The Local Historian - Volume 45 Number 1 - January 2015


1. Researching medieval wall paintings: a guide to archival sources in England and Wales by Ellie Pridgeon Show more → Show less ↓

Wall paintings were a standard feature of churches in England and Wales throughout the medieval period, but most were obliterated or whitewashed at the Reformation and relatively few therefore survive. In this article Ellie Pridgeon, a nationally-known expert on the subject, introduces a research framework which can be used by local historians who, for example, are working on a guide to their parish church or who are considering the history of faith and belief in their community. Essentially, the paper works systematically through a very wide variety of archival and other sources which can be used to identify and interpret paintings. Pridgeon refers to secondary sources briefly, but focuses initially on contemporary archival material: testamentary evidence; churchwardens’ accounts; patent rolls; and chantry foundation licences are discussed. She then considers post-medieval sources: drawings, paintings and photographs; national collections such as the British Library, English Heritage and local and regional archive repositories and libraries; and church records. The final section suggests sources such as faculty records, newspapers, private correspondence and conservation reports. The final section argues that despite much progress in this field, there is still a great deal more to be learned and that further investigation in churches themselves will reveal many additional examples of wall paintings as time goes on. The paper concludes with a very comprehensive set of notes and references.

2. Food protests and the [in]equality of sacrifice in First World War Devon by Bonnie White Show more → Show less ↓

In this paper Bonnie White, whose work on women and wartime employment has previously been published in The Local Historian, looks at one of the less familiar aspects of the Home Front during the First World War. Historians now recognise that unrest, particularly over food supplies and food prices, was more widespread than the official perspectives had hitherto acknowledged. White begins by explaining the context of alleged profiteering, the black market, the class dimension to food availability, and the challenges that all these represented to central and local authorities alike. She then presents the evidence for popular discontent in Devon, which reached a peak in the spring of 1917 and affected many towns across the county. Its focus was the rapid increase in food prices and the wider sense of unfairness and the existence of privilege and unequal access to essential supplies. Many examples are given and these are placed in a context of principles and historical interpretation of class, gender and political issues. The next section deals with the efforts by the authorities to tackle these questions, including price control and regulation (and its lack of effectiveness), attempts to deal with food shortages, the black market, and distribution problems. White then looks at the relationship between the authorities and local elites, including the role of volunteer organisations, the Food Control Committees, the differing perceptions of equality and sacrifice, and the attitudes of local magistrates to unrest and discontent. She considers how all of these issues impacted upon community identities and the question of how people regarded the local authority and its role. The concluding paragraph suggests that investigation of these issues sheds valuable light on the limits upon public action during the First World War and gives prominence to the way in which mayors, magistrates and others in authority increasingly sympathised with the population in its protests against the ‘mismanaging of the food situation’.  The references provide extensive detail of further reading, contextual discussion and sources which might be used for other local studies on the same theme.

3. Italian ice cream families in the East Sussex seaside resorts by Trevor Hopper Show more → Show less ↓

This short paper is a case-study of one of the lesser-known groups of migrants to Victorian and Edwardian England. Hopper begins by reviewing the literature on Italian migration to Britain, with special reference to the work of Terri Colpi, and shows how most authorities agree that these migrants had a special affinity with the catering trade in its various manifestations. He then notes how this, almost by definition, made an Italian presence in seaside resorts very likely, and then explains how in the Sussex resorts this role was performed by a small group of interlinked families which formed ice cream ‘dynasties’.  He discusses examples from, in particular, Hastings, using directories, oral tradition and interviews, published histories and autobiographies as evidence and includes discussion of the most famous of all the migrants, Sir Charles Forte, who was from Monteforte in Lazio, south of Rome, and whose family were closely connected with the Sussex ice cream trade. The article shows how these families in some cases have conducted the business for over a century, in four or five generations, and concludes with observations on their enduring links with the parts of Italy from which their forebears came.

4. The secrets of Magpie Lane: prostitution in medieval Oxford by Helen Kavanagh Show more → Show less ↓

This essay was the winner of the British Association for Local History ‘Medieval and early modern essay prize’ for 2014. It begins by considering the terminology of prostitution and ‘sex trades’ in medieval England and links this with the colourful nomenclature of streets, lanes and ‘red light districts’ of a variety of medieval towns and cities. In Oxford what later became (decorously) Magpie Lane was known in the Middle Ages as ‘Gropecunt Lane’ (or variants on that theme). Kavanagh therefore considers the topography of prostitution, looking at possible reasons why areas such as this were so favoured for illicit and nocturnal activities, and identifies that in the special circumstances of Oxford the proximity to colleges and to religious houses was certain to have been a powerful determinant. She then assesses the attitudes of the Church towards prostitution and sexual activity, including contemporary examples of incontinence among the clerics of Oxford, and then turns to the abundant evidence for similar irregularity among the students of the university, its colleges and halls. Examples of specific cases are given, and there is discussion of the punishments which were meted out to women who offended. The inquisitions conducted by the chancellors of the university give further evidence, and Kavanagh makes comparisons between Oxford and other towns and cities, and between England and Continental Europe. Her concluding argument is that prostitution in English towns and cities was not necessarily similar – and that in particular the attitudes of the authorities varied from place to place.  In places such as Southwark and Sandwich there were licensed brothels, whereas Oxford, for example, had no such facility.

5. Medieval local history from published sources: a case-study of the manor, market and church of Masham, Yorkshire by John S Lee Show more → Show less ↓

This essay, which was placed second in the British Association for Local History ‘Medieval and early modern essay prize 2014’, is designed to demonstrate how local historians can use published sources to build up a body of information about a particular place. They need not, therefore, be deterred by the prospect of using unpublished and difficult manuscript sources. John Lee chose as his case-study the small market town of Masham, north of Ripon in Yorkshire. He begins by looking at sources which relate to landholdings, including the manor of Masham, its descent and evidence for property-holding and property conveyances.  The second main section considers craftsmen, markets and people – published sources include the medieval taxation returns, market charters and inquisitions post mortem. A section on the church and its wider ecclesiastical context considers church court records, monastic cartularies, and records of the prebend of Masham. The final section indicates which other groups of records do not survive for Masham but may be available for other localities, and suggests that it is of course essential also to consider the physical form of the place—for which there are no descriptions of any sort until the middle decades of the sixteenth century. A valuable appendix lists useful reference works for local historians of the medieval period, with websites and publication details, and there is a comprehensive and informative set of notes and references. The paper will provide a very informative framework and exemplar which can be used by local historians elsewhere to guide their investigations into the medieval community.


1. VCH Derbyshire Vol III: Bolsover and adjacent (ed Riden) parishes by Margaret O'Sullivan Show more → Show less ↓

Victoria County History of Derbyshire vol.III   BOLSOVER AND ADJOINING PARISHES edited by Philip Riden with the assistance of Dudley Fowkes (Boydell/Institute of Historical Research 2013 xv+209pp ISBN 978 1 90435 643 1) £90

The first response to this volume, the third in the VCH series for Derbyshire, might be: ‘Why Bolsover?’ It is published after a very long hiatus; volumes I and II were issued in 1905 and 1907 respectively. This red hardback follows the re-starting of VCH research in the county and the production of two paperbacks, Bolsover: castle, town and colliery and Hardwick: a great house and its estate. These resulted from the project ‘England’s Past for Everyone’ which ran from 2005 to 2010.

The new volume focuses on much the same area: Bolsover, an old but small market town largely undeveloped until recently, and four ancient parishes to the north (Barlborough, Whitwell, Clowne, and Elmton with Creswell) with village communities that were predominantly agricultural until the late nineteenth century. Their identity is shaped in large part by their distinctive geology, topography and mineral resources. All lie mostly on a magnesian limestone plateau characterised by light, easily worked soils, sometimes with coal measures beneath. They are not remote: the MI motorway runs through the area, because they are in the extreme north-east of the county, bounded by the West Riding to the north and Nottinghamshire to the east, and far from Derbyshire’s main centres of population, these places can seem rather isolated. Much less familiar to visitors than the Peak District and the Derbyshire Dales, they have also been adversely affected by late-twentieth century industrial and social changes.  In 2012 Bolsover was reported to be the most deprived locality in Derbyshire.   

So it might have been discouraging to contemplate the history of these five parishes: it was not  a prosperous district in the medieval and early modern periods; markets in places such as Bolsover survived only in truncated  form; other retail activity was limited; few professional services seem to have been established or flourished; protestant nonconformity, though strong for a time in the nineteenth century, has contracted with the closure of many chapels and places of worship; education has had a chequered past, sometimes with deferred reorganisation and only localised rebuilding and refurbishment;  the more important aristocratic landowners did not live locally and latterly appeared to devote more energy to exchanging rather than developing their holdings; a once extensive railway system has been reduced to the Robin Hood Line serving Langwith, Creswell and Whitwell; the parish church in Bolsover has suffered from two disastrous fires; and the built environment still bears the scars of decades of post-industrial decline. The value of this VCH volume is that extensive research and careful analysis has produced a much more balanced account, which will not only inform local and community historians but will encourage new lines of enquiry. Its wealth of detail, full references, extensive bibliography and comprehensive index provide an excellent context for further exploration. There is much to see and to investigate. 

Creswell Crags (partly in Whitwell, partly in Cuckney in Nottinghamshire), a limestone gorge riddled with caves with substantial signs of use since palaeolithic times, reveals some of the earliest evidence of human habitation.  In the later eighteenth century a lake was created in the gorge as a feature in newly landscaped parkland and the Crags became a picturesque destination for more intrepid travellers. A hundred years later that their special archaeological status was recognised and (though not noted here) this was further confirmed when drawings found on some cave walls in 2003 were claimed to be ‘Britain’s only known Ice Age rock art’. It is a site of Specific Scientific Interest for its geological and palaeontological significance and a scheduled ancient monument, while new attractions for present-day tourists include a country park and a wildlife reserve. 

These parishes have their share of important houses. Barlborough has not only its Old Hall, parts of which date from the seventeenth century, and Barlborough Hall, a magnificent mansion built in the late-sixteenth century, but also the late-seventeenth century Park Hall and two early-eighteenth century houses, Beightonfields Priory and Barlborough House. Whitwell Hall, a seventeenth- century structure much altered over the years, is reputed to have an entrance porch intended for Welbeck Abbey but re-erected at Whitwell in the early-nineteenth century. But best known, particularly following English Heritage’s substantial investment, is Bolsover Castle. Founded soon after the Norman Conquest by William Peverel, this hilltop fortress was in ruins when Sir Charles Cavendish bought it in 1613 and built a new house, the ‘Little Castle’, on the site, completed by his son William, later 1st Duke of Newcastle. The principal element was a luxuriously appointed re-creation of a medieval keep, intended as a residence rather than for defence. William’s great enthusiasm was equestrianism, notably dressage, and for this he built a vast indoor riding school, still one of the largest in the country, with a splendid roof and viewing galleries.                                                                 

The medieval town which grew up near the original Bolsover castle fared little better than William Peverel’s fortification. By the 1530s it was so small that Leland rather disparagingly described it as ‘a pretty townlet’. Not even subsequent colliery development nearby changed its appearance to any great extent. However, coalmining elsewhere did prompt the construction of Creswell model village, built at the end of the nineteenth century for employees of the Bolsover Colliery Company. This anticipated on a very small scale some aspects of the garden city movement promoted by Ebenezer Howard and followed the same company’s earlier housing provision at New Bolsover. Less appealing features of this area included the Coalite smokeless fuel and chemical factory which, for sixty-odd years before it closed in 2004, contributed an unmistakeable and pervasive aroma to the neighbourhood. A more positive distinction is to be found in the personality and activities of the MP for Bolsover from 1970, Dennis Skinner, whose prominent place in local life in the later-twentieth century is outlined. His enthusiastic advocacy facilitated the decision to create a new junction on the M1 to stimulate regeneration of former industrial sites. 

There is a parallel with circumstances a century or so ago, when an important driver for development was the creation of a complex railway infrastructure. From the third quarter of the nineteenth century innovative mining technology made it commercially viable to exploit coal resources beneath the limestone and ready access to rail transport opened up new markets. Pits were sunk at Whitwell, Langwith, New Bolsover, Creswell, Oxcroft, Barlborough and Clowne. A glance at a map of Barlborough c.1900 demonstrates how much engineering skill was required to connect its colliery to two different railways and a diagram of lines around Bolsover c.1920 shows a spider’s web linking a plethora of small settlements. This was the apogee of growth in these communities; relatively few new houses were built after the First World War and the middle and later twentieth century saw the piecemeal decline and eventual closure of all deep mines in the county. ‘After Coal’ is the sombre title of the last section of the introduction to this volume and to today’s observer the extractive and associated industries may seem to have left the greatest mark on the area. Despite the attractive names of places such as Whaley Thorns and Carr Vale, the after-effects of the extinction of a single dominant source of employment are clear:  characterless housing estates, sparse public transport and a general sense of low aspirations. Nevertheless, air pollution has diminished and this has helped to improve public health and to maintain the fresh appearance of newly-cleaned buildings. Nor should new retail initiatives be overlooked. Few non-locals will have been aware that Clowne has the first superstore in this part of Derbyshire, called ‘Chesterfield Clowne Tesco’ after the town nine miles away!

Former pit villages are not the whole story. The authors examine in detail complex patterns of land ownership and property descent.  Barlborough retains many characteristics of an estate village; Whitwell’s relationship with a nearby large landed estate centred on Welbeck Abbey has influenced its development; the restored Norman chapel at Steetley is an exceptional survival, but the large churches at Clowne and  Whitwell  reflect  centuries of prominence in local life; small-scale farming was important in Elmton until the mid-twentieth century. Some places attracted charitable benefactions, the most visible of which is the fine almshouses at Barlborough built by the Pole sisters in 1752. Nor is community regeneration a new phenomenon. Almost eighty years ago Oxcroft was the site of a pioneering settlement intended to provide an opportunity for unemployed men and their families to make a living from the land. Derbyshire County Council bought a 399-acre farm from the duke of Devonshire and divided it into forty smallholdings, each with a three-bedroom semi-detached house and associated piggery. The rural writer Fred Kitchen was one of the tenants and produced an entertaining and informative account of his experiences in Settlers in England, published in 1947. Unfortunately, the location was downwind of the Coalite works noted above and the peculiar taste of tomatoes grown at Oxcroft was blamed on its emissions. The experiment ended in 1968 when the land and buildings were sold off: it was the only such venture in Derbyshire and one of only two sponsored by a county council. It improved the living conditions and welfare of the tenants and enhanced their abilities to earn money to support themselves. The same objectives exist today for many communities although times have changed from when it was acceptable to describe residents as ‘breezy, happy men and women and bright, healthy children’.

This volume exemplifies the high standards of research and production always associated with the VCH and it benefits from the priority given recently to the inclusion of more maps and illustrations to complement the text. The familiar systematic presentation of information beginning with a description of each parish’s physical characteristics and progressing through landownership, economic history, social history, religious history and local government makes for ease of reference. It is acknowledged that some of the material has previously been published in the EPE volume on Bolsover, but this does not detract from the overall worth of this work which is aimed at a wider audience with a range of interests including topics which could be broadly described as contemporary lifestyle and leisure. Volume III addresses the question ‘Why Bolsover?’ positively and to very good effect. An area facing serious economic and social challenges has been well served by the historical skill and expertise of the editor Philip Riden, his colleague Dudley Fowkes, and the volunteer groups which have supported them. Further research is said to be well advanced. With this admirable contribution to the history of a particular part of the county, there are convincing grounds for hope that a precedent has been established for the success of future VCH volumes on Derbyshire.


2. The diary of Rowland Jones of Diddlebury School 1908 (ed Speight) by James Bowen Show more → Show less ↓

THE DIARY OF ROWLAND JONES Headmaster of Diddlebury School 1908 edited by Martin Speight (Shropshire Record Series vol.13 2014 xxvi+156 ISBN978-0-9566459-2-0) £15 (£10 to subscribers)

The latest volume in the Shropshire Record Series is the diary kept for the year 1908 by John Rowland Jones, headmaster of the village school in Diddlebury, a parish in Corvedale, South Shropshire. Martin Speight is a well-known local author, having previously published a parish history of Diddlebury, and his introduction provides background about the diarist, his family and the economy and society of Diddlebury, with an account of the two dominant institutions in Edwardian village life: the school and church. Also considered are the leisure activities of the Jones family, which included summer holidays (notably to Rhyl on the North Wales coast), cycling when bicycles became affordable, and music which featured prominently, overlapping with church and school duties. By comparison, reading does not seem to have been a major preoccupation of Jones, although frequent reference is made to newspapers and publications such as The Schoolmaster. A dimension introduced under the sub-heading ‘Getting and Spending’ is the financial circumstances of this typical lower-middle class household: money problems and poor health are increasing concerns, compounded by Jones’s imminent retirement.

The transcribed diary forms the majority of the volume, comprising a daily account running from 1 January 1908 to 3 January 1909 and covering a wide range of aspects of life in Diddlebury. For example, the diary records such themes as the daily weather; musical activities including organ-playing in church, choir practices and orchestral concerts; cycling in the area; buying goods and provisions; attending fairs and the races at Ludlow and Hereford; and gardening. Occasional reference is made to the police, and Jones writes humorously about the vicar—a similarly prominent local figure with whom he interacted. It is, however, the entries regarding school life which are most interesting, including the subjects taught, examinations, occasional instances of bad behaviour, the visits of HM Inspector and the Attendance Officer and the school’s closure because of a measles outbreak.

It is unfortunate that the diary only covers a single year and does not continue for the six months up to Jones’s death, but nevertheless it is a thorough transcript which provides a snapshot of life in Diddlebury in 1908. The inclusion of indexes outlining the people and places mentioned is useful, giving detail about the people named in the diary, their occupations, businesses, place of residence and the connections with places in Shropshire but also further afield in England and Wales. This book is a welcome addition to the series, providing insight into the domestic and social life of a lower-middle class family who played an important role in village life. It will be of interest to local historians concerned with Shropshire’s history, but also relevant to those researching the history of education and the character of rural life at the beginning of the twentieth century.


James P. Bowen is a postdoctoral research associate based at the Department of Geography and Planning, the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool. His research interests include the rural agrarian history of the British Isles, landscape studies and local and regional history. He completed a doctorate in history at Lancaster University, supervised by Professor Angus Winchester and was previously the Economic History Society’s Tawney Junior Research Fellow (2012-2013) at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

3. Weston School log books 1876-1914 (ed Ashby) by Tim Lomas Show more → Show less ↓

WESTON SCHOOL LOG BOOKS 1876-1914 transcribed by Joan Amis, Margaret Bowyer and Janet Gunn; edited by Margaret Ashby (Hertfordshire Record Society 2014 xv+415pp ISBN  978-0-9565111-3-3)

While surviving nineteenth-century school log books are extremely numerous, it is rare to see those for a single school transcribed as a key volume of a county record society. Weston is a village between Baldock and Stevenage and Hertfordshire Record Society has transcribed three of the surviving log books, the last truncated at 1914 as a result of the 100-year rule. As with many log books, the detail depended on the assiduity of the particular compiler, usually the headteacher, as do the issues of personal concern.  The log books cover a period long enough to see several changes of style with occasional glimpses of the wider world such as special lessons on the Boer War and the death of Edward VII.   

This is not a criticism, but what stands out from these log book entries is how typical the school was, as were the events associated with it. This was a fairly small rural establishment which grew to around 150-180 pupils. The challenges it faced were similar to countless others throughout the land. Attendance was a major concern of the headteacher and the managers.  Most pages have some detail about this but it seems much improved in later years.  Many illnesses were mentioned (so many that a separate appendix is added) but few seemed life threatening and frequently the absences were the result of the needs of the farming economy.

The entries reveal changes in education as well as much continuity. The earlier entries focus largely on attendance and standards (particular the visits of HMIs) although the remarkably laconic entry ‘Weston School totally destroyed by fire’ (14 January 1883) indicates that there were wider concerns. Later entries contain much more on the curriculum. Earlier ones also reveal a lack of respect among many families for education—the headteacher’s claim in 1894 that ‘most of the parents are anxious that their children shall not remain in school one day longer than is necessary’ is soon followed by ‘Stevenage Magistrates are of the opinion that no child who lives more than 2 miles from a school can be compelled to attend’ and ‘parents are obstinately opposed to home lessons’. Later entries reveal other changes. The influence of the county council in the twentieth century with visits, instruction, circulars such as that on teaching needlework, and prizes seems benign and generally to have been welcomed by the school. Inspectors report on variable standards throughout the years but are rarely damning. In later years the school seems to have gained a reputation for gardening.

Log books are fascinating documents, especially when the compilers went beyond basic facts and figures to give opinions and vent their frustrations.  The school was closely linked to its community and fairly frequent treats were provided, such as buns, biscuits and cocoa. It received many visitors and the Church kept a watchful eye.   This was not a school characterised by excessive use of the cane and many of the teachers, pupil teachers and monitoresses were clearly dedicated and committed. Conditions were far from ideal, though: the playground was not fit for use in wet weather and there are hints that the teaching was very didactic. This is a welcome addition to the growing body of published education history. Its useful introduction and the carefully compiled entries over a good many years provide us with an insight into a community with intimate glimpses into issues extending way beyond the classroom walls.


Tim Lomas was formerly principal adviser with the Lincolnshire School Improvement Service, and a senior examiner, trainer and author. He is now the chair of the British Association for Local History, and is a Vice President of the Historical Association.

4. Anglo-Catholicism in Mitcham 1928-1939 (Penny) by Joan Dils Show more → Show less ↓

THE CHURCH OF BLUE COLUMNS: ANGLO-CATHOLICISM IN A NEW DISTRICT St Olave Mitcham 1928-1939 by Keith Penny (St Olave’s Mitcham PCC 2013 xii+115pp ISBN 978-0-9926523-0-2) £7.50 inc p&p from K Penny, 29 St Olave’s Walk, London SW16 5QQ

This book is more than just a church history. Its twenty short chapters include a discussion of the social history of a new suburb and its inhabitants, their reaction to the efforts of its priest to introduce Anglo-Catholic ritual and practice into a newly-formed parish, and three of its seven appendices are devoted to an account of its forerunner, the medieval church of St Olave, Southwark, the life and place in Norwegian hagiography of its patron saint and the role of robed male choirs in Anglican worship.

St Olave’s parish, Mitcham was formed to serve Long Thornton, one of the estates built by private developers as part of the inter-war expansion of South London. The area attracted white-collar and skilled and semi-skilled workers with young families, many from other areas of the capital who could afford to buy a house with a mortgage subsidy from the local council. By 1936 the parish numbered about 14,000.  

Though relatively unscathed by the unemployment of the 1930, the parishioners were not affluent so the building of a splendid Byzantine-inspired, Gothic-plan church was only possible with some of the proceeds from the sale of the site of old St Olave’s near London Bridge and with energetic fund-raising. Parochial finances were always precariously balanced; the weekly collection suffered from a ‘loose-change mentality’, still familiar to many incumbents. Even as the debt on the church building was paid off in 1935, a requirement that St Olave’s congregation should help fund a vicarage and a hall for the parish of The Ascension, founded to serve a population becoming too numerous for the mother church to accommodate, meant that financial problems continued. 

So too did the tensions over liturgy between a convinced Anglo-Catholic or High Church vicar, Fr Haslam, and his congregation. They saw his introduction of such practices as High Mass, Reservation of the Sacrament, processions and private confession as ‘threateningly Roman Catholic’.  Fr Haslam was undoubtedly a generous and devoted priest but intransigent in matters of worship. His views eventually prevailed; even the use of incense and some plainsong was introduced by the late 1930s. The account of St Olave’s experience is a valuable case-study into the challenges posed to both pastor and congregation by deeply entrenched but opposing beliefs on liturgical practice.  By contrast the parish seems to have been untroubled and traditional in its social provision with a Mothers’ Union, a Men’s Club and a clutch of Scouts, Guides and other youth groups.

Overall this is a valuable account of parish, its problems and achievements in the closing years of a lost world. It is hard to detect the author’s own preferred forms of worship though his respect and affection for clergy and parishioners is very apparent. Such detailed, well-researched microscopic studies are the stuff of good local history.   


Joan Dils is an Honorary Fellow in History at the University of Reading, President of the History of Reading Society, and a vice-president of Berkshire Local History Association. She recently edited Reading St Laurence Churchwardens’ Accounts1498-1570 and co-edited a revised edition of An Historical Atlas of Berkshire, both for the Berkshire Record Society.

5. Medieval documents from Worcestershire (ed Toomey and ed Swanson & Guyatt) by Heather Falvey Show more → Show less ↓

NOBLE HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT AND SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IN FIFTEENTH-CENTURY WORCESTERSHIRE A household account of Edward, Duke of York at Hanley Castle 1409-10 edited by James P. Toomey and THE VISITATION COURT BOOK OF HARTLEBURY, 1401-1598 edited by Robert N. Swanson and David Guyatt (Worcestershire Historical Society new series vol.24 2013 299pp ISSN 0141-4577, £28+p&p from Robin Whittaker, 14 Scobell Close, Pershore WR10 1QJ

This volume comprises transcripts of two quite different medieval documents. The first is an account, covering the period 1 October 1409 to 20 June 1410, of the daily purchases and expenses, mainly at Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, of the household of Edward Plantagenet, second duke of York, grandson of Edward III and cousin of Henry IV.  It relates to the duke’s household but also includes his wife’s expenses, and those of Henry, Prince of Wales, the future Henry V, who had a small household within the duke’s at Hanley. In the introduction Toomey explains the document’s nature (a duplicate of the daily expenses made for the controller of the household) and covers the departments of the pantry, buttery, brewery, wardrobe (including wax and spices), kitchen and marshalsea (responsible for matters relating to horses and for the care of vehicles). He calculates that the controller oversaw the serving of 43,004 meals (lunches and suppers), feeding not only the households of the duke, his wife and the prince, but also visitors, guests and the poor. The account begins when the household was in Cardiff and records (in expenses) its journey to Hanley, partly overland and partly on the Severn. Strictly speaking this is a journal or diet account (a daily figure, or dieta, is actually given); thus for the most part it is a record of the (purchased) food consumed each day, rather than what had been purchased each day. It therefore shows quite clearly that, for example, fish was eaten on Fridays and strict Lenten observance was kept. Many medieval households purchased items that originated overseas, such as cinnamon, currants, ginger and sugar, but not in the quantities purchased here: 30lbs, 20lbs, 40lbs and 50lbs respectively. And this aristocratic household also consumed French wine, purchased in either Bristol or Chepstow. Expenses of men employed to fetch and carry supplies and animals were also recorded, such as ‘John Mordyk and three of his mates and two horses, in driving 16 oxen from Cardiff to Hanley’. Similarly, in December 1409 184 men were hired for one day to cut down and trim ‘large firewood’ (perhaps logs, as opposed to faggots), producing 242 wain-loads that had to be moved from Blackmore to Hanley. And John the Clokmakere was employed to keep the castle clock working order. A very brief glossary accompanies the account.

The second document is the visitation court book of Hartlebury: although nominally covering the years 1401-1598, the bulk of the entries are medieval (102 pages for the fifteenth century and just 18 for the sixteenth). Swanson’s introduction deals mainly with technicalities of the peculiar of Hartlebury and of the court book itself, paying scant attention to the ways in which its contents illuminate parish life. As this was a church court, much of its business related to testamentary matters, although generally all that was recorded was that a particular will had been proved and that administration had been granted to named individuals. No wills were registered in the court book, although the inventory of William Gull, miller of le Nethermylle, who died in 1478 while on a pilgrimage to Rome, is recorded in full. Parishioners who failed to attend church were reported, such as John atte Thorne who ‘bound barley with his workers on Sunday’. However, other parishioners were complained of when they did attend, such as Peter Aprice who was ‘a common chatterer in church at the time of divine service, and so impedes his neighbours in their prayers’. And in December 1476, parishioners complained about ‘a certain seat lately made for Thomas Barbur’; clearly this was causing a problem, perhaps impeding their view in church; in February 1478 they secured an order ‘that the seat of Thomas Barbur and his wife should be removed or lowered, on pain of 10s’.  Other court business included ordering the maintenance of the churchyard wall, which was divided among the various settlements within the parish; and punishing fornicators and adulterers, which features prominently in the court’s business. Aside from their juiciness, perhaps most interesting are the recorded details of the shaming punishments. For example in 1494, for carnal knowledge of his servant Joan, the penance imposed upon Richard Wall included walking in front of the cross borne in procession around the church and churchyard, ‘wearing his shirt and no other woollen clothing, bare-headed, without stockings or shoes on his feet’, carrying a candle.  He was to kneel three times in three different places in the churchyard and on each occasion ‘receive certain beating with a rod from the hand of the priest’, before entering the church and kneeling before the cross until after the gospel had been read. And this was to be performed on three Sundays.

As Swanson points out, the Worcestershire Historical Society ‘requires the introductions to its publications to be relatively brief’: this is a shame because such a policy reduces the ways in which the text itself can be analysed for the reader’s benefit and hampers editors when drawing attention both to the minutiae and to the generalities of the text. Nevertheless, as there are full indexes to both transcripts, it is possible to search them for details of the management of an early fifteenth century aristocratic household and of parish life in fifteenth century Hartlebury.   


Heather Falvey teaches medieval and early modern local history for the Continuing Education departments of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  She is secretary of the Hertfordshire Record Society.  She has recently edited a volume of late eighteenth century recipes for that society and also co-edited a volume of fifteenth century wills from the York archdiocese for the Richard III Society.

6. Aysgarth Edwardian rock garden (Anderson) by John Page Show more → Show less ↓

AYSGARTH EDWARDIAN ROCK GARDEN A story of creation and re-creation by Rosemary Anderson (York Publishing Services 2014 99pp ISBN   978-0-9928577-0-7) £8.99

Driving through Yorkshire some years ago I was brought to a halt in the village of Aysgarth in Wensleydale by a cry from my wife, who had spotted extraordinary limestone rockwork towering by the roadside. A neat wrought-iron gate bore the words ‘Private Rock Garden’ on a cast-iron plate. I stared in some disbelief and quietly trespassed since it did not appear to be attached to any particular house. Unusually vertical for an English rock garden (it rose to nearly eight metres in a relatively confined space), the design called to mind limestone pinnacles I had botanised high above Lake Garda. The owners lived across the road and I knocked on their door to enquire further, eager to find out from Peter Jauneika and his wife Angela what they knew about their rock garden, and in particular who had built it. It turned out that they knew very little about its origins and I suggested to them that so skilfully was it constructed that it could have been built by James Backhouse and Son, a firm based in York which was greatly famed through most of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth for its rock gardens, its superb alpine nursery and its staff, well-trained in both the construction of rockworks and the cultivation of alpine plants. I tentatively placed the assembling of the naturalistic Aysgarth rocks in the early 1900s, a time when William Robinson’s reputation was at its peak and his views had influenced the ravine garden at Heligan and Ellen Willmott’s valley rock garden at Warley Place. The latter was also a Backhouse creation, supervised by foreman William Angus Clark.  Shortly after my meeting with the Jauneikas a postcard from the same W.A. Clark was unearthed which mentioned his involvement at Aysgarth. He was the author of Alpine Plants: A Practical Method for Growing the Rarer and More Difficult Alpine Flowers (1901), in the revised edition of which (1907) he included alpine rockwork for F.S. Graham of Heather Cottage, Aysgarth among his many achievements.                                                                         

There is always cause for concern when an important garden changes hands. Will the new owners look after it and are they happy to conserve it? In this case one need not have worried. It is pleasing to learn that the Jauneikas took their ‘academic expert’ seriously and cherished their piece of gardening history, restoring the stonework of their Grade II listed garden in 2002-3. The new owners, Adrian and Rosemary Anderson have happily taken on the responsibility and, what is more, Rosemary has now written this excellent little book about Aysgarth’s rock garden.                                                                                                                 

Combining rocks with alpines plants is rarely straightforward. Where exposed bedrock is involved, suitable niches and crevices have to be found and plants may be difficult to establish. Where rocks are imported their arrangement is critical if a final pleasing appearance is to be achieved. The paths winding and tunnelling through the towering Aysgarth limestone blocks from nearby Stephen’s Moor, accompanied by their little rill, are a passable imitation of nature and may well have escaped the worst strictures of rock-gardening’s high priest Reginald Farrer. Mrs. Anderson conjectures that he would have condemned its profusion of disconnected rocks. Had Farrer seen his favourite limestone in full flower, however, with the alpines that he loved clearly growing well, he might have been more forgiving. Above all, he urged rock-garden builders to have a clear plan and to stick to it and W.A. Clark certainly had that.

A useful feature of Mrs. Anderson’s book is the carefully researched material which places her garden in its historical context. The contribution of the Backhouse firm and W.A. Clark, game dealer Francis Sayer Graham’s role and the rise and fall of the rock-gardening fashion are all fully covered and beautifully illustrated. The account concludes with the story of the garden’s second coming and an impressive visitors’ guide to the rock garden and its plants as they are today. All in all, this is a model of local history writing.

JOHN PAGE                                                                                                    

Dr John Page lives in Solihull and has a special interest in garden design and landscape features. He is the convenor of the History of Rock and Alpine Gardening Study Group (HORAG) of the Alpine Garden Society.

7. Browne's Hospital, Stamford 1498-1518 (ed Rogers) by John S Lee Show more → Show less ↓

THE WARDENS Managing a late medieval hospital – Browne’s Hospital, Stamford 1495-1518 edited by Alan Rogers and members of the Stamford Survey Group (Stamford and District Local History Society with  Lincoln Record Society and Abramis Academic Publishing 2013 367pp ISBN 978-1-84549-599-2) £25

‘a certain right honourable man named William Brown merchant of the staple of the town of Calais and of this town of Stamford … and his wife named Margaret … built this said almshouse [and appointed] two priests, secular chaplains, to celebrate divine service and twelve paupers to be sheltered out of love of God’

This narrative, which opens the account book of Browne’s Hospital, Stamford, was written in 1506 by a former warden when the hospital was caught in a dispute with a local gild. Like most medieval accounts, the account book is not a balance sheet or a day book, but mostly comprises statements of actual sums paid out by the warden set against nominal statements of income received and in some cases still due. The hospital was entitled to a nominal income of £62 from its estates but this was reduced by decays (vacant properties), abatements (rents reduced by agreement), chief rents (rent charges), and suits and amercements (charges for attending other manor courts). Like many late medieval institutions, the hospital struggled to collect all its rents. In 1510–1511 the warden even asked for an allowance for making good the rent when tenants ran away.  The outstanding debts and arrears, known as the surplusage, grew each year until 1517 when a more realistic rental was produced. Not surprisingly, the warden seems to have faced a regular shortage of cash. Economies were made by reducing payments to bedesmen, keeping some bedesmen places vacant, and reducing the number of female assistants. The bedesmen and women had varying lengths of stay, from a few weeks to 8 years, and one was expelled for being ‘intractable’.

Unusually for medieval accounts though, this account book includes occasional personal details and sometimes the wardens even used its pages to vent their frustration. We learn that one warden was ‘disappointed and irked’ with his tenants for constant complaining, and another paid for leech craft while ill in London. The warden’s role seems to have been far from easy. The warden travelled regularly to complete land transactions, meet tenants, oversee repairs, buy supplies, and seek help from lawyers. The frequent travel seems to have made the post a stressful one, and one warden died shortly after taking over, while another left after only three years. It would be interesting to know how typical this almshouse was, for as the editor bluntly states, ‘If we are to judge by the story told in this account book, the life of a warden of a late medieval almshouse must have been hell.’

Like many published editions, this work has had a long gestation period. Started nearly 50 years ago, it forms the last of a number of published volumes on medieval Stamford which include editions of medieval title deeds and the borough hall book, as well as a short monograph by Nick Hill and Alan Rogers examining the foundation of Browne’s Hospital (reviewed in TLH vol.4 no.2 April 2014). This edition includes a comprehensive introduction and detailed appendices including tables of accounts, statutes of the hospital, deeds, and documents from a suit in Chancery and the Court of Requests. There is also a detailed glossary to help the reader with the dialect words and idiosyncratic spellings in the English text. These published accounts provide valuable evidence for the operation of a charitable foundation in the late middle ages, which can be examined alongside Browne’s fine surviving hospital building.


John S. Lee has interests in medieval towns and markets and is a research associate at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York. His latest publication is ‘Piped water supplies managed by civic bodies in medieval English towns’ in Urban History vol.41 (2014) 369–393.

8. Wakefield manor court rolls 1812-1813 (ed Hargreaves) by David Griffiths Show more → Show less ↓

THE COURT ROLL OF THE MANOR OF WAKEFIELD FROM OCTOBER 1812 TO SEPTEMBER 1813 edited by John A Hargreaves (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Wakefield Court Rolls Series vol.XVI 2013 xlii+262pp ISBN 978-1-903564-17-2) £20+£2.75 p&p or by subscription £9 pa (£13 overseas).

The court rolls of the Manor of Wakefield, beginning in 1274, survive almost continuously from 1323 until 1925.  Having been in the care of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society since 1943, their outstanding historical importance was recognised in 2011 when they were added to the UK ‘Memory of the World’ Register.

Although the Society has published fifteen previous volumes of rolls, ranging from 1331-3 to 1790-2, this is the first venture into the nineteenth century, and indeed only the second volume after 1689. The choice of year was motivated by its reputation as ‘the worst year in British history’, characterised by war with Napoleonic France and the USA; uniquely high wheat prices after a run of wet summers; the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval; and, in the West Riding woollen districts, the climax of Luddism and consequential garrisoning of the county by thousands of regular soldiers. The 251 court roll entries were transcribed and edited by WEA class members under the guidance of Dr Hargreaves, a well-known Yorkshire historian, who contributes an introductory essay drawing out the main themes of the entries. Extensive detective work on the places and persons named has yielded a fine set of explanatory notes.

Unfortunately no records of the court leet, dealing with public and criminal matters, survive after 1720. The entries in the volume are therefore confined to the courts baron and exclusively concerned with copyhold land transactions. A great deal of circumstantial evidence emerges in the course of these, enabling insightful discussions of, for example, the presence of high-status women copyholders alongside the far more numerous and socially more diverse males; the tensions between rural and emergent industrial land uses; and the diversity of religious expression within wills (21 of which are appended to the roll entries and summarised in the volume).  All of these enrich the historiography of a time and place in rapid transition. Given the tumultuous background which occasioned the choice of year, however, there is a degree of disappointment—one senses for the compilers as well as the reader—about what the rolls were able to reveal.  ‘Resonances of the difficult conditions of 1812’ are, the editor concedes, essentially limited to five references to bankruptcy; ‘incidental allusions’ to bank failures; some enclosures of marginal land; and some evidence of deferred building projects. As to Luddism, the volume illustrates that the Fosters of Horbury, whose mill was attacked, were not much affected, and ‘does not throw any significant new light on its impact on the cloth dressers’. 

Hargreaves concludes that the roll ‘reveals the vibrancy of the manor of Wakefield as a dynamic agency in community affairs’, evidencing ‘medieval continuities’ amid emergent modernity. He is right to emphasise the late survival of manorial administration, and in at least two neighbouring (much smaller) manors, Honley and Huddersfield, courts leet were active well into the nineteenth century in the management of public health and consumer protection issues. In Wakefield, however, where the courts baron were essentially ‘regulating a variety of complex land transactions’ between copyholders, one is left wondering how present the manor was in the life of the wider society.

The volume will be a valuable source for local and family historians in the many communities which it covers. Perhaps, however, placing the transcribed material on-line, rather than in a printed volume, might have made it more readily accessible to them. The searchability of text is now a very powerful tool (although one must add that the volume has an exhaustive index running to 48 pages). An interesting local contrast in this respect is the work of the Marsden Probate Project, where once again volunteers guided by an established historian, Alan Petford, have transcribed two centuries’ of wills from a single community. These are to be placed on the web by the South Pennine History Group, while the print publication is an attractively illustrated thematic volume, Laithes and looms, cows and combstocks by Hazel Seidel (Marsden History Group, 2013).  The YAS, Dr Hargreaves and his volunteers have nonetheless done valuable service to West Riding history by bringing this material into the public domain.
                                                                                                                                                               DAVID GRIFFITHS

David Griffiths is treasurer of Huddersfield Local History Society and a member of the BALH events committee.  His research is focussed on nineteenth-century Huddersfield and his most recent publication, Joseph Brook of Greenhead: ‘Father of the Town’, was reviewed in the July 2014 issue of The Local Historian.

9. Ecology and enclosure in South Cambridgeshire Wittering) by Alan G Crosby Show more → Show less ↓

ECOLOGY AND ENCLOSURE The effect of enclosure on society, farming and the environment in South Cambridgeshire 1798-1850 by Shirley Wittering (Windgather Press 2013 x+204pp ISBN 978 1 905119 44 8) £35

This important study takes a familiar topic, the parliamentary enclosure of lowland England in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and looks at from new perspectives. Shirley Wittering’s study area is the low chalk escarpment of southern Cambridgeshire (‘often known ironically as the East Anglian Heights ... it rises to just over 265 feet), a total of eighteen parishes enclosed between 1799 and 1845. She sought to consider the character, social structure and agricultural regimes of the area prior to enclosure, the process of enclosure itself, and the impact of the process on the communities in question. The study is placed in the wider context of an agricultural transformation associated with industrialisation and urbanisation, a social upheaval as rural poverty grew apace and the Old Poor Law was challenged, and the financial and managerial considerations of estate ownership and organisation.

The book, which is profusely illustrated with maps and plans, tables and photographs, begins with an important assessment of the physical, topographical and geological background to enclosure, a subject easily overlooked—not only by historians today but also by those at the time, who all too often, and quite wrongly, assumed that enclosure was a panacea which would overcome the inherent physical challenges of the land itself. It then moves on to a detailed and thorough analysis of ‘the village community before enclosure’, using estate records, leases, census evidence and especially Poor Law material to paint a picture of rural communities facing major social and economic challenges, of poverty, social instability, war and the evolving policies of landowners (among which Cambridge colleges were prominent). This chapter is complemented by a wide-ranging investigation into the nature and practice of farming on the eve of enclosure, a vital element in any attempt to place enclosure in its proper context. The author demonstrates the complexity of the system, with its combination of open-field arable, fold coursing of sheep (grazed on the heaths in the day and put on arable land in wattle folds at night to provide dung), the growing of a wide variety of crops (assessed from successive crop returns), and the still important role of the commons. 

The second section describes in detail the process of enclosure itself, from the initial proposals, via the parliamentary procedures, to the creation of new landscapes. However, this is set out not simply as a ‘paper trail’ of bureaucratic procedures but with broader dimensions which scrutinise the evidence for opposition to enclosure, weigh up the often divergent interests of large and small landowners, and consider the impact of the loss of customary rights. This is not a new concept in itself, but it is rare to see it considered with such judicious attention. The third part of the book is perhaps the most innovative. It begins with a familiar notion—the physical remodelling of the landscape by the closure of rights of way, the creation of new ones, the implementation of drawing board designs for the patterns of fields and farming units, and the constraining of watercourses into ditches and artificial channels. But it then moves on to look at post-enclosure agriculture, a rarity indeed, for so much that is written on the subject takes the signing, sealing and enrolling of the award as the end of the story, whereas of course it was in reality merely ‘the end of the beginning’.

What happened afterwards was of fundamental importance, and Shirley Wittering asks, and to a great extent answers, key questions: what systems of (for example,) crop rotation were introduced; what was the impact upon the keeping of livestock; what were the social and demographic consequences for the eighteen communities; how did enclosure impact upon the housing stock and its condition; how did changing farming practices affect social structures in terms of farmers, servants and labourers; and what were the longer-term landscape consequences, such as the drastic reduction in the length of a once complex and intricate network of footpaths and hence of the direct contact between the people and their place. And finally the book addresses a scarcely considered issue: using the remarkable contemporary records of the botanists based in nearby Cambridge, Shirley Wittering assesses the ecological consequences of enclosure, assessing trees, hedgerows and their species mix (or non-mix); the exploitation of timber; the total destruction of heathlands and their distinctive flora; the impact on birds and on wetland species; and the tremendous loss of ecological diversity, demonstrating that the practices of the second half of the twentieth century had long antecedents.

This is a fine book, based on the author’s doctoral thesis from the University of East Anglia. It has a wealth of information, including substantial appendices, is based on very extensive research in parish and estate records, and is well-structured. But its greatest strength is the way it reveals fresh perspectives on that familiar and in some senses almost clichéd topic of enclosure, reminding us that this had profound significance in social, cultural and environmental terms. Local historians looking at their own areas (especially in the south and east of England) should profit from considering what Shirley Wittering has discovered for her area of Cambridgeshire.

                                                                                                                                                                ALAN G. CROSBY