The Local Historian - Volume 45 Number 4 - October 2015


1. By ancient right or custom”: the local history of common land in a European context by Angus J.L. Winchester Show more → Show less ↓

Angus J.L. Winchester, ‘”By ancient right or custom”: the local history of common land in a European context’, 266-285

In this important article Angus Winchester, an international expert on common land and the economic and social use and management of uplands, explores the local history of these landscapes and their role as a community resource. He begins by explaining the similarities and differences between the experience of different countries in western Europe, setting out the various legal frameworks which define common land and determine the ways in which it was exploited, and pointing to the ways in which different groups of people had access rights. He observes the close similarities between the ‘traditional’ rights such as obtaining fuel, building materials and thatch; gathering food; and grazing of livestock. Examples of the regulations governing the use of common land in northern England the Netherlands are given.

The second part of the paper gives detailed case-studies. The first, Nether Wasdale (Cumbria), considers the challenging and dramatic geography of this extensive mountain common, the control of grazing numbers, the allocation of specific areas for particular uses, all being compared with European practice. The second looks at the lowland commons of Brancaster (Norfolk) and Bringsty and Bradley Wood (Herefordshire), considering the relationships between commons and the poor, in terms of access to resources, frontiers of colonisation, and the marginal nature of the land and its society. There is an extensive and valuable set of references, providing guidance for further reading. The article as a whole serves as a clear and accessible introduction to a theme which is of major significance in the local history of almost every community in Britain.

2. County, commerce and contacts: Hampshire and the East India Company in the eighteenth century by James Thomas Show more → Show less ↓

James Thomas, ‘County, commerce and contacts: Hampshire and the East India Company in the eighteenth century’, 286-294

This paper won the BALH ‘Short Article Publications Award 2015’. It looks at a subject which is familiar in the context of national and international history—the growth of Empire and its economic and social consequences, in the particular context of the East India Company—but takes a local perspective, showing how the Company and its vast trading, military and political activities impinged on Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The article shows how the Company, as an autonomous international commercial organisation, commanded major resources and enjoyed a very close relationship with the Royal Navy, resulting in important provisioning and shipbuilding business for Hampshire, including not only Portsmouth but also the suppliers of timber, foodstuffs, ironware and other commodities from the hinterland. The Company’s great financial power is considered, as is its need for financial services, while its impact as an employer of manpower at all levels is discussed in detail. Hampshire and Wight emerged as favoured places of residence for retired East India Company ‘nabobs’, and James Thomas looks at the careers of some of these, including their lavish expenditure on country estates and houses. Case studies of two such men—James Morgan of Winchester and William Haverkam of Hambledon—are used to illustrate the potential for exploring the local and family history of key individuals.

3. Supplying the beer: life on the road in late-eighteenth-century Norfolk by Margaret Bird Show more → Show less ↓

Margaret Bird, ‘Supplying the beer: life on the road in late-eighteenth-century Norfolk’, 295-311

This fascinating article is a shortened version of the one which won the BALH ‘Long Article Publications Award 2015’. In it Margaret Bird, who has spent many years transcribing, analysing and contextualising the remarkable diaries of Mary Hardy (1733-1809) and her nephew Henry Raven (1777-?1825), makes a major contribution to the published history of the brewing trade and public houses in the Georgian period. She begins by providing a summary of the family history of these brewers from North Norfolk, before taking a series of themes which emerge from the diaries: the state of the roads, the lie of the land, and itinerancy in daily life; the public houses and the breweries; the geography of supply; vertical integration within the industry, the labour force, and the livestock; work-related road accidents; the farm servants and the brewery staff, their wages and working conditions; labour discipline; and memorialising the workforce. The article draws upon the diaries to illustrate the complexities and intricacies of managing a (by contemporary standards) large-scale enterprise in the pre-railway age, and in doing so it reveals numerous unexpected and stimulating dimensions to local historical analysis. While most local historians will not have ready access to such exceptionally rich primary sources, this article will provide many valuable insights and ideas for further research in other localities. It is also deeply rewarding in its own right.

4. The cost of caring: expenditure on county asylum services in Shropshire and Middlesex 1850-1900 by Frank Hughes Show more → Show less ↓

Frank Hughes, ‘The cost of caring: expenditure on county asylum services in Shropshire and Middlesex 1850-1900’, 312-320

This is the second part of Frank Hughes’s comparative study of Victorian asylums, using Shropshire and Middlesex as case-studies (the first, which looked at the question of differences in lunacy between rural and urban areas, appeared in The Local Historian vol.44 no.4 October 2014). The present paper explains the rationale behind the treatment of pauper lunatics during the nineteenth century, showing how historians have taken different perspectives, arguing that issues such as the desire for social control, the increasing professionalisation of asylum services in the context of the evolving medical profession, and the sequence of legislative changes, are all relevant. It then considers a wide range of tabulated comparative data, looking at the two counties and at the aggregated national picture for England and Wales. The conclusion is that despite the radically different circumstances and scale of the task in Shropshire and Middlesex, there was remarkably little divergence in terms of standard measures such as cost per head. The clear implication is that the pressures for general conformity, especially in the context of legislation and widespread social agreement on suitable approaches to the care of the mentally ill, produced a standardisation across the country. It is noted, however, that ‘cure’ rates remained low.

5. Contributing to the community debate: understanding social change in rural Scotland during the twentieth century by Helen Young Show more → Show less ↓

Helen Young, ‘Contributing to the community debate: understanding social change in rural Scotland during the twentieth century’, 321-335

This article explores the socio-cultural changes and continuities of community life in rural Scotland during the twentieth century. It is focused on the two adjacent hamlets of Ardeonaig and Ardtalnaig, which lie on the south shore of Loch Tay in Highland Perthshire, and it makes extensive use of school logbooks and interviews with local inhabitants to build up a rounded picture of the ways in which social structures and patterns of activity have altered. Helen Young provides a simple background which sets out some of the views of leading sociologists and micro-historians before describing the geographical setting, with its combination of remoteness, a thin and scattered distribution of settlement and population, and difficult environment. The article looks at ‘communities of interest’, explaining how individuals interacted and how the two schools provided a tangible focus for the communities, and then considers church membership. Other ways of defining a community are introduced—‘symbolic constructions’ and economic and social structures, social roles, and intrinsic and intentional communities. The social hierarchy is analysed in terms of patterns of benevolence, locals and incomers, and identity and belonging. The article concludes with assessment of recent changes—alterations in local government structures, the closure of both schools, and the weakening tis of kinship.


1. Leek's Workers In Silk and Their First Trade Union (Anderton) by Geoff Timmins Show more → Show less ↓

LEEK’S WORKERS IN SILK AND THEIR FIRST TRADE UNION by Paul Anderton (Leek and District Historical Society 2013 116 pp no ISBN) £8

This book focuses on the 1830s, when the first known attempt was made to create a trade union among the silk workers at Leek in Staffordshire. Two sections of the book deal specifically with this matter, linking it with early trade union activity in other silk manufacturing towns and with the formation of Robert Owen’s Grand National Consolidated Trade Union in 1833. The remainder of the book deals essentially with living and working conditions in the town during this period, but also draws on evidence from earlier and later decades. There is a helpful index.

An introductory section on working conditions in the various branches of the Leek silk industry draws on first-hand evidence gathered by Joseph Fletcher and Samuel Scriven, the former on behalf of the 1839 Royal Commission on Handloom Weavers and the latter for the 1842 Royal Commission on Children’s Employment. Apt questions are raised about the reliability of the evidence they provide, much of which seems to have been positive in tone. However, some of these questions might have been addressed more fully. In discussing the condition of the town’s silk handloom weavers, for example, the issue of whether they were able to avoid or ameliorate the impact that the growing use of power-looms was having on their way of life by the late 1830s could be addressed by analysis of census schedule evidence, bearing in mind the age, gender and location of those described by the enumerators as silk weavers. There are also contextual points relating to the pace at which power-looms were introduced into silk weaving and how far the silk handloom weavers benefitted from the major upswing in the national economy that occurred during the mid-1830s.

The sections on trade unions provide insights into the strategies that local silk workers’ unions adopted, the most striking of which concern the well-attended processions that accompanied burials of trade union members. That of the youthful Eliza Goldstraw in May 1834 is cited—a procession of hundreds led by a band was said to have taken place. According to one contemporary viewpoint which is quoted, such events were arranged in order to express the ‘sentiments and condition of the operatives’. No doubt the sentiments included expressing mutual support. Telling comment is adduced from contemporary local newspaper reports on the differing ways in which this type of activity was received. Instances of other union activity are considered, including the action taken by an employer in the Leek silk trade against five men who in 1834 were involved in organising a trade union amongst button-makers at nearby Alstonefield. As was the case with union members elsewhere, the men were prosecute for administering an illegal oath.

Sections dealing with aspects of local life outside the workplace include discussion on such matters as the support which families could obtain from the Old Poor Law and from charities and self-help organisations; the various types of leisure time activities in which people could engage, including Sunday school attendance; and health matters, drawing on a survey undertaken in 1866. Domestic conditions are also given attention, centring on a detailed discussion of the inhabitants of Pickwood Road. A large-scale plan from 1854 shows several of the Pickford Road houses, revealing shared back yards and small enclosures that could have been open cesspits into which the contents of privies were emptied. Photographs of two rows of houses in Union Street are also included, one showing nine dwellings and the other six, along with a supposed ground-floor plan of a two-up two-down dwelling, of which the Union Street houses were probably examples. The photographs are not clear in every case with regard to chimney pot provision, but several of them had two pots per stack, indicating that, as was commonly the case, the two front rooms had fireplaces, with the front downstairs room being used as a living room/kitchen and occupying a larger space than the rear downstairs room.. Another photograph showing a court of houses behind St. Edward’s church also shows shared back yards, with two rows of houses little more than a house width apart.

The book raises many questions on which the available evidence can shed only limited amounts of light. As is generally the case with locally-based studies, however, stronger contextualisation can help in this respect. Readers will find a good deal to think about in the themes covered by the book, which may well prompt further research.    


Geoff Timmins is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Central Lancashire and has researched and written very extensively on aspects of industry, housing and transport during the Industrial Revolution. He serves on the Education Committee of the British Association for Local History.

2. The Five Stone Steps (Orton); Rugby, Football and the Working Classes (Masters) by Robert Colls Show more → Show less ↓

THE FIVE STONE STEPS  A tale of a policeman’s life in 1920s South Shields by John Orton (UK Book Publishing 2014, 263pp ISBN 978-1-910223-17-8) £10.45; RUGBY, FOOTBALL AND THE WORKING CLASSES in Victorian and Edwardian York by Charles Walter Masters (University of York Borthwick Paper 123 and 124 2014 72pp ISBN 978-1-904497-59-2) £10

What’s a policeman for?  These days he’s supposed to be there for everything we can think of—from knife crime to cyber crime to thought crime—but John Orton’s excellent The Five Stone Steps tells of a time when he was expected to do not that much except ... well ... hang around street corners. Based on the manuscript memoirs of Jock Gordon, a South Shields station sergeant in the 1920s and 1930s, Orton’s men take up position somewhere in or around the market square and, after a bit of seeing and being seen, knees bend, capes up against a cold North Sea wind, they move on to take up another position on some other corner. Where they do the same. When the odd petty criminal did show his colours and had to be dealt with, either he couldn’t be caught (try catching a bookie’s runner in fear of his liberty), or he could, and was taken round the back for a smack (pimps and prostitutes welcome). Occasionally serious crime was chanced upon, or even detected, but by and large the police were there to keep public order with an eye out for their own advantage. Whether it was chief constables and inspectors on the make (lodge and chapel), or bobbies on the beat (tips, bribes, favours, privileges, near relatives), the law took its political course.

Downtown Shields can be pretty lively now, but a hundred years ago, hard by the river, it was a man’s world of hard drinking, hard hitting sailors, miners, and shipyard workers. Orton provides a map that includes public buildings and public spaces but it was through its public houses that the town knew itself, and the old South Shields Constabulary knew every pub off by heart. The names speak of unspeakable delights: Turk’s Head and Golden Lion, Nova Scotia and General Havelock, Eagle Vaults, City of Durham, The Mechanics and on and on, street by street by corner, all providing different levels of accommodation. In the market, the two that stood side by side were known as the ‘Two Fs’ and you could get one or both according to your fancy.

The book is nicely made and Orton writes well with a good sense of context. However, he was ill-advised to turn the memoir into a ‘fictionalized version’. Nothing was gained by this. You can’t tell the fiction from the faction from what we can suppose was Sgt Gordon’s reasonable attempt to tell the truth. Dates are few and far between too. On the other hand, when did you last read about raw onions for lunch and on what stroke of the birch your back begins to bleed? What’s a policeman for? I don’t know, but she certainly isn’t there now for what he was then. This book would make a good discussion piece for trainee officers at Hendon Police College. The five stone steps led down to the cells in the old Keppel Street station. It’s astonishing, m’lud, how many prisoners fell and bruised their eye on the way down. 

Charles Master’s history takes us into a world made for street corner coppers—street corner football. A hot topic among sports historians (which Gavin Kitching’s recent article in History Workshop Journal goes some way to resolve), Master’s case study on the origins of modern football in York is a useful addition to the literature. Some say the modern game was brought to the masses by chaps who had learned to play at public and private school. York has examples of this in St Peter’s School, Bootham School, and the York Club. Other sports historians say the game was revived by the people themselves out of older folk traditions. York has partial examples of this in Belle Vue FC, the first recorded working-class football club in York, founded in 1876. Still other sports historians, meanwhile, put an each way bet on the subject by arguing that it was both: top-down chaps-to-masses in the first place before going bottom-up masses-to-chaps by the turn of the century. York has plenty examples of that as well, though it has to be said that tracing the origins of a hybrid game is a difficult business. Footballers knew about each other and played against each other not only class to class and code to code but sport to sport too. Cricket, for example, was in the mix not only in players but also in the lending and borrowing of grounds and clubs, while ‘Football’ itself was sub-divided into at least three versions—rugby union, rugby league and, in this case after 1895, the rise and rise of ‘soccer’. In the end, in York at least, soccer became the working-class ‘football’ and rugby union football was left to the private and public school chaps, mainly in the county. So dominant is the association of rugby union with the leafy suburbs that one forgets that there used to be a time when it was just as much a working-class game. There’s a nice photograph on the cover of Masters’ book showing a union match taking place with working-class housing all along the side of the ground; only one tree in sight and not leafy.

There are references to football in York in 1566, 1607, 1726 and 1835 but it’s not until the 1860s that the diminution of actual physical impediments and of Evangelical opposition to the game allowed for the creation of clubs of different size and provenance. A burgeoning sporting press, Saturday half-day, a new sense of the body, a more progressive attitude to the provision of parks and open spaces, a rash of private schools, spare cash among all classes and the emergence of governing bodies able and willing to administer what was happening on the ground all led to the rise of ‘football’ of all types. In 1885 there were about 40 clubs in and around York. By 1895 there were well over a hundred, with soccer still growing. This book establishes the importance of an intensely local sport played in an intensely local culture. In just over two decades, ‘football’ became one of the great civil cultures of these islands and the FA Cup became one of the great civil occasions. Time for the police to take a hand.


Robert Colls is professor of Cultural History at De Montfort University Leicester.  His most recent book is George Orwell English Rebel (Oxford University Press 2013). 

3. Making Sense of Latin Documents for Family and Local Historians (Westcott) by Philip Morgan Show more → Show less ↓

MAKING SENSE OF LATIN DOCUMENTS FOR FAMILY AND LOCAL HISTORIANS by Brooke Westcott (Family History Partnership 2014 83pp ISBN 978 1 906280 45 1) £7.50

Finding a student who has been taught Latin has long been a rarity. In 2014 fewer than 3.5 per cent of the A-level entry was in classical subjects, and a mere 0.3 per cent at GCSE, with no guarantee that more than a small percentage of either of these was in Latin language. This position is of long standing and so, routinely, generations of those who later want to work with the original records of British history before the eighteenth century will have a bewildering array of learning experiences as they struggle to read original documents—to take control, as it were, of their own pasts. Any new book which tries to give structure to that learning, and to counter the profound sense of dislocation from their own histories which is the lot of so many hopeful researchers, is much to be welcomed. Brooke Westcott’s book is not a self-tutor in Latin or palaeography, but rather lies somewhere between the tourist phrase book, sections such as ‘at the restaurant’ here replaced by ‘at the probate court’, and the more expansive vade mecum kept by someone who has had to develop their own learning through experience.  There is, then, a glossary, mostly of legal formulae from a variety of standard records, which is often accompanied by a commentary on the procedures involved, and more occasionally by a comment on the Latin.  Roughly half the book deals with the procedures surrounding will-making, administration and dispute, up to and including excommunication. The second half is concerned with the processes which governed the transmission of land, including the inquisition post mortem, the various forms of land deed which governed the transmission of property, and some collusive actions such as recovery of seisin.

How might the novice user actually deploy the volume? It has to be assumed that she knows roughly the character of the record which it is proposed to read. Since the author also extends all the Latin phrases it will be necessary to match the abbreviated script to the chapter’s crib. This is a summary version of the common medieval approach to deploy a formulary. So, some researchers will look for an edition, ideally a parallel text and translation, or a calendar of the kinds of record they propose to use, and match them to the document at hand. Westcott’s book is a quicker form of initial orientation, and with patient use may also be a kind of solution. But, one ought also to consider learning Latin and palaeography properly and, if that fails, employing a good record agent unless, and I suspect this is often the case, the search and the puzzle are part of the fun of trying to recover one’s own history.


Philip Morgan is currently a senior lecturer in medieval history at Keele University. He is sometime editor of The Local Historian and a former director of the Keele Summer School in Latin & Palaeography. His own research interests are in the social construction of warfare in the late middle ages, late-medieval Gascony, and in the cultural history of water.

4. Stone to Build London (Hackman) by Matthew Hyde Show more → Show less ↓

STONE TO BUILD LONDON: Portland's Legacy by Gill Hackman (Folly Books 2014 310pp ISBN 978-0-9564405-9-4) £24.99

Last year's commemorations to mark the outbreak of the First World War, while reminding us of the realities of that dreadful conflict, have also and incidentally made us aware of the excellent properties of Portland Stone. Anyone who has sought out a war grave will have found the lettering and the regimental badge still crisp, the natural whiteness of the stone standing out bravely against the greensward or the civilian gravestones. Small fossils embedded in the stone may have weathered out, roughening the texture, but the memorial is likely to be still doing its job perfectly. Indeed Portland stone and the standard all-ranks war grave, a masterpiece of simple elegance designed under Fabian Ware, might have been made for each other.

Inigo Jones had used Portland stone in the Banqueting House in Whitehall (it was subsequently entirely faced in Portland), and at the Queen's House in Greenwich, but the association of Portland with London began in earnest with the Great Fire of 1666, and the comprehensive rebuilding that followed especially under Christopher Wren, who specified Portland stone for his many church steeples, for Greenwich Hospital, and for the new St Paul's. Indeed the very striking cover image of the book shows St Paul's Cathedral rising directly from the ravaged landscape of the Isle of Portland.

In actuality the link was anything but direct. The only land bridge with the mainland was Chesil Bank, extremely laborious to walk upon and impossible for heavy transport. Having been freed from the overburden, great blocks of suitable stone were cut out by hand and dragged to the coast, loaded onto small ships (an extremely hazardous operation) and then sailed round the coast to the Thames for unloading. Wren was evidently something of a terror to the Portlanders with their traditional ways of working, and the agents on the island had a hard time of it, but he was undoubtedly right in his choice. Over the years Portland stone has been specified for the public face of London, not just for landmark buildings such as the British Museum, National Gallery and Horse Guards but for entire streets such as Regent Street and the Embankment. Indeed it is hard to reconcile the sheer quantity of Portland stone used around London with the small size of the island, which can be walked around in a long afternoon.

With the construction of a railway (now closed) and a land bridge Portland today is relatively easy to reach, but it is still a very odd place. The traditional strip farming has shaped the bleak landscape. The huge quarries on the top of the island, the band of landslip and tipping on the east side, the succession of tramways have all left their mark, not to mention the Royal Navy and HM Prison Service. Great blocks of stone still lie around awaiting a customer. As our small daughter once remarked: ‘available free’ ... pause ... ‘postage and packing extra’. Quarrying continues, and long may it continue, but now it is highly mechanised and often carried on underground. The succession of images of quarrying and quarrymen through the centuries is a particularly fascinating aspect of the book. The memorable church of St George Reforne, designed and built by Thomas Gilbert in 1765, is the best demonstration of Portland stone on the island, but the suave character of the material really looks best in the city. Indeed, it is best suited to the precision and high finish of classicism and its derivatives such as Edwardian Baroque and Art Deco. It may be merely a matter of association, but it seems much less happy cladding the Gothic of St Margaret's Westminster, or Street's Law Courts in the Strand. Perhaps that is why Barry chose Anston stone from Yorkshire for the new Houses of Parliament.

Nowadays the Portland stone of London gleams uniformly clean and white, but of course it was not always thus. Until the Clean Air Act of 1956 black velvet soot collected under every ledge and windowsill, while the rain washed the upper surfaces clean. We have forgotten how curiously satisfying the effect could be, with every architectural detail emphasised in black and white. I was reminded in Dublin a few years ago where the delicate polychromy of Dean and Woodward's University Museum was given an aura of fragile beauty by the artistic dabs of soot.

Gill Hackman has given us a remarkable story, one of those narratives that need not have happened that way. Without the Great Fire, and the initial impetus given by Christopher Wren, London could have grown gradually from a timber-framed city to a brick one, like Amsterdam or the Hanseatic cities of the Baltic. Indeed the brown stock brick of Bloomsbury and of countless house backs is the other unmistakable element of London's palette, if a lesser one. Considering the difficulties of its transport and the mutual incomprehension of the islanders and London architects it is surprising how much one kind of stone dominates the city.

This is one of those books that opens one's eyes to something most of us are too familiar with to be properly amazed by. Text and pictures reinforce the immense ingenuity and effort that were and are necessary to create this essential part of London's character. A mental image: Trafalgar Square on a January afternoon. A rare gleam of low sun shines straight onto the always-busy front of St Martin's in the Fields, crisply illuminating the double row of giant columns and filling the entrance portico with pale gold light. It is the essence of London, and a gift of the unique stone of the Island of Portland. 


Matthew Hyde is an architectural historian based in north-west England. He is author and co-author of several revised volumes of the ‘Buildings of England’ series, which was founded by Nikolaus Pevsner. These include Cumbria, Cheshire, and Lancashire: Manchester and the South East.

5. The 1851 census of religious worship: Church, Chapel and Meeting Place in the mid-Nineteenth Century Warwickshire (Geary) by Jane Platt Show more → Show less ↓

The 1851 census of religious worship: CHURCH, CHAPEL AND MEETING PLACE IN MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY WARWICKSHIRE edited by Keith Geary (Dugdale Society vol.47 with The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust 2014 362pp ISBN 978 0 85220 097 1) £30 plus p&p from The Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6QW

As Keith Geary remarks at the beginning of the introduction to this excellent volume, the census of religious worship held on 30 March 1851 was a unique event in English and Welsh demographic history; it was not until 2001 that a question of religious affiliation was included in the decennial census. In 1851 enumerators were asked to provide a list of all places of worship in their district, and forms containing questions on such topics as the number attending on Sunday 30 March and how much space there was available for worshippers, were distributed to clergy and other responsible personnel to fill in. Completed returns were then analysed by Horace Mann, a senior official at the Census Office. Despite minor disagreements over its reliability, scholars have continued to use the 1851 religious census as a central resource for studies of religious diversity. Over twenty edited transcriptions of the returns for individual English counties have now been published, and there are yet more in the pipeline.

In this latest volume, Keith Geary has transcribed close to 600 returns for Warwickshire, a county which contained the rapidly growing cities of Birmingham and Coventry as well as many rural parishes. He is to be congratulated on the scope and clarity of this edition which, with its exemplary footnotes, excellent maps and tables, and helpful introduction, more than succeeds in its stated aim of enhancing the value of the original data as an original source for the study of religion in Warwickshire. The introduction is particularly valuable in its utilisation of local results to illuminate national trends, the editor expertly addressing wider issues concerning mid nineteenth-century religion. Sections on aspects of attendance and accommodation such as population growth, free and appropriated sittings and church and chapel building are to be expected in discussions of the results of the 1851 religious census, but the editor also examines what those results disclose about attendance in close and open parishes, endowments, clerical income, pluralism, Sunday schools, the age of places of worship and the patterns of worship to be found within them. While the Church of England receives due attention, there are also particularly full sections on nonconformity and Roman Catholicism. Altogether this is a very satisfying study, drawing the reader’s attention not only to attendance at places of worship in Warwickshire on a wet Sunday in the spring of 1851, but also to vital national issues concerning the religious life of the nation during a period of intense change.


Jane Platt was an honorary researcher in history at Lancaster University, until September 2014. She is the editor of The Diocese of Carlisle, 1814-1855: Chancellor Walter Fletcher’s ‘Diocesan Book’ with additional material from Bishop Percy’s parish notebooks (Surtees Society/Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2015) and the author of Subscribing to Faith? The Anglican Parish Magazine 1859-1929 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

6. Church Lawton Manor Court Rolls 1631-1860 (Lawton) by Brodie Waddell Show more → Show less ↓

CHURCH LAWTON MANOR COURT ROLLS 1631-1860 edited by Guy Lawton (Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire vol.143 2013 lxii+297pp ISBN 9780902593824) £30

Church Lawton is in south-eastern Cheshire, almost on the border of Staffordshire, and the manor has been held by the same lords, the Lawtons, from the Dissolution in 1541 to the present—the family also owned over 90 per cent of the land through most of the period. The population was essentially static at around 350-400 people from the 1630s to the 1770s, but there was a considerable increase thereafter. Although it was a predominantly agricultural township, the editor of this volume has found evidence of a commercial saltworks here from the early eighteenth century onwards. In short, it was a fairly unexceptional sort of place and thus perhaps an ideal case study for anyone looking to reconstruct life in a rural community.

This edition comprises full, precise transcriptions of the proceedings of the manor court from the 1630s to the 1860s, carefully contextualised in a lengthy introduction and in appendices that include tax listings for the locality alongside other information. The manor court met annually and dealt with a wide range of issues, from traditional agricultural nuisances such as ‘removing the lord’s soil’ and encroaching on the common pastures to more serious offences such as fighting and stealing. The court served both to protect the rights of the lord and to enforce the norms of the community. Thus, in 1641 the jury of tenants not only presented seven people for selling horses without paying a toll to the lord, but also presented Thomas Cartwright for lodging vagabonds and the wife of Edward Brooke for being a ‘scold’ who disrupted the peace of the neighbourhood. The activity of the court declined considerably over the course of the period, particularly through a shift away from presentments for theft, violence (‘affrays’), and the regulation of baking and brewing (‘the assize of bread and ale’). Still, it continued to maintain lists of tenants and regulate some aspects of village life. In 1777, for instance, the jurors fined William Norbury 7s 6d ‘for getting drunk and breaking Moses Walkers Jack Chain by Holtering it about his Neck with an intent to make himself away in’.

The volume will obviously be invaluable for anyone interested in the history of this area, but it is also one of the best editions of any manor court rolls currently available, so it will be useful to historians attempting to work with these sorts of records for other localities. The inclusion of both the original Latin and the English translation makes it valuable as a tool for learning how to decipher these sources. The fact that all the jurors and suitors to the court are frequently listed (and thoroughly indexed) makes it an excellent resource for reconstructing the local population. One hopes that an edition of Church Lawton’s earlier surviving rolls, covering the period 1541 to 1628, will soon follow.



Brodie Waddell is lecturer in Early Modern History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has published an article on manor courts in the Historical Journal (2012) and a book on God, Duty and Community in English Economic Life, 1660-1720 (2012).

7. The Court Roll of the Manor of Wakefield From October 1812 to September 1813 (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.16 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 begin in 1274 and survive almost continuously from 1323 until 1925.  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 year’s 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 nearby 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 is treasurer of Huddersfield Local History Society and a member of the BALH events committee.  His research is focused 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.

8. Victoria County History of Shropshire vol.6 pt.1 Shrewsbury (Champion and Thacker) by Tony Carr Show more → Show less ↓

Victoria County History of Shropshire vol.6 pt.1 SHREWSBURY General history and topography edited by W.A. Champion and A.T. Thacker (Institute of Historical Research/Boydell & Brewer 2014 xiii+330pp ISBN 978 1 904356 42 4) £95

Shrewsbury appeared in a written document in 901, when it was described as a city. At that time it was evidently a well-established fortified place within the kingdom of Mercia. The town (it ceased to be described as a city sometime after the compilation of the Domesday Book) later became an important royal base from which the Welsh could be kept at bay or, under Edward I, conquered. Its strategic national importance declined in the later Middle Ages but its status as the centre of the Welsh wool trade lasted into the eighteenth century. Though noted as a town where significant industrial innovations were promoted by Thomas Telford, William Hazledine and others, Shrewsbury did not see major expansion in the nineteenth century, but became instead the regional commercial centre for Shropshire and much of Mid Wales, functions which it still serves.

The first Shropshire VCH volume appeared in 1908. The present book is the eighth in the series, and the fourth topographical volume. All local historians will recognise the value of any VCH publication for their own research. There, briefly stated in the text, will be found reliable evidence and, in the numerous footnotes, expert guidance regarding sources for further exploration. This volume is devoted to the Shropshire’s county town; it contains a chronological history divided into seven periods from 700 to the present, each section being written by experts who have studied particular aspects of the town’s history. Each historical period is subdivided into sections dealing with politics and government, economic history, religion and culture, and topography. The book runs to 343 pages, with 89 illustrations, 14 plans and numerous tables.

Work on this enterprise was started over 20 years ago by which time most of the contributors had already spent many years following their own subject interests independently. Much has subsequently been discovered through further research in local and national records and through archaeological investigation and publication. The resulting publication reveals the vast amount of work the authors have undertaken over several decades; it benefits hugely from their collaboration. This is the first serious history of Shrewsbury since Owen and Blakeway published their two-volume work in 1825; references to that publication occur on many pages of the volume under review. Comparable towns such as Southampton and Oxford have an enviable record of publishing civic archives; the writers of this volume have had to dig their way through vast amounts of original material to extract their evidence. Only in the sections dealing with the last two centuries can the author acknowledge the assistance he has had from members of his adult education research groups in sifting data from the daunting mass of records.

The present volume is a most impressive achievement. Its slow gestation has enabled its contributors to produce work showing their mature mastery of extraordinary amounts of evidence. It is to be followed by another volume, part 2, in the near future; it will be most interesting to see how that complements part 1. Meanwhile we can enjoy this volume’s glimpses into the town’s rich past, tracing the manoeuvres made by the abbot of Shrewsbury to acquire the potentially profitable remains of St Winifred from North Wales, following the Shrewsbury Drapers as they fight off rival towns to retain their monopoly, and perhaps raising a cheer as homeless men break into former military property after the Second World War to provide roofs over their families’ heads.


Tony Carr worked in Shropshire for thirty years, firstly as Local Studies Librarian and later as Public Services Manager at Shropshire Archives.

9. The Women's Land Army in First World War Britain (White) by John Martin Show more → Show less ↓

THE WOMEN’S LAND ARMY IN FIRST WORLD WAR BRITAIN by Bonnie White (Palgrave Macmillan 2014 ix+224pp ISBN978-1-137-36389-3) £55

This informative text provides an excellent insight into the evolution of what were initially a number of discrete training and educational initiatives into a nationally-coordinated organisation to enable women to contribute to the wartime food production campaign. In particular, it explores the changing relationship between the female organisers of the WLA and the Board of Agriculture. It also provides a perceptive critique of the role and impact of propaganda in mobilising recruits to undertake challenging tasks of physically demanding but often rather solitary work on the land. In contrast to previous accounts, the author makes a determined attempt to fully explore the structural differences which existed between the English and Scottish organisations. The impressive evaluation of the technical and administrative structures of the Land Army is well supported by an extensive and valuable collection of endnotes and pertinent illustrations.

The text also provides a perceptive insight into the deferential and paternalistic nature of rural society during the First World War. It focuses primarily on the experiences of the organisers of the WLA, and in particular Meriel Talbot who in 1916 became the Board of Agriculture’s first woman inspector and, in the following year, the Director of the women’s branch of the Board’s food production department. More could have been said about her prejudices and bias and the way her attitudes impinged on the organisation. Talbot was very concerned that new recruits should uphold high moral standards and the good name of the organisation. She was, however, astute enough to recognise the difficulties of imposing any kind of military discipline on women who were working for private employers. The voice of the common or ordinary members of the WLA could also have been explored in more detail in order to complement an impressive but essentially organisational history of the Women’s Land Army. There are a number of instances where the expression merits clarification, but these criticisms are relatively minor and do little to distract from the valuable and important contribution the text makes to enhance our understanding of the crucially important but as yet rather neglected contribution played by the Land Girls in saving Britain from starvation.  Issuing the text as a paperback would be an excellent way of encouraging greater interest in the topic.


John Martin is Professor of Agrarian History at De Montfort University, Leicester. His main research interest is the impact of government policies on British agriculture and the countryside since the 1930s. In addition to his books and articles, he was series consultant for the ‘Wartime Farm’ TV series, and agricultural consultant for the ‘Tudor Monastery farm’ series and ‘Home Fires’ series.