The Local Historian - Volume 45 Number 2 - April 2015


1. Editorial by Alan Crosby Show more → Show less ↓

This issue of The Local Historian, by accident rather than design, has three articles about housing in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, two of them looking—though from very different perspectives—at the history of council housing and council estates. During the past few years housing has become a popular subject for local history investigation. Since 2001 in the journal there have been a number of important articles on the subject, most of them looking at the origins, character and significance of local authority provision, a perspective which has perhaps been prompted by a sense that such housing is now quite firmly in the past and a historical approach is therefore appropriate. While needs has not disappeared—far from it—the dynamic phase of major programmes of development and construction, which began in the last decades of the nineteenth century and became a dominant theme in housing provision after 1918, in effect came to an end with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s first government in 1979. It passed, often unjustly discredited, into history.

Housing is a popular subject not only because of its obvious and fundamental importance to all of us, and the no less obvious fact that it is all around us, but also because it has generated a wealth of documentary and printed material for more than past two hundred years. From the early reports and descriptions produced by pioneering social reformers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, via the powerful and often pitiful accounts of the housing conditions of the poor which appear in mid-Victorian work on sanitary improvement, to the building plans, council minutes and political manifestos of the twentieth century, there is a remarkable range and diversity of material upon which to draw.

In this issue Janet Dunleavey looks at the factors which shaped the local implementation of national policies in post-1918 Worcestershire, showing how the endless tweaking with the financial base of local authority house-building was a crucial element. Andrew Jackson takes a perspective across the whole span of public house-building in Lincoln, during the sea changes of the twentieth century, and places the experience in the context both of public history and of heritage, a notion which would have astonished observers even thirty years ago but now seems perfectly reasonable and unremarkable. In 1961 a seminal study was published: James Dyos’s Victorian Suburb: a study of the growth of Camberwell, for the first time placed middle-class housing firmly on the agenda as a worthy object for study. So long despised by those who on the one hand studied the fine housing of the elite, and on the other by those who researched the miserable hovels of the poor, middle-class suburban housing of the sort inhabited by the Pooters and their ilk was revealed as a fascinating aspect of urban, social and architectural history. Twelve years later came another fine book, unashamedly popular but quite engrossing. Alan Jackson’s Semi-detached London: suburban development, life and transport 1900-39 was the historical study which complemented Betjeman’s Metroland verse, and legitimised the historical investigation of the Tolworths and Edgwares, the Raynes Parks and the Ilfords of the south-east. I devoured it when it was published and I thoroughly enjoy it over forty years later. In this issue Christopher French turns his attention to that most archetypal of suburbs, Surbiton, taking a period which overlaps the respective work of Dyos and Jackson and demonstrates how there is still plenty of scope for careful analysis of the built environment of the middle class a century or so ago.

But despite these richly rewarding studies, one comment which I heard recently suggested that much of what is written about housing (not in this journal, I think, but more widely) lacks a human dimension—in other words, that it focuses especially or even exclusively on the architectural and planning aspects and, because it relies heavily on local and central government sources, it almost inevitably tends to acquire an ‘official’ flavour. This view, which might of course be challenged, could be echoed in other areas of historical study. How much of what is written on education history reflects the reality of the day to day experience of school, and how much is about structures and organisations, government policies and reports? A common criticism of transport history is that it focuses too much on infrastructure and machinery, parliamentary processes and chronologies of opening and closure, and pays far too little attention to the traffic which used roads, canals and railways and to the social and cultural impact of transport change and development.

More widely, we are often reminded of the need for historical objectivity and detachment, those worthy goals often aspired to in principle and so hard to achieve in reality. Take a balanced view, look at both sides of the argument, draw upon sources which take contrasting perspectives, and thereby achieve that disinterested quality which is deemed so essential ... there is nothing wrong with that, of course, but one unfortunate consequence is that the writing itself may become flat and dull, lacking sparkle and vigour. The arguments have less simple clarity, the descriptions are blurred, and (crucially) our enjoyment as readers is potentially diminished. Writing which seeks to be entirely dispassionate can also become dehumanised and mechanical. Sometimes that is unavoidable—especially if the subject matter also allows or requires the extensive use of statistics—but there is a place, and an important place at that, for historical writing with a human dimension. That does not mean fiction or fantasy, but rather a recognition that history is ultimately about people. 

Rereading Alan Jackson’s Semi-detached London recently, I was aware that among its most attractive features is the intermingling of carefully-researched historical detail and the overarching ‘big issues’ of transport development, speculative building and media marketing, with the general and unspecific human stories and the perspectives of commuters and clerks. The desire for suburban comfort and social aspiration is recounted with sympathy and humour. After all, this was the author’s own experience, so there was an instinctive understanding of the nuances and social gradings of suburban living:

‘A piano was almost essential for those who wished to climb the social ladder. Even the poorest families, if they had some ambition, would scrimp and save to amass the necessary £20 or so—hence the contemptuous description of the working-class Conservative: ‘Pride, Poverty and A Piano’ ... Sunday would see the [Edwardian] suburban family dressing in their best clothes, mother in her tightest corsets, the children prickly, stiff and uncomfortable in starched frocks, blue serge and stiff collars. Thus attired, they would process to church, morning and evening, but usually without mother in the morning unless there were servants. In between, they would visit the local parks to admire the floral displays and study the dress and manners of their neighbours. Competition for the best seats on the main promenade was keen. An alternative diversion was a visit to the cemetery, where the graves of close relatives were bedecked with fresh flowers. By no means all the deceased were elderly; many families had lost youngsters to diphtheria, scarlet fever or tuberculosis’.    

Alan Crosby

2. Zen and the art of local history: some transatlantic perspectives by Alan Crosby Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby, ‘Zen and the art of local history: reviewing some transatlantic perspectives’, 92-96

This article reviews a recent publication, Zen and the art of local history, edited by Carol Kammen and Bob Beatty, which appeared in the United States in 2014. The book is a major contribution to the theory and practice of local history, not only in America but more generally, and its lead author, Carol Kammen, is one of the most prominent voices in promoting and analysing local history in the United States. This review essay looks at different aspects of her book, showing how he common sense and down to earth approach which she adopts, and the eminently practical and sensible messages which she gives, deserve the attention of readers in Britain who want to know more about their subject and—importantly—want to understand how the subject works and their own part in it.

3. Ideal and reality: the principles pf the garden city movement and the first council houses in Worcestershire by Janet Dunleavey Show more → Show less ↓

Janet Dunleavey, ‘Ideal and reality: the principles of the garden city movement and the first council houses in Worcestershire’, 97-114

This article assesses the building of council houses in Worcestershire in the years immediately after 1918, looking at the preliminary stages including pre-First World War plans and proposals, and government policies and the housing situation in the immediate aftermath of the war. Special attention is given to the design and planning of houses and the estates in which they stood. The article then focuses on the question of need, and the way that this was determined at the time, looking in particular at the widely differing estimates produced by the local authorities in Worcestershire. This is followed by discussion on the closely related question of finance, and the challenges faced by housing authorities, all of which had to work in the context of government policy and the detailed control which was exercised by government over all financial matters.

The second part of the article comprises four case studies of contrasting local authorities in the county. These are, respectively: the city of Worcester; Kidderminster municipal borough; Malvern urban district; and Martley rural district. Each case study considers the plans which were put forward, the location, design and layout of the housing, and the financial aspects, including the scaling back of plans which were over-ambitious or unaffordable. The conclusion discusses the problems which were faced by local authorities, and observes that the entry of the public sector into the housing market on a large scale was among the major political and social changes of the first half of the twentieth century. It gives an overview of the personnel involved in housing provision, and emphasises the often considerable contrast between the idealised aspirations of design manuals and the often impoverished architecture and plan which eventually emerged.

4. The history and heritage of Lincoln's council estates: local history and 'critical' public history in practice by Andrew J H Jackson Show more → Show less ↓

Andrew J H Jackson, ‘The history and heritage of Lincoln’s council estates: local history and ‘critical’ public history in practice’, 115-125

This article considers council housing built during the twentieth century from the perspective of public history, heritage and townscape. It suggests that it is important to highlight the rationale for their construction, now that the ‘understanding of what brought them into being is fading’. The study looks at the city of Lincoln, where council housing provision was extensive and where a series of large and distinctive estates was built on the edges of the urban area between and after the wars. These estates have now been included in a sequence of detailed reports on Lincoln’s townscape and urban environment, bringing their character and identity to the fore. The article begins with an overview of the emergence of council housing in the period before the Second World War, and then discusses the Lincoln estates in turn: St Giles (an interwar development); the Boultham Estate (some interwar and substantial immediate post-war building); and Ermine, in two phases between 1952 and 1958.

In each case, the design features of the estate are explained, with particular attention to the townscape and the mix of styles and sizes of housing. Particular attention is given to the inclusion of commercial, civic, religious, educational and ‘landmark’ buildings which vary the generally low-key architecture of all three estates. The conclusion suggests that local history and public history have very closely shared aims and agendas, and that council housing as a subject of study opens up one of the key links between them.

5. Housing the middle classes in late Victorian and Edwardian Surbiton by Christopher French Show more → Show less ↓

Christopher French, ‘Housing the middle classes in late Victorian and Edwardian Surbiton’, 126-142

Christopher French has provided an analysis of middle-class housing in Surbiton, one of the archetypal residential commuter towns of the period 1870-1914, which provides a model for other potential case studies. It begins with a detailed assessment of the nature of suburban middle class housing in the period, including the social and cultural pressures which contributed to the flight to the suburbs by those able to afford the move, the lifestyle and the costs of travelling. The paper then considers the building process, introducing such themes as the land market and the significance of patterns of land ownership, and explains a methodology for defining areas of different social class by using the rateable value of properties as an indicator.

This source also allows valuable analysis of property ownership, and reveals the extent of the ‘ownership of houses which were let out for rent income’. Examples of this practice in Surbiton are given, and the family and business histories of some of the individuals concerned are traced using directories, census returns and ratebooks. The great diversity of this class of property-owner is emphasised—some had only one or two houses but the Gilford family, for instance, had 125. The analysis also considers the rents chargeable on these properties, and the social class of their owners. The houses themselves are then described, with advertisements, sale catalogues and the field books of the 1910 Finance Act surveys being used to demonstrate the scale, size and range of amenities provided in suburban residence of different categories. Appendices set out the methodology used in the rateable value exercise, and the potential for converting contemporary values to those of the present day.

6. Fervent rejoicing and muted protest: London at the time of King George V's Silver Jubilee by Neil Robson Show more → Show less ↓

Neil Robson, ‘Fervent rejoicing and muted protest: London at the time of King George V’s Silver Jubilee’, 143-157

The Silver Jubilee in 1935 was an occasion for national celebration, and in this paper Neil Robson considers the ways in which London and Londoners marked the event, mostly by rejoicing but with some relatively quiet complaining and criticism. He begins by giving an overview of the circumstances of the jubilee in the context of wider international and national affairs, and then assesses the state of the capital in the middle of the 1930s against a background of economic uncertainties, booming employment in South East England, enduring poverty and conspicuous wealth. The next section is entitled ‘The marketing of King George’, and it considers the way in which the unprepossessing and simple monarch managed to capture the affection of the nation. This section discusses the plans put forward for the celebrations and the commemoration of the 25 years of the reign, and sets this against the background of Empire and its meaning to the nation. The preparations in London are described, as are the various forms of publicity given to the occasion. The article then describes and analyses the public and private rejoicing and the reaction of the crowds to the king and to the event, contrasting this with the comparatively few voices of criticism from individuals and organisations, including the generally enthusiastic response of the Labour-controlled boroughs of inner London. The article concludes with the intriguing question as to whether, by the 1930s, the development of mass national and international communication meant that the local history of such a celebration really existed.

7. Rex Russell 1919-2015: an appreciation by Linda Crust Show more → Show less ↓

Rex Russell 1916–2014: an appreciation

Rex Russell, historian, friend, family man, lived his entire long and varied life with the constant ethics of his left-wing intellectual background. He was no bigot, no stick-in-the-mud—Rex viewed every aspect of human behaviour with a measured eye and (mostly) with benign tolerance.  He was a solid, kind, honest, generous man who inspired a huge following among Lincolnshire historians. Rex was an active member of the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology for many years and members enjoyed his input in the form of organised outings, particularly to deserted medieval villages, talks and publications. It was a surprise to some members of the Lincolnshire Methodist History Society to learn that Rex, a founder member of the Society, was not a Christian.  He would not pretend to a faith he did not have but he saw in the history of Methodism a massive contribution to the progression of the working man towards education and equality, and regarded the opportunities offered by Methodism as a great enhancement of trust earned by the working populations of two centuries ago.   On my penultimate visit to Rex, when he was in a very weak state, I asked him, “Have you ever been to Tolpuddle?”  ‘No,’ he replied, and metaphorically reared up in the cot-bed where he lay, ‘but I certainly intend to’.  Then he sank back against the sheets looking like a sparse-framed, bearded medieval saint. If I had Rex’s artistic skills I might portray him in a heavenly setting in deeply interested conversation with those old Methodist farm labourers who were martyred for asking for the right to protest.

Rex was fond of telling people that he was born in a workhouse during a Zeppelin raid. This could have been misunderstood as meaning that he was born in poverty, but that was not the case—his parents were master and matron of Hackney Workhouse at the time of his birth. The Zeppelin raid dates his birth to another world beyond the memory of most people now alive. He could remember the vast complex of buildings that surrounded him in infancy and spoke of the workhouse bakery and butchery, the offices and the infirmary. As a child of five or six he moved to Yorkshire with his mother and three brothers as his father sought other employment. Holme on Spalding Moor became the background to Rex’s childhood. His great-grandfather had been head teacher of the village school there and the four clever little Russell boys all attended that school. Rex won a scholarship to a minor public school (Bancrofts, a Drapers’ Company school) which meant that he became a boarder and enlarged his horizons far from the village school. As a teenager he chose to be a commercial artist and trained for this work by winning an Essex County Scholarship to art school. Later, after the war, he gained a degree in history and education at Durham University and used his graphic skills to enhance his many history publications, particularly as a cartographer. He produced wonderfully drawn and lettered maps showing pre-enclosure and post-enclosure parishes. His book on headstones, illustrated by him in pen and ink, showed his skill at copying not only an image but also the feel of an age.

But earlier, before his teaching and publishing life began, the Second World War had broken out. In 1938 Rex married Eleanor (‘Froude’, as she was known). For a time they both worked on the land and that gave Rex the sympathy, which he always retained thereafter, for farm workers and their low pay. Rex joined the National Union of Farm Workers to show solidarity and fight for better pay.  He often addressed people as 'Brother' when teaching, as a term of respect. During the war he served in the Royal Navy but, after the forces and Durham, he found his true vocation in teaching. Rex’s teaching was never one-sided: he preferred dialogue and discussion. He prepared carefully and spoke clearly, and it was a delight to attend his classes. Most of all, he gave generous encouragement, with helpful suggestions and detailed information on sources. Many of his publications were a joint effort with students, and his students invariably wanted to do more work on the subject of local history which they were learning with enthusiasm from primary sources under his guidance. He published numerous articles and books on subjects such as enclosure; allotments; labourers’ movements, Methodism, friendly societies, water drinkers (tee-totallers ... which Rex was not); education in north Lincolnshire; cultural changes in Lincolnshire (from cock-fighting to chapel-building); homes of the poor; deserted medieval villages and the effect of the French Revolution on Lincolnshire. The books were published by the Workers’ Educational Association, to which organisation and the Extra-Mural Department of Hull University he gave a large part of his life. Hundreds of students benefited from his knowledge and enthusiasm and in 2010, when he was a resident in Nettleton Manor Care Home, he was honoured with an award made to him by British Association of Local History for his enormous contribution to local history as a tutor and writer.

Rex and Eleanor had two children, Kleta and Adrian, and spent most of their married life in Barton on Humber.  Kleta now lives in France and has two grown-up children, Mila and Rhéda. Adrian lives in Derbyshire and has two sons, Daniel and Ben. Eleanor, who worked with Rex on several digs when they were already middle-aged, died in 1989 but Rex, though by then an old man, continued to teach and write. In 1994 he surprised his friends by marrying Joan when he was nearly 80 years old. Joan Mostyn-Lewis was, like Rex, an artist and so began, late in life, another happy period. Rex became almost a technophobe. Modern gadgets were not for him. He never took to television and certainly had no wish to own a computer. But for a brief, giddy period in the twenty-first century, he did enjoy videos. He was introduced to the series on English history made by Simon Schama and for several successive weeks he and Joan would arrive by taxi (sometimes on the wrong day) and ask excitedly, “Can we watch that man on the machine again?”. Rex would lean forward in his chair, staring into Schama’s world entranced.

Fifteen years later age was inevitably taking its toll. Rex and Joan were no longer able to look after each other and first Joan and then Rex went into care homes for their last years, Joan to Wales where she was near her daughters Rose and Vanessa and Rex to Nettleton Manor. He died on 15 December 2014 of extreme old age. Farewell, dear riend.                                                                                                                                              

Linda Crust knew Rex for thirty five years as friend and as one of his students, so spent hundreds of hours in his company. She gained a BA (Hons) in Local History from Hull University and has both taught and written about history.  Rex was always willing to read another’s work and comment on it and, even though he had much more experience and knowledge, would welcome others doing the same thing for him.



1. Companion to road passenger transport history (ed Mulley and Higginson) by Alan Crosby Show more → Show less ↓

COMPANION TO ROAD PASSENGER TRANSPORT HISTORY Public road passenger transport in Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man edited by Corinne Mulley and Martin Higginson (Roads and Road Transport History Association 2013 667pp ISBN 978-0-9552876-3-3) £50 inc.p&p from MDS Books of Glossop (£40 to members of the RRTHA)

This massive volume is intended as a complement to the Oxford Companion to British Railway History (edited by Jack Simmons and Gordon Biddle and published by Oxford University Press in 1997) and the Companion to the British Road Haulage Industry, produced by the Roads and road Transport History Association and published by the Science Museum in 2003. It provides a comprehensive introduction to the history and practice of road passenger transport, with guidance about sources and specific entries on an extraordinary range and variety of topics and subjects. As the editors note, the amount of material available is enormous, this having been a subject of great interest to historians and enthusiasts for many decades and of course it is a very important and enduring industry, but their work has demonstrated that nonetheless there is much that remains to be discovered or clarified—notably, they suggest, the personalities involved in the industry and their role and significance.

The book covers all facets of road passenger transport, throughout the British Isles. This includes not only what we would expect—buses, trolleybuses and trams—but also an eclectic variety of other modes of transport, such as taxis and rickshaws. The period covered is, with few exceptions, 1800 to 2000. Approaches to the subject are appropriately broad-ranging, including vehicles and technology, operators, services, legislation, regulation, customers, cultural dimensions and key individuals, and the often innovative and quirky inventiveness which characterised the industry in is first century is reflected in the range of technologies, from horse-power via steam, electricity and the internal combustion engine to cable haulage, compressed air and gas operation. The format is that of an encyclopaedia, arranged alphabetically and with each contribution attributed to its author. The entries vary greatly in length, from a single short paragraph to a couple of pages, and for each there is a short note of references and further reading, ensuring that the derivation of the information is clearly identified. This gives the book a justified air of authority and a value as a springboard for further investigation.

Among its special strengths is that passenger transport history is set firmly and definitely in its social, economic and political context. This is emphatically not (and I used this phrase deliberately though I know it is possibly patronising) a book aimed at those who collect bus numbers. It is a serious and academically sound synthesis of an immense variety of detail, and it is invaluable for anybody who wants to know more about this crucial dimension to everyday life in the past two centuries. Thus, opening it at random, I found an essay on the London bus strike of 1958, referenced by works on labour relations in the industry and material in the TGWU and Frank Cousins archives at the Modern Records Centre, Warwick University. Another random opening ... a brief article on Eastbourne, the first British municipality to operate its own bus service, developed from 1903 instead of the building of a tramway network.  The subsequent history of the undertaking is traced, ending with the baleful and perhaps inevitable words that ‘In 2008 the council company, weakened since 2006 by competition from Cavendish Motor Services Ltd., was sold to Stagecoach’. A third random opening revealed a neat, succinct and effective summary of the background and provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1930, one of the key pieces of legislation in the past hundred years, introduced to regulate a chaotic, wasteful and often unsafe industry, and in force until deregulation in 1985 reintroduced, in some areas at least, chaos and waste.

This book is a magnificent achievement. Local historians concerned with any aspect of road transport are sure to find it an authoritative and entirely reliable work of reference, and it should remind us that bus services, in particular, are still a woefully under-researched and under-appreciated aspect of the social and economic history of the twentieth century. Railways and to a lesser extent tramways have received plenty of attention, but there is much potential for researching and investigating the tremendous impact of the ‘country village to market town’ bus networks of the interwar period. The book is also, perhaps unexpectedly, very stimulating to read—dipping into its thousands of entries and its wealth of colour and black and white photographs prompts all sorts of thoughts about transport history and its links with the physical and social transformations of the twentieth century, the role of government in local affairs, and the regrettable loss of the local dimension as giant commercial concerns have swept aside the charms and idiosyncrasies of the bus services which some of us remember from our childhood. 

The price of the book may mean that only individuals with a special interest in the subject are likely to invest, but as a work of reference it is essential. It should certainly be on the shelves of every record office and local studies library.

                                                                                                                                               ALAN G. CROSBY

Alan Crosby is the editor of The Local Historian, a Council member of the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire and the Chetham Society, and has written extensively on landscape history and related themes including the relationship between landscape and human activity.

2. The great plague: a people's history (Lord) by Jonathan Healey Show more → Show less ↓

THE GREAT PLAGUE A people’s history Evelyn Lord (Yale University Press 2014 xi+173 ISBN 978-0-300-17381-9) £16.99

This rather ambitiously-titled book attempts to tell the story of the 1665-1666 outbreak of plague in Cambridge, which killed around a sixth of the town’s population. It is narrative rather than analytical history, and is based on the author’s very full knowledge of the local history of the town, with plenty of detail about the urban environment and the town’s economy. Overall, it does a reasonably good job of setting out the broad trajectory of the outbreak. It is perhaps unfortunate for Dr Lord that the book follows relatively soon after Keith Wrightson's excellent study of the Newcastle plague of 1636, told through the eyes of the scrivener Ralph Tailor. She attempts to forestall any comparisons early on by (somewhat misleadingly) implying that the latter book is based on one set of sources, whereas hers looks at a wider collection of local records. But in reality the differences run deeper. In particular, her book is in part a fictionalised narrative: individual stories have been embellished, or simply made up, in order to help the reader to imagine what living through the plague was really like for ordinary folk.

How one responds to this is, of course, a matter of personal taste, but it does carry two major problems for readers concerned with the reality of historical evidence. Firstly, it is usually impossible to tell, even if one looks closely at the references, at which point the author segues from fact into invention. If one knows the material well it is possible to hazard a guess, but this is not always easy. Scholars really should be very cautious about following this approach. Secondly, the technique takes agency out of the hands of the reader: effectively, it tries to tell them what they should think about the people who lived through the outbreak, rather than allowing them to make up their own minds. The contrast to Wrightson’s refreshing straightforwardness about his method—and thus his trust in his reader’s ability to reach a conclusion—is stark.

There are some oddities, too. Lord tells us that the most common theory as to the origins of the plague was that of ‘miasma’, but she neglects to mention the notion of ‘contagion’. This is confusing, because she then describes governmental attempts to prevent the spread of plague that would make no sense without the existence of the latter idea. She refers to the town’s 14 per cent exemption from the hearth tax as if this was a high figure, but nationally it was not, and there is little attempt to contextualise the experience of Cambridge within the wider history of the plague. The disappearance of plague after the 1660s is treated cursorily and without any serious reference to the European picture. And there are some pretty serious factual slip-ups. On p.124 there is a reference to John Evelyn attending the Court of Star Chamber in 1666, but that was 25 years after the court had famously been abolished. Even more oddly, having accepted the majority view that the plague was caused by the bacillus Yersinia pestis, Lord repeatedly (pp.134-135) refers to the plague ‘virus’. That a scholar of the plague could confuse bacterial and viral disease is nothing short of astonishing. 

Leaving this aside, Lord’s story is quite interesting, and there is some nice local detail, though her prose does have a tendency to be rather melodramatic. But regrettably it is a book that tells us little, in terms of the plague generally, that we did not already know, and serious local historians may well be disappointed with it.


Jonathan Healey is University Lecturer in Local and Social History at the University of Oxford. He has written a number of articles on early-modern English social history, and his first book, The First Century of Welfare: Poverty and Poor Relief in Lancashire, 1620-1730 was published in 2014.

3. Hertford's Great Pageant 1914 (Sheail) by Michael Winstanley Show more → Show less ↓

HERTFORD’S GRAND PAGEANT 1914 Philip Sheail (Molewood Hawthorn Publishing [Hertford] 2014 60pp ISBN 978-0-9555684-2-8) £5 obtainable from Hertford Museum or

Historical pageants became a rage in the decade before 1914 and their popularity revived in the inter-war period, only petering out in the 1950s. They were large-scale, open air enactments of specially scripted scenes about local (or in some case national) history, with casts of hundreds, or even thousands, of amateurs, and were performed daily for up to a week during a summer. Historians are becoming increasingly interested in this phenomenon. There is now a clutch of academic articles (sadly, largely sheltered behind subscription walls and only easily available to those in subscribing institutions), while a wide-ranging pioneering study by the Japanese academic Ayako Yoshino, Pageant Fever, opens up important themes (Waseda University Press, Tokyo 2011 ISBN 978-4-657-11709-0). A major academic survey based at King’s College London and Glasgow University, with a dedicated website, is keen to hear about and encourage local studies of such pageants.

Philip Sheail’s slim but engrossing volume is a timely contribution to this literature. Many of the features which emerge appear to be typical of genre: local history extolled as a educative, unifying and even patriotic force for good; an organisational structure which involved an executive council, specialist committees, patrons, guarantors (necessary if the weather proved inclement); specially commissioned script and music; a ‘pageant master’ and ‘music master’. The pre-modern era dominated the choice of scenes, offering scope for the creation of elaborate costumes, largely made up by local women, and for pageantry, merry-making and battle scenes.                                                        

But Hertford’s experiences also illustrate some of the more contentious issues which mounting such a pageant could throw up and which could not be easily resolved. It exposed a deep personal rift between Charles Ashdown (the pageant master and script writer) and some local community activists who felt their contribution, and that of children in the town in particular, had been marginalised. It reflected the established social hierarchy of the area. Those who organised and performed in it were largely drawn from the area’s skilled, retail, professional and leisured classes, not the labouring masses. Sheail’s contribution to ‘Pageant of the Month’ on the project website contains additional information about the importance of their financial and personal contributions ( Given the high ticket prices for the main performances it is likely they also made up most of the audiences. Above all, however, this study exemplifies three of the local historian’s perennial problems. First, what to select as ‘significant’ events from the plethora available. Second, how to find out what actually might have happened, given the incomplete nature of sources. Third, how to present complex events and issues in an accessible, understandable and enjoyable way without compromising what Ashdown insisted should be ‘the truth, rigid truth’. None, it appears, was completely resolved in Hertford’s case.

Studying such pageants is valuable, therefore, not just for the light they shed on provincial society but on the way that society grappled with issues which historians, of whatever specialism, still face today. They are rare occasions when the nature and purpose of local history were publicly debated and the results acted out. There is often a multitude of sources which can be deployed to study them: press reports; souvenir programmes; photos and postcards; and in some cases scrapbooks, artefacts, costumes and film which can even form the basis of a small exhibition as in my own town of Lancaster. It is only through the accumulation of similar studies by local historians that a fuller understanding of this mass phenomenon will emerge.


Michael Winstanley was Senior Lecturer in History at Lancaster University until 2010. In ‘retirement’ he is able to pursue varied research interests unhindered by the distractions of work. His latest book (co-authored with Rob David), The West Indies and the Arctic in the age of sail: voyages of Abram, 1806-62 was published in 2013. He wrote the text for Lancaster City Museum’s exhibition ‘The Pageant of 1913: acting out Lancaster’s history’.

4. William Browne (Ic1410-1489) and Stamford in the fifteenth century (Rogers) by Rosemary Horrox Show more → Show less ↓

NOBLE MERCHANT William Browne (c1410-1489) and Stamford in the fifteenth century Alan Rogers (Abramis 2012 ix+350pp ISBN 978 1 84549 550 3) £19.95

This work draws upon a lifetime of writing about Stamford and, in conjunction with the Stamford Survey Group, editing its surviving medieval archives. The result is an extremely dense and detailed study. The author has trawled manuscript as well as printed material with impressive thoroughness, although he notes that there will be more to be said when the archives at Burghley House become available. The book is aimed explicitly at the general public, rather than at ‘professional historians’ (who are expected to find some of the material unnecessary and the footnotes unduly wordy). The footnotes, especially in the earlier chapters, are enormous, something which the author justifies with the hope that some of his readers will want to follow up particular themes for themselves. Fair enough, but because one note generally serves a whole paragraph it can be almost impossible to work out which references relate to which statements (including direct quotations) in the text. It would have been helpful, too, if there could have been a consolidated bibliography. What we have instead is an identification of the works that appear in an abbreviated form in the footnotes; works that appear in full in the notes, presumably because they are cited only once, are not listed here. Nor is there any identification of the TNA classes deployed, with citation only by call number.

The author’s knowledge of medieval Stamford, and of the Browne family who dominated the town in the late middle ages, is unrivalled and he is often able to correct the errors of earlier historians of the town, exploding a few myths on the way (such as the belief that Stamford was ‘sacked’ by the Lancastrian army on its southward march in 1461). He knows his material so well that occasionally what he says can seem slightly allusive, and the non-local reader longs for a street plan to make sense of some of the topographical references. Rogers is not, of course, infallible and his references to the aristocracy in Part II (Browne, Stamford and the Wars of the Roses) can wobble quite badly; significantly, perhaps, The Complete Peerage does not feature in the list of abbreviations. The earl of Rutland who died with Richard, Duke of York at Wakefield was his second son Edmund and not, as here, his eldest son Richard [sic]; and there was no ‘Richard duke of York’ who could have taken advantage of the fall of the first de la Pole earl of Suffolk in 1388. The latter, like the incorrect claim that the ‘main accuser’ of Richard, Earl of Cambridge in 1415 was the earl of Suffolk, seems to derive from the author’s wish, apparent elsewhere, to identify a Stamford connection to national events wherever possible (the dukes of York and the de la Poles held land in the town).

But if the unremitting focus on Stamford can occasionally lead to distortion, it is more usually the case that the available Stamford evidence is used to good effect to illustrate the themes under discussion. Parts III-V are concerned with money-making, the local community, and identities and culture, and each ranges widely. Religion, for instance, is discussed under ‘community’—mainly because of Browne’s role as gild-member and founder of the hospital that came to bear his name—but the chapter also draws on a range of Browne family wills to give an account of late-medieval piety and its manifestations. The emphasis here is very much on the variety of individual experience; one might even say individual preference. William Browne himself, with his ‘business-like’ will comes across (probably unfairly) as assuming that his salvation was safely under control. His wife’s will is more intensely personal, and does considerably more than ‘hint’ at her religious commitment. It also reveals that after her husband’s death she had taken a vow of chastity: in contemporary parlance had ‘taken the mantle and the ring’. The ‘mantle that I was professed in’, which she bequeathed to the sub-prioress of the nunnery of St Michael, is surely a reference to that ceremony and not, as Rogers suggests, an indication that she had been educated by the nuns. The ‘ring of fine gold of the salutation of Our Lady’ which she bequeathed to Walsingham was perhaps therefore the ring of her profession. Inevitably, she and the other members of the Browne family remain shadowy figures, although Rogers argues strongly for a significant cultural shift between William the merchant and his nephew and heir, Christopher, the courtly high-flyer. Rogers emphasises that William eschewed the title of gentleman, although he was not alone in this and it is likely to reflect less a mercantile rejection of ‘gentility’ than the word’s strong service connotations, which made it inappropriate for men who ‘ruled’ their towns. Rogers opts for calling him a ‘noble merchant’. John Leland, writing in the next century, perhaps came closer: ‘a marchaunt of verie wonderfulle bignesse’.


Rosemary Horrox is a Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. She has written on medieval Hull and Beverley, and is currently working on medieval Cambridge.

5. The historic landscape of Devon (Ryder) by David Hey Show more → Show less ↓

THE HISTORIC LANDSCAPE OF DEVON A study in change and continuity Lucy Ryder (Oxbow: Windgather Press 2013 244 pp ISBN- 978 -1-905119-38-7) £9.95

Recent studies of the Devon countryside, which have suggested that open fields were more widespread than was once thought, have stimulated Lucy Ryder to establish the actual extent of nucleated and dispersed settlements and their associated field systems in different parts of the county. Her aims were to find out how far back patterns of landholding could be traced or projected from the nineteenth century into the medieval period; to discover the occurrence and extent of open-field farming in Devon; and to get firm information about the spread of nucleated and dispersed settlements. Her approach is much influenced by the idea of landscape pays, a concept first put forward by Joan Thirsk when studying agricultural regions. Six pays within the county are identified ‘through the creation, manipulation, and querying of a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) database’. Her principal source materials were tithe survey landholdings, field-names and associated documentary evidence. She devotes a lengthy chapter to a discussion of her sources and methodologies.

Her impressive coloured tithe maps, showing landownership, land-use patterns, field names, and settlement distribution, show that Geographical Information Systems have come a long way in recent years. The initial scepticism of many scholars outside the world of historical geography has waned with the development of more sophisticated approaches and technology. Lucy Ryder demonstrates that ‘GIS now has the ability to undertake analysis and query’. It can order and manipulate the vast amount of information. Here, she applies it particularly to the tithe surveys of 1839-1845 as a starting point for an enquiry into historic landholding patterns, deliberately choosing three study areas that had not received much attention:  the Hartland Moors on the coastal uplands of the north-west; the Blackdown Hills in the east on the border with Somerset; and the South Hams, a coastal and estuarine landscape in the south. Each is treated in detail in a separate chapter.

She concludes that the relationship between nucleated and dispersed settlements is more complex than has been thought. The landscape of the South West is not only very different from that of the classic Midland zone of open-field, nucleated villages, but also differs from the dispersed settlements of the northern counties. But in identifying the internal divisions of her selected districts, which she labels ‘macro pays’ she invents the term ‘micro pays’ for distinctive local countrysides at parish or township level. This is not a term that will catch on. 

Her book is produced in the handsome manner that has long been the hallmark of Windgather Press, the leading publishers of landscape history. Although it is based on a PhD thesis and sections such as that on ‘Morphology and regressive approaches’ might deter the general reader, the studies of her three districts make interesting reading and she is a good advocate for the GIS approach.


David Hey is Emeritus Professor of Local and Family History at the University of Sheffield, where he taught in the Division of Adult Continuing Education. He is currently president of the British Association for Local History, and his recent books include The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (2008), and definitive histories of Yorkshire (2005) and Derbyshire (2008).

6. Primrose Hill (Sheppard) by Neil Robson Show more → Show less ↓

PRIMROSE HILL A history Martin Sheppard (Carnegie Publishing 2013 xiv+322pp ISBN 978-1-85936-222-8) £25

This is indeed an impressive book!  I would never concede that local history publications are habitually inferior in terms of appearance and layout to their mainstream counterparts, but here the author and his publishers have created a product worthy of any of the leading publishing houses. Primrose Hill is an area of high ground just north of London’s Regent’s Park.  It is an affluent locale, one which its residents are wont to describe a trifle self-indulgently as ‘an urban village’, and is notable for at least two reasons: first, its elevated position affords delightful views across London’s essentially flat basin, and second, it has escaped being built upon to any great extent, a rare achievement in a city whose numerous hectares are more or less completely covered by housing and light industry.

Martin Sheppard has lived near Primrose Hill for most of his life, and he researches with a passion. Has he missed a single allusion, even the most oblique, to his chosen subject? I doubt it. A complete chapter is given over to duelling; the preservation of the area as an open space, undeniably a sound case-study of the early-Victorian enthusiasm for creating recreational parks for the enjoyment of the lower classes, is told in extensive detail; H.G. Wells’s 1898 invasion-scare novel The War of the Worlds, the climax of which is set on the hill, receives the coverage worthy of an essay for a literary studies exam; the siting of an anti-aircraft gun installation on Primrose Hill during 1940, undoubtedly a proud contribution towards the defence of London, is honoured with eight pages. Even gay cruising in the 1970s gets a look in, though why the author ascribes a rather precious capital ‘G’ to the word ‘gay’ is unclear.

As a writer of history Sheppard has a wealth of strengths worthy of praise. His style is fresh, accessible and free from cliché, a trap towards which many of us are lured. Time and again events in his patch of north London are set in an altogether wider context; there’s a reference to the opening of a public park in Preston in the 1830s, for instance, and an account of the massing of an invasion force by Napoleon in Boulogne in 1805. Sheppard writes not only of his subject but around it too. More than this, his endnotes, his bibliographies (there are sixteen of them), and his index are exemplary, and newer local history authors would do well to study them for their structure and scholarship alone. Then there are the voices from the past that add such invaluable immediacy to his text: extracts from any number of periodicals, Office of Works correspondence in The National Archives, even synopses of various oral testimonies in the Imperial War Museum sound archives. It was particularly pleasing to see the use made of the diaries of a one-time local civil servant, Anthony Heap, whose daily musings over the period 1928-1985 (now in the London Metropolitan Archives) have been a valuable and touching source of insight for many other social historians beside himself.

The author has understandably defined Primrose Hill as including its immediate surroundings, thereby enabling him to encompass some of the history of Regent’s Park, the zoo within it, the adjacent churches, and the stylish villas and terraces nearby.  In this traditionally cultured locality Sheppard has grasped the opportunity to touch upon numerous creative personalities of lasting reputation: the Victorian war-photographer, Roger Fenton; the tortured author of Father and Son, Edmund Gosse; the Spanish surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí; the biographer and poet, Eleanor Farjeon.  Here is a study of a modestly-sized district in the country’s largest city that can only be described as ‘exhaustive’. Is it too exhaustive? Possibly so. The book is an outcome of what feels like an obsession—so much data for what is in truth a relatively small area—and yet that is perhaps its salvation.  Sheppard’s meaty tome is a reminder of why studying local history is so entrancing; it allows many of us the pure indulgence of researching the subject of our choice to a depth and intensity not readily available with other pastimes.  If any reader is embarking on his or her ‘work of a lifetime’ and dreams of producing the defining story of the area in which they live, they should make certain they study a copy of Primrose Hill: a history. The lessons they take from it will be invaluable to them, of that I am sure.


Neil Robson is a retired HR executive who regularly writes and speaks on the history of south-west London.  He is a past chairman of the Wandsworth Historical Society, and has been the editor of the Wandsworth Historian since 2002.

7. Early modern Radley: people, land and buildings (Dudding) by Heather Falvey Show more → Show less ↓

EARLY MODERN RADLEY People, land and buildings 1547-1768 Richard Dudding (Radley History Club 2014 150pp ISBN 978-0-9568632-3-2) £12+p&p from Richard Dudding, 46/48 Lower Radley, Abingdon OX14 3AY ( 

Soundly based on various contemporary records, including estate surveys drawn up in 1547, 1633 and 1768, this study of the village of Radley, adjacent to Abingdon (both formerly in Berkshire), traces the change from open-field agriculture to enclosed tenant-farming, investigating the social structure, landholding, economy and housing of the village during this period. It is not easy to trace change over time, not least because documents from different periods rarely ‘fit’ together—names of people, areas and fields mutate, areas are measured in different units, and various features are omitted or included—but the author has persevered with his sources and extracted a logical history of the village’s agricultural and pastoral activities. Furthermore, his painstaking research has been enhanced by a large number of illustrations, tables and maps.

The main, but not the only, focus of the study is the ‘emergence and disappearance of Radley’s yeomen farmers’ who cultivated the common fields and grazed animals on the commons, pastures and stubble. Going against the more usual social gradations used by early modernists, the author justifies lumping together ‘husbandmen’ and ‘yeomen’ into one homogenous group of ‘yeomen’, choosing simply to distinguish between those manorial tenants who were ‘yeomen’ and those who ‘cottagers’.  In 1547 there were 25 ‘yeoman farmers’, holding on average 31 acres; by 1633 there were 19, holding on average 20 acres; by 1704 there were twelve of them; and by 1768 there were seven tenant farmers each with farms at least 129 acres, not one of whom had the same surname as any of the earlier yeomen. The village had changed completely in character. In the absence of any formal enclosure agreement(s) or statutory enclosure, the author concludes that enclosure been piecemeal and that the yeomen families had died out or had left the village.

Although, not unusually, the various surveys had no corresponding maps, the author has managed to reconstruct much of the layout of the fields, commons and pastures, and later farms, detailed in those surveys by referring to the map that accompanied the 1849 tithe apportionment. The maps that have been drawn greatly assist the reader. Furthermore, as Radley is still a small village, the author has been able to identify 18 houses contemporary with the various surveys, but it has proved impossible to ‘place’ particular tenants in them. Another conundrum is the size of the early modern population of Radley. As there are no usable records of the 1524 lay subsidy, the first available ‘head-count’ is that from the protestation returns of 1641/2. This is compared with hearth tax returns from 1662 and 1664 and, using suitable multipliers, a plausible population range in the mid-seventeenth century is arrived at (about 250): Annex A discusses the results in detail. 

There is one drawback with the author’s stated methodology: in the introduction he notes that ‘care has been taken to avoid fitting Radley uncritically into a template drawn from wider studies or local ones of other places’. The result, however, is that mostly we see Radley in isolation; for example, there is little sense of interaction with the neighbouring town of Abingdon, let alone with Oxford.  And why did the manorial court elect the overseer of the poor, who was a parish official? Was it because Radley did not have ‘independent parish status’? Nevertheless, Radley History Club is to be congratulated on this highly readable publication: it is well-produced, fully indexed and reasonably priced.


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.

8. A history of the Peak District Moors (Hey) by Alan Crosby Show more → Show less ↓

A HISTORY OF THE PEAK DISTRICT MOORS by David Hey (Pen & Sword Local 2014 viii+207pp ISBN 978 1 78346 281 0) £12.99

To local and family historians, David Hey needs little introduction—his Oxford Companion to Local and Family History is a classic reference work, his books on subjects as varied as Richard Gough’s Myddle, the history of Yorkshire, packhorse roads and those who used them, and the cutlers of Hallamshire, are invariably enjoyable and richly rewarding, and (by no means least) he is President of the British Association for Local History. In this latest book, which has a strongly personal character, he tells the history (and especially the landscape history) of the moors of the Peak District, an area with which he has been intimately connected since infancy. It follows a broadly chronological approach, dividing the vast span of time from prehistory to the present day into broad units, some of which are linked to particular overarching themes of major significance—early history (that is, roughly to the time of the Conquest); the Middle Ages; the early modern period 1550-1750; improvement and enclosure; grouse moors; the ‘right to roam’ from the Victorian period to the early twenty-first century; and present times. Within each of these there are sub-sections which focus on particular topics, such as monastic granges, industries, communications, different forms of enclosure, and moorland farms. This is an approach which David Hey has employed in earlier books, and it works well—the themes can be developed as coherent entities, rather than being dispersed through the book in small sections, but the sense of process and change over time is maintained by the chronological framework.

Throughout, the physical and human landscape of this wonderful area plays the main part, for the history is essentially the story of how that landscape evolved over time to produce the picture which we see today—though it is freely acknowledged that this picture is not static and that further change is inevitable and unavoidable. The book therefore tells of the complex interaction and interweaving of a multitude of human historical processes, in agriculture, industrial development, landownership and management, water catchment, communications, settlement and much else besides. The reader is always acutely conscious of a story that is told by someone who is deeply familiar with the landscape and places he describes: this is no ‘desk-based study’ but the product of a lifetime of living, working and researching in or immediately adjacent to the moors. That gives it a quality which is distinctive—David Hey is what my late father-in-law, who was born about five miles from David’s birthplace, would have called ‘genuine’.

The focus on the moors is intriguing. Most histories of the Peak District unsurprisingly look at the national park as a whole—including not only what has become known as the ‘Dark Peak’ (the gritstone moorlands that stretch in a great series of almost unbroken arcs from the Staffordshire borders via the heights of Kinder Scout to the edge of Matlock in the east) but also the ‘White Peak’, the dissected limestone plateaux which occupy the centre and south of the area. But, as their nicknames imply, these are dramatically different landscapes, and the historical processes which have shaped them have differed very markedly. By taking the moorland areas a single landscape area David Hey gives them the full attention that they deserve—rather than being seen simply as the dark framework for the limestone interior, they emerge as a fascinating landscape in their own right. It is only fair to point out that the book concentrates heavily on the eastern and northern moors—the western ones, from Hayfield and New Mills south to Morridge and Onecote receive much less coverage. They have a distinct history of their own and perhaps one day a separate account might be written.

This book is beautifully written in the clear simple prose which typifies David’s work, and is fully illustrated with numerous black and white photographs—though the inclusion of some maps would have been an advantage to those less familiar with the geography of the area and the detail of its landscapes and locations. At £12.99 it is very good value, and though I know the area very well myself I learned a tremendous amount from reading it, which I did with pleasure and enjoyment.                                                                                                                                                                  ALAN G. CROSBY

Alan Crosby is the editor of The Local Historian, a Council member of the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire and the Chetham Society, and has written extensively on landscape history and related themes including the relationship between landscape and human activity.

9. Six Maynooth Studies: booklets on aspects of Irish local history by Gerard Moran Show more → Show less ↓

THE SOUTH CIRCULAR ROAD, DUBLIN  on the eve of the First World War by Catherine Scuffil; THE EASTER RISING OF 1916  IN NORTH CO. DUBLIN: a Skerries perspective by Peter F. Whearity; PORTMARNOCK AND THE PLUNKETTS 1850-1918: the Portmarnock Brick and Terracotta Works by Alan Costello; MARCELLA GERRARD’S GALWAY ESTATE 1820-1870 by Tom Creehan; BORRIS HOUSE, CO. CARLOW and the elite Regency patronage by Edmund Joyce; WOMEN, ARCHITECTURE AND BUILDING in the East of Ireland, c.1790-1840 by Ruth Thorpe (Maynooth Studies in Local History: Dublin: Four Courts Press 2013) all 8.95 euros

Editor’s note: The Four Courts Press in Dublin is among the most innovative, active and enterprising history publishers in these islands, producing a wide range of attractive and academically rewarding publications on local and regional history in Ireland. A few years ago it took over the well-established ‘Maynooth Studies in Local History’ series, which had been founded at the National University of Ireland Maynooth to publish the fruits of (especially) post-graduate research undertaken as part of the university’s MA in Local History. These reasonably-priced simple small books, typically of 55-70 pages and A5 format, have covered a quite extraordinary range of topics, and over 100 titles have now been published. A sample from my own collection include works on dancing as a social pastime in south-east Ireland 1800-1897, the enticingly titled Piss-pots, printers and public opinion in eighteenth-century Dublin, Glasnevin Cemetery 1832-1900, and a County Wexford family in the Land War. In this review Gerard Moran looks at four of the recent titles from this enterprising and always rewarding series. Would that there was an equivalent on this side of the water (thanks also to Dick Hunter for his help in bringing this review to our attention).


As Ireland begins a decade of commemoration, publications highlight major events such as the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rebellion which are important nationally, and locally too. Catherine Scuffil’s study of the South Circular Road in Dublin prior to the Great War is a fascinating work, which demonstrates the richness of the 1911 enumerators’ census sheets as a historical source for engaging with a community. Five geographical sections reveal its diversity in terms of social composition, religion and ethnic origin: while the majority of its 2700 residents were Roman Catholic it also contained sizeable Protestant and Jewish settlements. Though residents were predominantly middle class, the communities of Dolphin’s Barn and Islandbridge largely depended on industrial firms located nearby. This study shows what can be achieved through a forensic examination of available census sources. Unfortunately we must wait some years for the 1921 census returns to discover how the events of 1913-1923 impacted on communities throughout the country. 

Peter Whearity explores the community of interests involved in the 1916 Rising in North Dublin. While Dublin city was the main centre of activity during April 1916, events in Galway, Ashbourne and North Dublin should not be ignored or marginalised. He shows that Skerries and the North Dublin area not only sent men to Ashbourne, Co. Meath, but also to the major centre of engagement in Dublin. The study provides a background to the establishment of the Volunteer movement in North Dublin, the subsequent split in 1914 after John Redmond committed Ireland to involvement in the Great War, and the impact which Eoin McNeill’s countermanding order had on the North Dublin Volunteers before the Rising took place. Volunteers were active in the Howth gun running in 1914, but failed to gain control of the telegraphic service at Skerries. However, under Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, they played an important role at Ashbourne, the insurgents’ only major military success in 1916, developing tactics later used during the War of Independence. This excellent study covers events before, during and after the Rising, though better editing would offer a more coherent view.

Dublin is also the focus of Alan Costello’s study of the Portmarnock Brick and Terracotta Works, owned by the Catholic Plunkett family, which was at its height in the 1880s. Research highlights the problems Irish manufacturers and industrialists encountered from British competition, and the importance of a modern transport network in the distribution of goods. The cyclical nature of the building trade did not help the Works and, while it closed in 1918 as a result of the First World War, its legacy is evident in the building materials used for the Portrane Asylum, the Carnegie Library, Balbriggan and Tara Street Fire Station.

Tom Crehan researches the Gerrard estate community in east Galway over an extended period, with an assessment of the impact on it of the Great Famine of 1845-1848. His ability to explore the changing context of land ownership is excellent. While famine evictions are mainly associated with landlord indebtedness, the Ballinass clearances of 270 people in 1846 were the result of the landlord’s attempt to introduce agricultural change on his property: to create a grazing farm which would be more profitable than tillage farms. While this conversion was initiated before the famine it was the large-scale clearances of 1846 which generated widespread publicity, the first of many evictions in east Galway over the following seven years. While it is often argued that the famine clearances were orchestrated by Protestant landowners, these were carried out by a Catholic proprietor. Crehan provides a template for other landed estate studies.

Edmund Joyce looks at the transformation of the ancestral home of the McMurrogh Kavanaghs at Borris, Co. Carlow under Thomas Kavanagh, focusing on his acquisition of material goods, which was important for the artisan communities which depended on the sale of these goods for survival. Women’s contribution to the architectural landscape in the east of Ireland is the focus of Ruth Thorpe’s work. Individuals such as Anna Maria Dawson at Trinity Hall, Co. Laois, and Lady Helena Domville of Santry House, made important contributions from the end of the Enlightenment to the Great Famine. Not only did they engage in the design of the Big House, but tenants’ cottages too, and were often more practical than their male counterparts. All these studies maintain the high standards of the Maynooth series, indicating the importance of local and community studies as a building block in our understanding of national history.                                                                                                                                         


Gerard Moran is coordinator of History at the European School, Lacken, Brussels and has been a lecturer in the Dept. of History at NUI Galway and NUI Maynooth, where he established and was the Director of its MA in Irish History programme.  His research interests include the Irish diaspora, the Great Famine and landlord and tenant relations in Ireland. He is the author of Sending Out Ireland’s Poor: Assisted Emigration from Ireland in the Nineteenth Century (2004), and joint editor of Galway: History and Society (1996) and Mayo: History and Society (2014).