, civilian life, and memorials, before a final short chapter on the aftermath. Source references are given at the foot of each page where appropriate. Both The Forest at Warand Berkhamsted in WWIcontain contemporary photographs, some in colour.
Norwell and the Great Waris really a booklet, but it is very well designed, attractively presented, and packed with interesting information. It is illustrated by good quality photographs, many in colour, of people, places, buildings, maps, certificates and fliers, and has a simple logical chapter structure. Information is drawn from a variety of sources. The village roll of honour and war memorial have been supplemented by letters, diaries, the school log book, family memories, and presumably also military service records and battalion war diaries, although sources are not systematically listed.
A Long Slow Walk from the Stationis not the story of a village or town community but of Brocton prisoner of war camp, which briefly existed on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, from 1917 to 1919. It has a single author, Beryl Holt, chairman of the Berkswich History Society. She had access to the diaries of the commandant, Sir Arthur Grant, thanks to his grandson, so there is much about the Grant family and their friends and relations, but also fascinating detail about the construction and layout of the camp, and the work, food and pastimes of the prisoners.
Once there were camps like these all over Britain, now long forgotten, while their sites betray no sign of their existence. In most cases, including Brocton, every trace was removed, and buildings and other remains sold off as soon as the war was over. Yet life in them was for a time a grim reality for the men confined there. While the sufferings of the killed and wounded are often remembered, the prisoners of war, of both sides, are sometimes overlooked. These men were often hungry, suffering mental and physical ill health, deprived of freedom and close contact with their families, and under constant enemy control.
Brocton is not seen entirely from the captors’ point of view. The most fascinating chapter, A Day in the Camp, is a first-hand account in English by an un-named German prisoner. He describes a life of roll calls and work parties in the rain, shortages of basic needs, hunger, cold, and counting off the days until release or the next arrival of parcels from Germany. There are two excellent maps—a detailed plan of the camp, and a map of its location—as well as contemporary photos and drawings. The latter appear to be contemporary. It would be good to know the artist(s).
Berkhamsted, too, had German POWs. They came from the camp at Pattishall in Northamptonshire, sent to work on local farms. The Berkhamsted POW Aid Society sent parcels to nine Berkhamsted men who were prisoners in Germany. Nevertheless, two died in captivity and one shortly after release. Two Norwell men also became POWs.
Often, it is the stories of individuals that bring these books to life. Kathleen Long and Dorothea Bolas were ex-pupils of Berkhamsted School for Girls who served as nurses on ships in hostile waters. Kathleen survived the sinking of hers in 1916, but Dorothea drowned when her lifeboat was swamped in 1918.
Norwell and the Great Warand The Forest at Warboth have an index of personal names, as well as one of places, and the former highlights in bold personal names in the text. Of the 55 men on the Norwell roll of honour, photographs have been found for 25, displayed in a double page spread. The Forest at Warincludes a number of family histories, such as the five sons of coachman Thomas Joseph, three of whom were killed in the war, among them Thomas Evan Joseph, who had emigrated to Australia, joined up there and was sent to the Western Front.
Beryl Holt reminds us that service in the German army in World War One did not protect Jewish ex-servicemen from the Nazis. She tells the story of Arnold Zadikow, a German prisoner at Brocton who made metal plaques, bronze medals and larger sculptures while in the camp. He was Jewish and died in Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War Two. The Forest at Waris the only book of the four that gives due attention to those who opposed the war for moral, religious or political reasons, giving details of the local miners’ resistance to conscription and the stories of several conscientious objectors from the Forest of Dean. In fairness, though, there were very few COs from Norwell or Berkhamsted.
All the books contain aspects of wartime life not found in the others, whether it is housing conditions in Norwell and their effect on health, or the essay on war bonds and war charities in the Forest at War. Its author lists 51 of these in the Forest of Dean, and reminds us of their importance in an age when little social aid was provided by government. There is an interesting chapter in Berkhamsted in WWIon the threat of zeppelin raids. The authors disprove a popular myth that the town was raided, while showing that its citizens probably did witness the destruction of a zeppelin at nearby Cuffley in October 1916. The book also has a chapter on wartime marriages, showing that, even in wartime, there were happier moments, and life was not all hardship and fear. What emerges from these accounts is a comprehensive picture of life on the Home Front, as our grandparents and great grandparents would have experienced it. Local history societies are to be congratulated for making this history more available to their communities and to others interested in life in Britain during World War One.
John Buckell is a retired teacher and independent researcher. His article ‘The Conscientious Objectors of Northampton in the First World War’ was published in The Local Historianin July 2016.
(London Record Society vol.52 2017 xxxiv+629pp ISBN 978 0 900952 58 6) £40
Why do people keep diaries? Almost invariably the task turns into a fixation. One such fanatic was Anthony Heap, the faintly pathetic Londoner who between 1928 and 1985 created a veritable tower of 56 volumes of musings, now lodged at the London Metropolitan Archives. Is such preoccupation contagious? Apparently so, otherwise why would the Camden-based historian Robin Woolven, who took on the awesome task of trying to knock Heap’s two million words into an approachable shape, thank his wife ‘for her tolerance of my apparent obsession with Heap’s real obsession of maintaining a daily diary’? The outcome is flawed, but its achievement in reducing Heap’s reflections on the years 1931-45 down to a mere quarter-of-a-million words deserves sincere applause.
Sad to say, Heap comes across as a pretty unpleasant chap. His was a pinched existence, hemmed in by lowly ambitions tainted by his right-wing politics. He was your classic misanthrope, grumbling over office slights because ‘I am kept in my tuppenny halfpenny office boy’s job [on account of my] stubborn refusal to ass-crawl’, and ‘slamming out of the place’ he shared with his mother after a row over his girlfriend. This from a man already in his thirties. Yet how eminently quotable his diaries are! He experienced so many defining moments in the life of 1930s London. As a ‘non-active member’ of the British Union of Fascists he was present at the notorious BUF rally in Olympia in June 1934 when the stewards used appalling brutality to eject the many hecklers: ‘It spoilt things a good deal,’ he later wrote. Well, that’s one way of describing the affair.
His inferiority complex shines through when he joins the crowds for George V’s funeral in 1936 and George VI’s coronation the following year even though ‘I saw positively damn all’ because of the ‘outrageously bad organisation’ by the police. In contrast, his day-to-day account of the abdication crisis is gripping stuff, and Heap surely mirrors the feelings of most Britons when he writes that Edward VIII had ‘made a complete and utter fool of himself’. Mrs Simpson was ‘a commonplace cow’, by the way. And surely he can’t be marked down over-heavily for his respect for Hitler and Mussolini, nor the moment when he glimpsed the placards announcing the Anglo-German pact signed in Munich and ‘my heart leapt for joy’. Like most citizens, he was gripped with the fear of another conflict barely twenty years after the previous one.
When the Second World War did indeed come it found Heap medically unfit for military service and initially he spent the nights taking cover in public shelters, coping with the ennuithat that involved. ‘Nothing to do but read, read, read,’ he moaned in November 1940. By then he had what he smugly described as ‘a cushy, congenial job’ with the local council, and begrudgingly he became a Civil Defence volunteer though not until 1941. His legacy from the period, however, is his enthralling description of daily life and destruction throughout the blitz and the subsequent rocket attacks. And because his account was not published at the time it avoided being censored. In June 1944, for instance, he mentions his first experience of ‘the long-awaited bogey’, the V1. So much for the myth that Londoners were totally unprepared for the things. Intriguingly, there is hardly a note of despair, but rather a first-hand record of civilians under attack that might honourably be placed alongside Robert Henrey’s London trilogy of 1942/46 and John Strachey’s much-underrated Post Dof 1941. Eventually the VE celebrations gave Heap ‘two perfect days. They couldn’t have furnished a happier set of memories,’ even though the war’s aftermath would bring him disillusion.
Woolven’s handling of this mountain of material is masterly. His knowledge gained while researching for a PhD on wartime London shines through, particularly in his footnotes relating to that period. His index is intelligent, and his bibliography is invaluable, though surprisingly no mention is made of Richard Overy’s insightful study The Morbid Age. Also notable is Woolven’s description of the architecture of Heap’s diaries and the editorial processes he used to bring them into their present shape. This explanation undoubtedly provides a valuable model for other historians tempted to tackle a similar project. But there are problems with this mighty tome---and ‘mighty’ is the word. Woolven’s doorstopper weighs in at a stonking 1.4 kilos, and it costs £40, which in this more egalitarian age really isn’t on. Such a price may be fine for academic libraries, but how many of us independent historians can afford that sort of sum? It was a relief to discover that the book is available at a sizeable discount via more than one well-known website.
Heap saw himself as an Evelyn or a Pepys, throwing light on the times in which he lived, and Woodley has fulfilled the essence of that objective with flair, while excising much that is routine or boring. Could the pruning have been more ruthless? Undoubtedly so, though it’s a tough call to decide precisely where. Heap’s coy references to his amorous advances could safely have been discarded, and amid a fair few moments of bathos did we really need to know that in May 1933 ‘my testicles felt out of sorts today’? As it is, Woodley has understandably excluded Heap’s numerous reviews of new plays, films and books. These instead are summarised in a ‘culture capture’ table that runs to a startling 98 pages, thereby proclaiming the internal tension within this book. There’s simply too much material trying to get out!
But what a result despite that. This unique collection of observations has an immediacy that makes it a priceless source for social historians. Its tone may be crabby but it’s undeniably authentic. Even if the book is beyond your means, seek out a copy, approach it as if it were a novel, and immerse yourself in the pleasures of Anthony Heap’s time machine.
NEIL ROBSON is the long-standing editor of the Wandsworth Historian. His extensive involvement in researching the local heritage of south-west London has enabled him to write a number of well-received articles on the history of the British overseas territory of Tristan da Cunha.
(Hobnob Press 2017 xii+125pp ISBN 978-1-906978-47-1) £9.95
John Penruddock, Wiltshire landowner and colonel in the armies of Charles I, led the March 1655 uprising best known for its consequence—Oliver Cromwell’s decision to impose rule by the ‘major-generals’ later that year. Penruddock’s revolt was intended as one of several co-ordinated royalist insurrections and was the only one to have anything approaching a measure of success, though it was suppressed within a few days. As the title of this book suggests, it was a ‘small earthquake’, not a major upheaval. It is invariably mentioned only briefly in histories of the period, though may be better known to Wiltshire historians since much of the action took place in Salisbury.
This book is not intended as a narrative of the insurrection. The plotting and the uprising itself are dealt with in the first chapter, and thereafter the remaining chapters focus on several themes broadly related to Penruddock’s uprising, and the mid-seventeenth century more generally. There is an emphasis on Wiltshire’s gentry, particularly Francis Jones, co-conspirator with Penruddock and distantly related to the author, whose family connection to Cromwell may have saved him from execution. Francis Jones’s fortunes sank after 1655 and were not fully restored at the Restoration but, as Eric Jones demonstrates, in the turmoil of the period some local families prospered. Other chapters consider the aftermath of the rebellion, political resistance and nonconformity, and economic developments in the aftermath of the English Civil Wars.
The author observes that local historians need to consider the national picture as well as events in their locality, and he brings to this volume evidence of wide reading far beyond the confines of Interregnum Wiltshire. This is commendable, although to do justice to all the issues raised would require a larger volume. Comparisons with the twentieth century tend to interrupt the focus of the work. There are also some errors. For example, Bulstrode Whitelocke cannot have loaned money to the agricultural innovator Jethro Tull since Tull was an infant at the time of Whitelocke’s death in 1675. The woodcut used to illustrate Penruddock’s execution is more usually assumed to depict the beheading of Charles I.
While there are no references, there is a chapter-by-chapter summary of sources. This is helpful, although it appears to be only a selection of the material used. There is a useful map of Wiltshire, several black-and-white illustrations and an index. The broad focus of this book is Wiltshire, but historians of the English provincial gentry in the Interregnum and Restoration would also find much of interest in its pages.
ROSALIND JOHNSON is a visiting fellow at the University of Winchester, who has worked for the Victoria County History projects in Somerset and Wiltshire. She is currently working on a study of loyalist religion in south-west England in the 1650s, and a study of Quakers and marriage in the eighteenth century.
(Birmingham Biographies 2018 ISBN 13:978-1719078887) £4.99;
(Birmingham Biographies 2017 ISBN 13:978-1544139227) £4.99
Stephen Roberts has written a clutch of books rehabilitating forgotten figures of Victorian Birmingham, including studies of Sir Richard Tangye, Joseph Gillott, James Whateley and James Deykin. They have been invaluable in showing that there was much more to nineteenth-century Birmingham than Joseph Chamberlain and his immediate circle. These latest books add more to our understanding of the varied texture of life in this golden era of the city’s history. Recollections are drawn from the memories of distinguished old men which were collected in the Birmingham Gazette from 1907 to 1909. Some illustrate important political milestones in Birmingham’s distant past: Attwood’s Political Union rallies in 1832, the policing of the 1839 Chartist riots, a fractious meeting about Maynooth, and the Reform League demonstration of 1867 at Brookfields. Roberts reminds us that there were two parties in Birmingham and we hear from Conservatives such as Sir Francis Lowe and Simeon Doggett. Eye-witness reflections on Chamberlain, Gladstone and Bright are balanced by portraits of the hitherto unregarded or largely forgotten men—the educator and politician John Skirrow Wright, his son Frank, the charismatic preacher Rev Casebow Barrett and councillor Sir William Cook. It would have been good if more could have been said on these, especially Wright, for the stories of these neglected figures modify our view of the Birmingham political machine.
Taken together these 25 recollections comprise a colourful and nuanced portrait of Victorian Birmingham. We are regularly reminded of the economic foundation of the city’s expansion and success, and that it was at the forefront of metal-working: among Roberts’s edited contributions we find pin-manufacturing, steel toy-making, gold-cutting and brass working. Equally, the Victorian drive for self, and spiritual, improvement is threaded through these pages. Several individuals record gratitude to Sunday schools and night-schools, while others detail the initiatives of the Birmingham School Board. Edward Taylor’s testimony about art education in the borough and the generosity of Sir Richard Tangye in funding the School of Art augments our understanding of how Birmingham became a national leader in this field. We meet magnetic preachers like George Dawson, Casebow Barrett and Angel James, men who directed the middle class towards philanthropy and civic engagement. And although historians are familiar with the Edgbaston Debating Society as an important training-school for the Chamberlains, Kendricks and Martineaus of the Liberal reforming party, Roberts does well to recover for us the Hope and Anchor’s Sunday debates which for thirty years weekly discussed, sometimes heatedly, the social and political issues of the day.
Not all ‘Brums’ spent their free time on the Council, in committee, or in debating political matters, and the pages of Recollectionsgive a rich flavour of Birmingham life: memories of pubs, pared-down Shakespeare performances, variety acts, football games and prize-fighting jostle through the pages of the book. This they do too in Roberts’s 1889,the story of one year in Birmingham’s history, culled from Birmingham newspapers and from the satirical periodicals, The Owl and The Dart.At the outset Roberts recovers Edward Orford Smith, the town clerk, whose idea it was that Birmingham should apply for city status. And in 1889 that status was achieved. The year was politically significant for, after several years of uncertainty, Joseph Chamberlain established Liberal Unionist supremacy in the city’s parliamentary representation, his candidate Albert Bright winning a crushing victory over opposition Gladstonians in the Central Birmingham by-election. This success became the foundation of his West Midlands duchy, a unique political power-base of over thirty seats. Still, Roberts’s use of anti-Chamberlain material from The Owl provides an instructive counter-balance to much Chamberlain hagiography, the periodical taking sly pleasure in his callow son Austen’s failure in the municipal elections. In the same way his month-by-month trawl through the local Press letter pages is an antidote to dewy-eyed descriptions of Birmingham as a model go-ahead city. For all that the city was at the forefront of electrical and metal working-technology (with references here to the new trade in japanning-ware) its citizens complained about poor gas lighting, the conditions in the slums and boisterous behaviour on the streets. Still, there were escapes, and there is much here (perhaps a little too much) about the holiday excursions to Bournemouth and Llandudno; less reliable as a relaxant was Birmingham’s top football side, Aston Villa, whose fortunes were followed by many. Circuses were popular (especially Hengler’s); Brums were passionate attendees, but some correspondents were more exercised by the price of bread, a nice nineteenth century variation on Juvenal’s panem et circenses.
Both these books are generously illustrated with contemporary photographs and with apposite cartoons from The Owl and The Dart on which Roberts, who wrote on these with Roger Ward in Mocking Men of Power,is something of an authority. These cartoons, pointed and occasionally cruel, remind us that not everyone in Birmingham succumbed to the charismatic attraction of Joseph Chamberlain.
ANDREW REEKES is author of Speeches That Changed Britain; Two Titans: Joseph Chamberlain and George Cadbury; and The Birmingham Political Machine: winning elections for Joseph Chamberlain. His reappraisal of Neville Chamberlain, More than Munich, was published in September 2018.
(Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History 2018 ISBN 978-0-9521390-7-2) £13.50
Based primarily on the churchwardens’ accounts of fifteen Suffolk small towns and villages, with occasional comparisons with those of the urban parish of Great St Mary’s in Cambridge, this most attractively produced and modestly priced essay describes the different ways in which the middling sort organised the day to day life of their parishes during the reigns of the last of the Tudors and the first of the Stuarts.
At the accession of Elizabeth successive governments had already subjected every parish in the land to three decades of unprecedented religious change. Purges of traditional Catholic practices, begun very soon after Henry’s VIII’s decision to sever the national church from the church of Rome, had accelerated under Edward VI only to be reversed in their entirety on Mary’s restoration of Catholicism. The reinstitution of Protestantism by the first Elizabethan parliament in 1559 led to renewed iconoclasm and in Suffolk, as elsewhere in the country, churchwardens destroyed rood screens, defaced statues, blotted out the painted images of saints, replaced altars with tables, and erected the queen’s arms, the physical embodiment of the royal supremacy, over the chancel arch. They then went on to accord a greater prominence to the pulpit, and acquire for their congregations (as well as an English Bible and multiple copies of The Book of Common Prayer) translations of the Paraphrases of Erasmus and Musculus’s Common Places, John Jewel’s Apology, and, most influential of all, John Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
On to the centuries-old obligation of parish officials to uphold the spiritual life of the parish the Tudors imposed new secular responsibilities, of which by far the most important was the care of the poor. Elected annually like the churchwardens, the overseers of the poor levied rates to relieve the very young, the aged and the impotent, provide apprenticeships and in some larger villages set the able-bodied on work. Their charity, however, extended only as far as the resident poor, and the determination shown by the Wattisfield overseers in carting pregnant vagrant after pregnant vagrant across the parish boundary in 1617 to prevent them claiming settlement particularly sticks in the memory. The constables had the task of keeping order, the preliminary military training of the men of the parish between sixteen and sixty fell to the muster masters, while the surveyors of the highways undertook the repair of local roads and bridges: all these officials were answerable both to their parish and to the justices of the peace at the quarter sessions.
Studies of the contents of the parish chest can sometimes be somewhat desiccated but this one comes alive, not least through its excellent illustrations, which include such rare survivals as the medieval screen at Kedington, recycled as a pew for the lord of the manor; the biblical sentences inscribed above the nave arches of Lakenheath church in the early seventeenth century; and the little room built against an outside aisle wall at Hemingstone to enable a recusant family to claim to be attending church and yet avoid participating in the heretical services. In addition to a detailed bibliography and index, the book contains a helpful glossary of technical, dialect and obsolete words. While it draws almost all its evidence from Suffolk and is intended primarily for a Suffolk readership, local historians about to embark on a parish history anywhere in England in the early modern period will surely also see it as a template upon which to model their own research.
CLAIRE CROSS taught in the History department of the University of York until she retired; she is currently working on the history of some York parishes in the later middle ages and aspects of Yorkshire monasticism in the half century before the dissolution. She is a former chair of the British Association for Local History.
(Boydell 2017 234pp ISBN 978-1-78327-180-1) £60
Taking its title from Chaucer’s reference to the Doctor of Physic in his ‘Prologue’ toThe Canterbury Tales, this wide-ranging collection of essays from colleagues, friends and former students pays tribute to Carole Rawcliffe’s many contributions to late medieval history in the fields of medical history (notably hospitals and public health), political and parliamentary history, and the regional history of East Anglia.
Several innovative local studies explore aspects of medieval life, such as John Alban’s examination of the fourteenth-century defensive forces raised to provide internal defence in England, which effectively formed a medieval ‘Dad’s Army’. Focusing on the East Anglian muster rolls, he finds a far higher level of organisation and standard of arming among urban levies compared with those raised in rural areas. By the final quarter of the fourteenth century, even men with handguns appear in the Norwich rolls. A detailed examination of the weaponry among participants in the Norwich sub-leet of Conesford in 1355 supports his analysis.
Two articles address aspects of medical history. Hannes Kleineke studies the career of Lettice Oo, who by 1384 had married London pepperer and grocer William Waddesworth, and after his death in 1399 wedded another grocer and apothecary, John Oo. Waddesworth had supplied the royal household with spices and medical remedies, and Lettice engaged in recovering her late husband’s debts by bringing law suits to the Court of Common Pleas, two of which are printed in an appendix to the article. Lettice also continued Waddesworth’s apothecary business herself, selling medicinal remedies to Master Geoffrey Melton, a leading royal physician who served Richard II’s second queen, Isabella of Valois. The study illuminates the ability of women to work as apothecaries, both as partners to their husbands and as independent traders. Christopher Bonfield tries to examine how diet and health were understood in the medieval period, particularly in relation to the lower orders of society. Lack of evidence hampers this study, and Bonfield is unclear whether the improvement in the diet of peasants after the Black Death reflected genuine attempts by consumers to improve their health, or merely to emulate their social superiors. While he finds a potentially large audience of vernacular readers who were keen to obtain medical texts, in manuscript and later in print form, to what extent these were implemented or even read remains unclear.
Carole Hill examines commemoration practices by Norwich burgesses, focusing particularly on the memorial brasses of two families. At the church of St Giles-on-the-Hill, alderman and twice mayor Robert Baxter (died 1431) and wife Cristiana are depicted on a brass standing upon a strange flowery hillock, possibly resembling the patterned fabric which he exported to the Low Countries from Yarmouth. In the same church lies the brass of alderman and mayor Richard Purdans (died 1436) and his wife Margaret (died circa1482). Unusually, Margaret opted not to remarry after been widowed when relatively young, but chose to follow the vocation of becoming a vowess, committed to living at home in vowed obedience to a religious rule. She is depicted on her brass in either the mantle of a vowess or in the mourning clothes known as widow’s weeds. These memorial brasses, together with other commemorative gifts surviving in churches, such as glass and bells, provide a link to the commercial, political and spiritual lives of these citizens.
Caroline Barron considers why in medieval London there was no great belfry housing a public clock, in contrast to other European cities. There had been a clock at St Paul’s Cathedral from the 1280s, but this was inside the building and not visible to passers-by, while the chiming clock constructed at the Palace of Westminster in 1365-7 was unlikely to have been audible in the centre of the city. The London Letter Books and mayor’s court records reveal that by 1376 a publicly accessible clock must have been available for meetings to be summoned and markets to be regulated. Barron traces this public timepiece to the small parish church of St Pancras, in Soper Lane, just south of Cheapside. The first such clock within the city, it was established by Adam de Branktree, rector between 1351 and 1361, and an indulgence of 1374 supported the maintenance of ‘le clok’.
The other articles in this collection range widely in time and space. Brian Ayers provides a detailed archaeological survey of the north-western district of Norwich known as Coslany, during the pre-Conquest period. Nicholas Vincent explores the career of the dowager queen Isabella of Gloucester, wife of King John, and her role during the rebel occupation of London in 1215. Jean Agnew discusses the last member of the Norfolk Paston family, William Paston, 2nd Earl of Yarmouth, using the early eighteenth-century records of his bankruptcy. Peregrine Horden looks at the musical therapy offered in hospitals in both modern and medieval Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. Tributes to Carole Rawcliffe from Elizabeth Danbury, Linda Clark, John Charmley, Isla Fay, Ellie Phillips, Elizabeth Rutledge and Peregrine Horden, and a bibliography of published works complete this eclectic but engaging collection, reflecting Carole Rawcliffe’s own wide-ranging interests and scholarship.
JOHN S. LEEis a Research Associate at the Centre for Medieval Studies, York University. He has written The Medieval Clothier(Boydell, 2018), edited with Christian Steer, Commemoration in Medieval Cambridge(Boydell, 2018), and worked on other local studies of late medieval England.
(Y Lolfa 2018 208pp ISBN 978 1 78461 591 8) £9.99
‘Up Top’ was the nickname given by the people of the small Welsh town of Talgarth to the institution sited on a neighbouring hill. The eponymous book adds to the growing number of histories of former Victorian and Edwardian lunatic asylums that were closed down in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This study of what was originally the Brecknock and Radnor Joint Lunatic Asylum is notable for being the first concerning a Welsh mental health institution to appear since Pamela Michael’s Care and Treatment of the Mentally Ill in North Wales 1800-2000(2003), which dealt with the former lunatic asylum and mental hospital at Denbigh.
The Mid-Wales Mental Hospital, as the institution at Talgarth was later known, opened in 1903 and closed in 2000. It was always relatively small in comparison to some of its contemporaries, providing initially for 350 patients and later for 500. It catered for a very wide and sparsely populated catchment area that stretched through a large part of central Wales and included small towns such as Brecon, Welshpool and Llandrindod Wells. Patients and their relatives might have to travel long distances to reach the isolated institution.
The book is engagingly written and manages to avoid the dryness and monotony that often characterises local asylum histories. Hugh Purcell has employed archival and newspaper sources quite sparingly to provide the key background information. More use has been made of material gathered during interviews with former medical, nursing and other staff, as well as some patients, who experienced the hospital during the period from the post-war years until closure. This approach brings to life the phases of the institution’s development, the practices that were implemented and the different types of people who spent time there. Among the episodes explored, there is a particularly fascinating chapter describing its use as a military hospital during the Second World War. It received psychiatric casualties from the British armed forces and also catered for mentally ill German and Italian prisoners of war. There is even circumstantial evidence that Rudolf Hess spent time there. Contemporary letters, reports and a rare medical officer’s journal, together with local people’s recollections, have been carefully deployed to portray an intriguing aspect of the hospital’s history.
The book occasionally adopts some of the stereotypes and over-simplifications associated with lay histories of mental disorders and their management in institutions, but it does largely provide an objective evaluation of the negative and positive elements of treatment, emphasising the humanity and genuine caring intent of the great majority of the hospital staff. It also shows the individuality of many of the patients, despite the long periods of incarceration some experienced. Purcell also illustrates clearly the very close inter-relationship between the Mid-Wales Hospital and the town and people of Talgarth, for whom it was long the main source of employment. Its painful closure process brought real regret on several levels.
As an historian of mental health services, the main criticism I would make of Up Topis that written sources are generally not detailed and material taken from oral interviews is undated, even though these have been deployed extensively and effectively. I presume that this may be due to the constraints which make some local history publishers reluctant to include footnotes or fuller references. Setting such issues aside, this book is to be commended as a valuable contribution to the growing literature in this field.
LEONARD SMITH is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the History of Medicine Unit, Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham. His recent publications include Insanity, Race and Colonialism: Managing Mental Disorder in the Post-Emancipation British Caribbean, 1838-1914(2014); ‘Lunatic Asylum in the Workhouse: St Peter’s Hospital, Bristol, 1698-1861’, Medical History(2017); and ‘Classic Text No. 111, “Details on the Establishment of Doctor Willis, for the Cure of Lunatics, 1796” ’, History of Psychiatry(2017).
(Bodleian Library in association with The London Topographical Society 2017 vi+226pp ISBN978 1 85124 412 6) £30
‘More common than oil paintings, topographical prints and drawings are increasingly recognized as offering a window into the appearance of town and country in past times, before the invention of photography, recording a world that would otherwise have been lost’. So begins Bernard Nurse’s introduction to this fine volume and anyone with an interest in the history of London before 1800 will certainly find this collection of topographical prints and drawings of immense interest and value. The author, a former librarian of the Society of Antiquaries of London, has brought together reproductions of a wide variety of engravings, etchings, pen-and-ink drawings, and watercolours to illustrate the evolution of a number of London localities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The quality of the reproductions is uniformly high and of a size which allows the viewer to examine each one in considerable detail. The original collector of the prints was Richard Gough (1735-1809), described by his friend and executor, John Nichols, as ‘the Father of British Topography’. Gough was a leading member of the Society of Antiquaries (founded 1718) and during his lifetime compiled a vast collection of British topographical material, including manuscripts, books, pamphlets, prints, drawings and maps. His original intention was to bequeath his collection to the British Museum, but when this plan failed Oxford University readily accepted the collection in 1809 together with the conditions which Richard Gough requested.
The core of the book consists of seven chapters covering either different localities such as the City, Westminster, the Thames and the environs of Georgian London, or themes such as maps of London and London life, the later including sections on murder and robbery in north London, prisons, and firework displays. The third chapter of five double-page reproductions of ‘The Buck brothers’ panorama of London, 1749’ is particularly evocative of London’s growing metropolitan importance as reflected in the detailed engravings (‘the longest of all panoramas of London’) of the north bank of the Thames from Millbank in the west to the Tower of London in the east. However, all the high-quality illustrations in the book are worth examination for the insights that they provide on many aspects of London’s physical, social, economic and cultural evolution. A short review cannot do justice to the wealth of visual source material provided which certainly supports the author’s claim that Richard Gough’s bequest to the Bodleian Library ‘is so varied and extensive that a remarkably broad view of London between 1650 and 1800 can be provided from the contents’.
A clearly-written introduction provides context to this selection of Richard Gough’s London collection, highlighting, for example, the changing techniques employed in the eighteenth century in the production of engravings, etchings, prints and drawings; the growing market for topographical prints; and a brief outline of Gough’s career with particular reference to how he compiled his collection and how it was eventually disposed of. Two appendices provide, firstly, extracts form Gough’s letters and journals recording his views on events such as the Gordon Riots of 1780 or the impact on the city of highwaymen, extreme weather or fire; and, secondly, a guide on ‘using the Gough collection’. Each section in the text is fully referenced and a comprehensive bibliography provides a guide to further reading. All in all this volume, with its aim of making its selection of Richard Gough’s London material ‘better known to scholars and the general public’, can be highly recommended.
CHRISTOPHER FRENCH is Emeritus Reader and Honorary Research Fellow attached to Kingston University’s Centre for the Historical Record. His current research is into housing and community in suburban London with particular reference to the towns of Surbiton and Teddington before 1939. His latest publication is: ‘A Life Well Led’: Richard Gardner (1842-1918) and the Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage, Twickenham (Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, 2017).
(Dorset Record Society 2017 190pp ISBN 9780900339226) £19.95+£2.50 UK p&p
More than half of this beautifully produced book comprises a facsimile, at slightly reduced size, of a bound volume of maps and written surveys, largely the work of Ralph Treswell, carried out for the Elizabethan courtier Sir Christopher Hatton. Norden’s view was that such works were about estate management, ‘as the Lord sitting in his chayre may see what he hath’ (Surveiors Dialogue, 1618) but this is far more than that. Clearly it would, as part of a wider survey of all his estates, have allowed Hatton, an absentee landlord, to make a virtual visit to his Dorset estates (worth some £244 a year, according to this survey) which he had bought in 1572 but seldom visited in the flesh. But at least as important would have been its use to impress his fellow courtiers, since it was a decorative, gold pigment-enhanced, showpiece and made a clear statement of Hatton’s power and prestige. It was kept not in Dorset, but in his London or Northamptonshire homes. Treswell’s eight maps and written surveys were subsequently bound in with Saxton’s 1575 county map, and a later, not very high quality, estate map of Corfe manor by the little-known John Hawstead. Eventually, in 1981, when Corfe Castle was gifted to the National Trust, this volume passed to the Dorset Record Office (now the Dorset History Centre).
Treswell’s Surveyis the work of four authors who jointly share credit for the introduction, then each take a chapter on their own specialisms, followed by the facsimile, a transcription of the written survey, plus a good index of people and places. The result illustrates a key moment in cartographic history, when the idea of having a map to accompany an estate survey had gone, within the space of ten years, from being almost unheard of to being almost de rigueurin the society in which Hatton mixed. Moreover, as Rose Mitchell shows in her chapter, new methodologies and new tools were developing, accompanying the emergence of the new profession of surveyor/mapmaker.
Treswell, who took great pride in signing and dating his work, was one such. He was originally a painter-stainer, and that background can perhaps be seen in his unusual use of heraldic symbols to distinguish the holdings of different tenants on the Purbeck maps—trefoil, lozenge, star, cross crosslet and the like—although confusingly the same symbols are used for different tenants on different maps. In service with Hatton from 1571, he had made his first known map only some five years before this survey; but by this date he was already working for other clients, especially in London, culminating in his major London survey of 1607-1612. Of the eight maps in this volume, the first, showing the whole of the Isle of Purbeck, is effectively a key to the others; and Rose Mitchell argues that Treswell had Saxton’s Dorset map before him when he made it, even though it is based upon his original survey. This raises the interesting question of the existence at this date of a ‘school’ of mapmakers, each learning from the others and in the process laying down ‘rules’ for what a map should look like. This can be seen in stylistic elements such as the border with the cardinal points in Latin; the text boxes; the depiction of a scale of customary perches surmounted by dividers; the conventional use of a limited colour palette; the depiction of relief as little rounded hills; the use of bird’s eye views of buildings rather than plans (although Treswell anticipates future developments in his measured ground plan of Corfe Castle, of particular value as the castle was largely demolished in 1646); and even the way animals, birds, fish and ships are drawn, possibly taken from a pattern book.
In his chapter, Martin Papworth makes the point that local landscape historians generally have to make do with a tithe map of the 1840s, or at best an eighteenth century estate map. Dorset historians are therefore extremely fortunate in having these maps, which are not only detailed, but also highly accurate, as shown by the depiction of part of the Studland coast, much changed by erosion since Treswell’s day, but its former traces still visible in a modern LIDAR survey. It is therefore safe to rely, for example, on the open fields shown in the maps of Studland and Corfe, with their furlong boundaries.
The chapters by Jenny Barnard, on conservation, and by Mark Forrest, on the context of the written survey, with details of tenure, rents and customs, complete this comprehensive account of a very fine—but far from typical—example of an estate survey from the middle of Elizabeth’s reign. Its interest extends well beyond the borders of Dorset: and the price is remarkable for such a well-produced book.
WILLIAM D. SHANNON is an independent researcher in history. Following retirement in October 2002, he graduated MA in Local and Regional History at Lancaster University in 2004, and PhD in 2009, with a thesis on enclosure in the lowland wastes of early-modern Lancashire. His main research interests and publications concern the landscape, agricultural and cartographic history of early-modern England. In 2017 he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.