The Local Historian - Volume 46 Number 1 - January 2016


1. Guest editorial: where local history happens by Gillian Draper Show more → Show less ↓

In the summer of 2015 I carried out some work on behalf of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service for Historic England, formerly English Heritage. This is part of a larger assessment of the value of community-generated research, to which numerous BALH members (individuals and societies) contributed by completing a survey which was promoted in our e-newsletter. Historic England will be reporting on the assessment more fully later in 2016, including in this journal. Jane Golding and Daniel Miles of Historic England will also be making a presentation on the assessment and opening up discussion at BALH’s biennial conference ‘Growing Local History: volunteers, innovative projects and an exciting future’, at the university campus, Ipswich, Suffolk 8-10 April 2016 (to book see Local History News or the BALH website).  

My work included a review of where local historians and societies published their research, which forms part of the assessment mentioned above, but I also did a ‘county and city’ analysis of all those local history groups in England which belonged to BALH in February 2015. Here I present the results, which should be of interest to the whole Association. In the future I hope to carry out the same exercise for our extensive society membership in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and ‘overseas’, but inevitably this was not part of the work undertaken for Historic England.

BALH does not disclose the names or contact details of its members to outside bodies, or even to anyone within the organisation unless they are providing the Association’s services, such as the e-newsletter. Nor do we use contact details such as email addresses to send notifications of events: Local History News and the website provide full details, and we know that you do not wish to be bombarded with emails! Therefore the analysis of the geographical locations of local history societies was undertaken simply by place. The address of each society is provided by a member—very often the secretary or treasurer—and is in the form they choose. The Royal Mail has not required county names in addresses since 1996 but they may still be used, and often are, by local history societies outside cities and large towns. Where given, I counted these county names; otherwise, I allocated the society to its historic county, if it still exists, or its modern one (such as West Midlands). The boundaries of historic counties and cities are often controversial, and I followed the summaries of past changes and current definitions on Wikipedia for purposes of analysis.

As regards cities, those analysed separately from counties were Greater London plus the ‘Core Cities Group’, another eight which regard themselves as ‘the largest and most economically important English cities’: Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.  Where a local history society gave its address as a city, borough or large town, with no county name, I allocated it to its historic county but noted that fact (‘Cambridgeshire and Cambridge’). I also noted the names of cities, boroughs or large towns for interest (‘Wiltshire with Salisbury and Swindon’). Among the historic counties of England, only the former county of Huntingdonshire (now in Cambridgeshire) is formally unrepresented in the addresses of BALH societies, despite the existence of both Huntingdonshire Archives and a local history society using the name. Westmorland is now part of Cumbria but the name survives in two local history societies.

The numbers of societies in each county or city reflects county or city size, as well as population and, perhaps more subjectively, wealth distribution across England. Demographics plays its part. There are more BALH societies and members in areas with more settled, generally older, residents rather than those with more mobile, younger, populations. There are other factors at play. For example, there are large numbers of societies in areas where there is, or has until recently been, strong provision of formal local history teaching at university level, such as Kent, Lancashire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey and York. Kent has an exceptional number of societies not only for this reason but also because it has a county-wide local history forum with c.120 member societies, many of which joined BALH recently, not least to benefit from its insurance scheme. Where there are such active umbrella groups for local historians at county or sub-county level, BALH membership is also high, for example in Hampshire, Essex and Suffolk.  

Not all local history societies belong to BALH, particularly perhaps the smaller ones: Lancashire Local History Federation (which covers the ancient County Palatine) has over 125 member societies but many are not in BALH. The existence of local history societies is fluid, with new ones forming and older ones folding all the time, so this survey provides just a snapshot. BALH continues to grow but there is much scope to increase its membership. we gain a steady flow of new members from attending and speaking at local and family history fairs, conferences and study days—in autumn 2015, for instance, from the conference jointly organised with the Local Population Studies Society at Leicester; from leaflets put out at a Sevenoaks Library’s open day; from a stand and speaker at a family history fair in West Surrey and a meeting Bristol & Avon; and from a local archaeology and history society representing BALH at the Hampshire Genealogy Society open day. Much can be done in all counties, cities and towns by BALH members (whether individuals or societies) to make the benefits of the Association known to others—not only the insurance scheme but also the opportunities to publish, to find out about the wider world of local history, to use the resources of the members’ area on the website, to nominate individuals or publications for the BALH awards, to contribute to the e-letter or send in books for review. You can help in these ways:

•           Put out some BALH membership or Local History Day leaflets at your record office, local studies library or museum

•           Attend your county local history forum or federation and promote BALH and its events there

•           Insert BALH’s new advert in your society’s newsletter or journal (BALH may even pay a small fee)

•           Let me know of any local or family history event in your area to which BALH could offer a stand with publications or a short talk on a local history theme: contact me on

2. Review article: books on Welsh places of worship in London and in Wales by D. Huw Owen Show more → Show less ↓

This article is primarily a review of the book City Mission: the story of London’s Welsh Chapels by Huw Edwards but it also considers the wider literature on the subject as a guide to future research. City Mission is a handsomely-produced and comprehensive survey of the places of worship which were established in London by Welsh people,  described as ‘one of London’s first ethnic minorities’ who ‘embraced city life while holding on to some cherished traditions’. In his book Huw Edwards, presenter of the flagship BBC news programme and one of Britain’s foremost broadcast journalists, emphasises the central role of chapels and also churches in Welsh communities in London during the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. The distribution of the 22 Welsh Presbyterian Church of Wales, formerly known as Calvinistic Methodist (P), eleven Independent/Congregational (I), three Wesleyan Methodist (WM), and two Baptist (B) chapels, together with six Anglican (A) churches, is shown on a map of the London underground. All conducted their services in the Welsh language, but a single English-language Calvinistic Methodist cause was established at Islington in 1869 although its chapel, built in 1874, was sold to the Union Chapel, Islington, around 1886. Today, the number of Welsh chapels has fallen to eight but despite a general decrease in membership regular services continue to be held at Jewin (Fann Street), Clapham Junction, Ealing, Sutton and Cockfosters (P); Borough and Harrow (both I); and the inter-denominational Welsh Church of Central London, formed by the union of Castle Street (B) and King’s Cross and Radnor Walk (both I) chapels. One Anglican church remains—St Benet, in the city of London.

Economic problems in Wales were largely responsible for the migration of Welsh persons to London and crucial events included the economic depression of the 1930s. The origins of the oldest surviving Welsh chapel, Jewin (P) in the city of London, may be traced to the renting of a room circa 1772 in Cock Lane, near the Smithfield meat market and Haberdashers Hall. Also in the late-eighteenth century many people were drawn to work in the royal dockyards along the river Thames at Woolwich and Deptford, and several attempts made to provide a suitable place of worship south of the Thames at Lambeth.                
A survey of the occupations of chapel members reveals a close connection between the London Welsh chapels and the dairy industry which attracted many Welsh families to the metropolis. The first photograph in the volume depicts Jenkin Edwards, the author’s forefather, who developed a successful dairy business in Bethnal Green and was a faithful member of the Mile End Road (P) chapel. The Welsh-owned dairy shop became a familiar feature of London life with Welsh dairy families closely associated with chapels in all parts of the capital. Notable examples were members of the Alban Davies family who were prominently involved with Welsh chapels at Walthamstow and Leytonstone (both P), and became generous benefactors to numerous Welsh causes. The busy Walthamstow High Street contained several dairies and also drapery shops owned by Welsh persons. D.H. Evans, a prominent member of the Castle Street (B) chapel, ran in Oxford Street a drapery business which developed by 1894 into one of the largest department stores in London. Other prominent businessmen closely associated with Welsh chapels included Sir Howell J. Williams, an elder at Charing Cross (P); and J. R. Thomas, chief silk buyer at Harrods and later a director of the John Lewis Partnership, a deacon and chapel secretary of King’s Cross (I). Over the years the members increasingly included domestic servants, students, nurses and teachers.

The text of the book, based on careful and extensive research, has been presented in a lively style. The reminiscences of numerous longstanding and also former members emphasise the intrinsic friendly character of the chapels. Welcoming newcomers to the metropolis, the chapels were occasionally described as effective match-making and marriage bureaux agencies! Extremely popular activities, including concerts, eisteddfodau, plays, literary meetings, oratorios and hymn singing festivals, which strengthened the distinctive Welsh cultural traditions of their congregations, were often held in the chapels. Other venues included the Queen’s Hall, where D.H. Evans chaired in 1903 the large-scale Falmouth Road (P) chapel eisteddfod. Many chapels were led by long-serving and inspiring ministers, and their changing social status is reflected in the contrast between the early career of James Hughes, who had worked as a blacksmith in the London dockyards before becoming the first minister of Jewin (P) from 1823 until his death in 1844; and the appearance of the Reverend Peter Hughes Griffiths, the minister of Charing Cross (P) from1902 until 1937, who usually wore a morning coat, Gladstone collar and silk hat. The Reverend D. S. Owen, the minister of Jewin for a remarkable 45 years from 1915 until 1959, oversaw the rebuilding of the chapel after its demolition by bombs in January 1940.                    
A notable feature of the volume is the presentation of a wealth of illustrative material culled from various sources. Full-colour photographs are presented of seven of the eight surviving Welsh places of worship: the absence of one for the Harrow (I) chapel represents a surprising omission. These supplement numerous monochrome photographs, and of considerable interest are those recording the close associations of David Lloyd George with the Clapham Junction (P) and Castle Street (B) chapels. Some of the photographs are of locations where there is now no indication of the existence of a religious building, such as the sites of Wood Green (P) chapel, in Bounds Green, north-west London; and the City Road (WM) chapel which, opened in 1883 and described as ‘one of the grandest Welsh chapels ever built’, was destroyed in an air raid in December, 1940.                   
Several photographs record the conversion of religious buildings to other uses. The Shirland Road chapel (P), near  Paddington railway station, which was the first location in the metropolis to make an impression on many Welsh newcomers, has become the Amadeus wedding conference and events centre, whose website significantly refers to its current use as being in keeping with the original purpose of the building. Striking contrasts between previous and present-day uses are also presented in the photographs of the Charing Cross (P) chapel which, following its conversion to the Limelight nightclub, has recently been redeveloped by the arts charity, Stone Nest; and the Hammersmith (P) chapel which has become an Islamic Centre.

A detailed index is provided and also an extensive bibliography and list of references which contain some surprising items but also several omissions. While a 1959 Welsh-language history of Castle Street is cited, D. Hugh Matthews’s 1989 bilingual history of this chapel does not appear. Also omitted are several recent works which reflect an increasing awareness of the significance of chapels within Wales, with some especially relevant in relation to the subject of this volume. These include Anthony Jones’s Welsh Chapels (1992) in which he described chapels as being ‘without question the national architecture of Wales’. The growing emphasis on the architectural importance of Welsh chapels is reflected in the increasing attention paid to them in successive volumes of The Buildings in Wales series, culminating in the volume on Powys, edited by Robert Scourfield and Richard Haslam (2013).  Recent English-language historical studies of the main Nonconformist denominations include Methodism in Wales, edited by Lionel Madden (2003); R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in Wales, edited by Robert Pope (2004); Eric Jones, The Good Ground (2009), a historical outline of Unitarian churches in Wales; and The history of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism vol.3, Growth and consolidation (c.1814-1914) edited by J. Gwynfor Jones (2013).

Detailed descriptions of selected chapels, as well as churches, are presented in T.J. Hughes, Wales’s best one hundred churches (2006) and Jonathan Wooding, Churches and chapels of Wales (2011). High-quality illustrations appear in the former volume, and also in Tim Rushton’s Capeli/Chapels (2012). Further relevant information is also available on the websites of  Capel, the Chapels Heritage Society ( and Addoldai Cymru, the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust ( present reviewer’s The Chapels of Wales, reviewed in The Local Historian vol.44 no.2 (April 2014) contains three entries on London chapels with the one on Jewin citing a reference to Philip Temple’s Islington Chapels (1992). This again is a surprising omission from the City Mission volume, especially as it provides information on the architects and builders of Jewin, Holloway, Wilton Square (all P), King’s Cross (I) and the City Road (WM) chapels.   Comprehensive local studies concentrating on Nonconformist chapel buildings include Alan Vernon Jones’s Chapels of the Cynon Valley: Capeli Cwm Cynon (2004) and Huw Edwards’s own Capeli Llanelli: our rich heritage (2009), which emphasised the valuable Nonconformist heritage of the industrial town of Llanelli. Huw Edwards has now, in City Mission, considerably enhanced our understanding of the significant contribution of Welsh chapels and churches to their communities in London, and also the social and architectural importance of the various buildings constructed by the various Welsh religious groups active in the capital city.

City Mission: the Story of London’s Welsh Chapels by Huw Edwards (Y Lolfa 2014 368pp ISBN 978 1 84771 905 8) £24.95

D. HUW OWEN, formerly Keeper of Pictures and Maps at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, is the author and editor of several English and Welsh volumes, including Settlement and  Society in Wales (1989); The  Chapels of Wales (2012); and Searching for Family and Community History in Wales (2014 ). His latest book, on the Gwendraeth Valleys and Llanelli, is, by happy coincidence, reviewed in this issue of The Local Historian.

3. ‘It’s the sources that count’: a London-focused review article by Christopher French Show more → Show less ↓

Diaries can be a valuable and evocative source for the historian, not only illuminating notable past historical events (one thinks here of such diarists as Samuel Pepys in the seventeenth century or Chips Channon in the twentieth) but also providing insights into the lives and times of the diarists themselves. Diaries kept by the rich and famous are more likely to survive than those kept by ‘ordinary people’. Indeed, historically the latter were far less likely to write a diary in the first place so any that survive detailing ‘history from below’ are particularly valuable. The first two volumes reviewed here are such examples, although their provenance and presentation are rather different. A South Devon carpenter in Victorian London: the diary of Charles Cleverley Paine by Crispin Paine provides details of the diarist’s life in London and in Kingsbridge, South Devon, between September 1862 and June 1863. The diary entries, according to Crispin (Charles’s great grandson) offer ‘an exceptional picture of how some of the great developments of the mid-nineteenth century impacted on an ambitious 21 year old from a small town in the West Country’. Charles Paine trained as a carpenter and, on completion of his apprenticeship he migrated to London—as did so many young men at this time—where he hoped to find better work prospects and greater social opportunities. Incorporating extensive quotations from the diary, successive short chapters consider the author’s working life as a skilled carpenter, his leisure activities, his continuing connections with fellow South Devonians, and his personal characteristics and qualities. Work was plentiful (Charles Paine arrived in London in the middle of a building boom) and we learn, for example, details of his earnings, who he worked for, and the type of work he was engaged in. He also took advantage of the many social opportunities London had to offer and enjoyed walking in the Royal Parks, frequent trips to the music hall, and visiting museums, exhibitions and other major attractions such as the Zoo, Madam Tussaud’s and the Crystal Palace. Crispin Paine feels that it is more difficult to find clues to Charles’ character and attitudes from his diary entries but still concludes that he was ambitious, respectable and keen to further his education—all in all, ‘Charles was a classic working-class conservative’. His time in London was relatively short and in June 1863 he returned to Kingsbridge because his father was seriously ill. The final two months of his diary entries detail how he spent his time helping to look after his father, occasional carpentry jobs and meetings and trips with friends and family.

Overall, this is a well-produced volume which certainly provides an insight into the life and times of an ordinary working man over a relatively short time period. The text is enhanced by a number of relevant contemporary and more recent illustrations (although the very strange illustration of Charles Paine on page 52 is never explained) and a comprehensive listing of sources and references. The final section on ‘What happened later’ is rather brief and it would be instructive to have more details of how Charles Paine, on his subsequent return to London, built such a successful career as a builder and moved up the social ladder to become an alderman of the City of London. He also fathered ten children. What happened to them? Did any continue in the family business? The author of this study might well consider providing a second volume on the history of the enterprise established by his great grandfather.

A rather different ‘diary based’ volume is A free-spirited woman: the London diaries of Gladys Langford, 1936-1940, edited by Patricia and Robert Malcolmson and published by the London Record Society. The bulk of the book consists of substantial diary entries carefully chosen by the editors. These are enhanced by contextual comments and brief summaries of diary entries between the dates chosen (the later text in italics) together with more substantial editorial commentaries at the beginning of each chapter. Extensive footnoting also helps to guide the reader through the material reproduced from the diary. The editors’ approach is clearly set out in their introduction and, as they indicate, their choice of entries enables them to avoid repetitions and to concentrate on the more ‘interesting’ aspects of Gladys Langford’s life. Overall they claim that ‘Our selections, which represent around half of Gladys’ diary-writing from 1936-1940, give prominence to her writing that conveys detailed descriptions and/or thoughtful reflections’. The result is a substantial body of material which covers the thoughts and experiences of a professional woman in her forties, living on her own in London during a period of increasing national and international crisis. Gladys Langford’s biographical background establishes that she was born Gladys Mears in 1890 in Bethnal Green, trained as a teacher, married George William Langford in 1913, divorced in 1918 and remained single for the rest of her life. During the time covered by the diary she lived in three different residences in Highbury while teaching at a junior boys’ school in Hoxton. In addition to her diary entries, Gladys Langford also filled in questionnaires and wrote reports for Mass Observation from February 1939 onwards and this material is also included in part 2 of the book, covering March 1939 to July 1940. Comparisons can be drawn between her private diary entries and what she wrote for Mass Observation. As the editors conclude, in the latter ‘She answered some of these questions in considerable detail and in so doing disclosed a lot about her tastes, her background, her values and her current circumstances, sometimes well beyond the facts recorded in the diary’. During September and October 1939, Gladys also provided Mass Observation with details of her dreams, which are also included here.

It is impossible in a short review to do full justice to the value and diversity of the material covered—from the ordinary (such as books read and films seen) to the truly memorable such as the outbreak of war—but a number of themes can be highlighted including her general dislike of teaching, her dealings with her various friends and relations (there is a useful list of the main people mentioned in the diary), her love of trips to the theatre, the concert hall and the cinema, her growing anxiety over the deteriorating international situation and her rather tolerant attitude towards men. She desires a permanent relationship but has to be content with occasional sexual encounters with a married man (called Leonard in the diary but not his real name), and she seems not to be over concerned by being molested by men sitting next to her in the theatre or cinema. This is rather a strange attitude for such an emancipated woman and brings out the complex nature of her relationship with the world in which she lived. One or two quotations from the diary will illustrate these various themes and provide a flavour of her style of diary entry: ‘Suffered from a bad spell of rage at school today. I think I get over-wrought with playground duty, drill in the afternoon and the continual noise in the street outside ... Teaching is the world’s worst job for me and when continual talk of war and its horrors are in the air, I feel I can endure no more’ (Monday 5 September 1938). ‘Met Lil and Challis [her sister and brother-in-law] at King’s Cross and I felt at first elated. I thought we should recapture some of the days of pleasurable excitement I used to know as a child when Lil took me out. Alas, we have all changed. I demand more real companionship, she no longer takes any interest in anything save acquiring more and more oddments. Challis, whose intellect was never remarkable, is now an arrant fool’ (Thursday 1 April 1937). ‘To Queen’s Hall. Bitterly cold. Malcolm Sargent conducting, Egon Petri at the piano—a Mozart concerto, second Liszt concerto, and finally Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. My first hearing of the last named and I much enjoyed it. Booked 1s seat for next Beecham concert’ (Monday 7 December 1936). ‘Feel slightly better and much improved in spirits after a violent fit of love-making, more befitting Cleopatra than me. Leonard came this afternoon and we made the very most of our hour and half together. He was quite exhausted when he left but I was merely gleeful. I am 472/3 and still able to rouse him to frenzy’ (Sunday 26 December 1937, Boxing Day).

A number of contemporary illustrations (there is only one known photograph of Gladys Langford, taken when she was briefly married) add value to the text while an appendix provides a list of the books read, the plays, films and exhibitions seen, and the concerts attended in 1937 indicating a very full social and cultural life. The overall quality of production is high and the material presented will be of much value to social historians with an interest in the lives of ‘ordinary men and women’ during the mid-twentieth century. As this volume is based on only the first four of 37 handwritten notebooks, held in the Islington Local History Centre at Finsbury Library, there is ample scope to know more about this ‘free spirited woman’. This excellent volume can be highly recommended to readers of The Local Historian.

In the third book reviewed here, London’s Sailortown 1600-1800: a social history of Shadwell and Radcliffe, an early modern London riverside suburb by Derek Morris and Ken Cozens and published by the East London History Society, it is the variety of sources which is impressive. The authors have previously published similar volumes covering Mile End Old Town, Wapping and Whitechapel and they have therefore produced a considerable body of work intended ‘to challenge the many well-established stereotypes to be found in previously well-regarded books purporting to describe the area in the eighteenth century’. Having reviewed the three previous volumes for TLH (and now this fourth volume) I have been well placed to see how the project has developed over time and to see a number of common themes running through the individual studies including the one reviewed here. First and foremost is the prodigious amount of research into a variety of archival evidence which underpins the narrative. Sources such as wills, land tax records, local newspapers, directories, licensed victuallers’ records, insurance records and rate books have been fully utilised to provide a detailed picture of many aspects of life, work, culture and leisure in this area of the East End of London ‘between Aldgate and the River Lea and between the north bank of the Thames and High Street, Whitechapel’. Similar themes are also explored in all four books although there are variations, of course, resulting largely from each area’s geographical position and varying economic activity. Comprehensive appendices and indexes also add value to the text, and the quality of production is uniformly high.

In the present volume covering Shadwell and Radcliffe fully-referenced chapters detail economic growth, relationships and organisation arising from the area’s service and processing industries together with its widespread maritime activity and commercial links with both London as a whole and the wider world; the varieties of social life experienced in ‘Sailortown’ influenced, for example, by religion, education and criminal activity; and the impact of local government and the newly-built London Docks on the area and its inhabitants. The importance and interaction of economic, political, social, family and religious networks in the development of the area is much in evidence. Class differences are also highlighted with the growing influence of ‘the middling sort’ being particularly noticeable, while due attention is given to the many ways in which women (again including ‘the middling sort’)  interacted with the local economy and local society. The methodology is explored in an introductory chapter and in the first of a number of appendices. Especially illuminating is the way in which details from named individuals’ lives and activities are used to illustrate more general points of discussion. Finally, it is good to see that reviewers’ comments are occasionally noted in that this volume (and the previous one) are fully footnoted, whereas this was not the case with the first two books in the series which made it difficult to connect the text with the sources (however the surname of T.S. Willan is still spelt incorrectly in this volume as it was in the first). In addition, engagement with the secondary literature is now much in evidence, while this detailed and interesting discussion of ‘London’s Sailortown’ is supported by a fitting conclusion which does justice to the academic achievement of the project as a whole in recreating the rich diversity of economic, social, cultural and family life in this area of the East End of London.  

A SOUTH DEVON CARPENTER IN VICTORIAN LONDON The diary of Charles Cleverly Paine September 1862-June 1863 Crispin Paine (Meskel Press 2014 91pp ISBN 978-0-9928777-0- 5) £12.50+£2 p&p from Meskel Press, 108 Station Road, Liss GU33 7AQ

A FREE-SPIRITED WOMAN The London diaries of Gladys Langford, 1936-1940 Patricia and Robert Malcolmson (eds) (London Record Society: Boydell 2014 xxv+193pp ISBN 978-0-900952-55-5) £25

LONDON’S SAILORTOWN 1600-1800: a social history of Shadwell and Ratcliff, an early modern London riverside suburb Derek Morris and Ken Cozens (East London History Society 2014 viii+207pp ISBN 978-0-9564779-2-7) £12.60+£3.50 from hhtp://

CHRISTOPHER FRENCH is Emeritus Reader and Honorary Research Fellow attached to Kingston University’s Centre for the Historical Record. His current research is into housing and community in suburban London with particular reference to the towns of Surbiton and Teddington before 1939. His latest publication is A suburb of contrasts: the Udney Park Estate, Teddington, 1870-1939 (Borough of Twickenham Local History Society, 2015).

4. Opinion: a new way of getting local history into print by Stephen Roberts Show more → Show less ↓

This article considers a new way which local historians might choose in order to get their work into print. I have recently made the transition from writing about a well-known aspect of our national past to writing about relatively obscure figures who lived in Victorian Birmingham. When I was writing about the Chartists I did not, for the most part, find it difficult to find a publisher. There are a fair few scholarly publishers who release books at £70 or more, a few hundred of which they hope to get into university libraries. There are others—and a word of praise here for Verso and Merlin, both of whom I have used—who also produce reasonably-priced paperbacks alongside the library hardbacks. And a plethora of scholarly journals also exist, seemingly devoted to almost every imaginable angle of historical enquiry. So the academic historian will usually, without too much trouble, be able to find ways of getting essays and monographs published. Not only without too much trouble, but also without having to hand over any money. The costs of these publications are borne by the publishers: with one exception, I have not been asked for a financial contribution towards the production costs of a scholarly book I have written or edited.

When I came to write about Victorian Birmingham, I proceeded in the way I always had. I identified publishers who might be interested and sent off a proposal.  What I had not expected was that the publishers of local history  mostly seem to require a subvention—and that financial contribution amounts on average to a few thousand pounds.  Now I fully understood that most local history publishers are not big operations with pots of money, but I was never going to recover the sort of sum I might be asked to contribute and, stubborn as I was, there also seemed to be a principle at stake—I didn’t believe that authors should have to pay to have their books published.  Looking into the matter further, I discovered that many local historians did indeed put up money to get their work out, paying for printers to produce their books and then selling them themselves.  Understandable in many ways—but many people who published this way were sure to find themselves out of pocket.  Of course, there are in some parts of the country local history magazines—I have contributed a couple of times, for example, to Lincolnshire Past and Present –and there is the Local Historian, but these only take short pieces and, in the case of the latter, I imagine the editor is spoilt for choice.

I then mentioned the difficulty I faced in getting my work published to a colleague, and it was from him that I heard about CreateSpace, an Amazon company. Let’s be clear: CreateSpace is not a publisher. When an author brings out a book with them, it remains self-publishing. But what CreateSpace offers is print-on-demand publishing, with a free ISBN and, once the book has been completed, immediate sales on Amazon. The copyright remains with the author and the books, with full colour covers, look exactly like those brought out by a traditional publisher. The author has to upload his or her book as a Word document or PDF file onto CreateSpace, check through the version of the book on screen, and decide on a price. A step-by-step guide on the CreateSpace website explains how to do all of this, though admittedly you must have a certain level of technical know-how to follow the guidance. Of course, the author must then promote the book so that people know of its existence. I do this by sending out emails and flyers through the post to people I know might be interested, and by making use of internet forums. Books published this way sell slowly, but they are never unavailable: if someone wants a copy five or ten years after publication, it is easy to obtain one. Authors earn royalties, and can order as many copies as they wish at cost price. 

Using CreateSpace, I have created a series called ‘Birmingham Biographies’, which now has its own website. The series is made up of short biographies of Victorian Brummies. I have made sure that these are good stories that people might want to read, so the first publication in the series tells the story of Dr J.A. Langford, antiquarian and poet. I had wondered how a self-educated chairmaker from Birmingham had acquired a doctorate from an American college he had never visited and, after a little digging, I discovered that the college, after destruction during the Civil War, sold degrees to men of a scholarly inclination who had been recommended to them by an agent in Britain. A fascinating tale, I thought.

I have deliberately kept the prices of these books at an affordable level. The most expensive sells for £8.99, but it consists of 167 pages featuring 60 full-page cartoons. I am sure that a traditional publisher would have released the book at twice the price. The other books in the series range in length from 40 to 120 pages and in price from £3.99 to £7.99. I have also tried to make them visually attractive.  The cover of Mocking Men of Power: Comic Art in Birmingham 1851-1911, for example, features a fabulous contemporary colour illustration which I turned up a few years ago in a secondhand bookshop. I am also particularly pleased with the cover of Sir Richard Tangye 1833-1906: A Victorian Entrepreneur in Victorian Birmingham. It depicts one of Tangye’s early workshops and I feel chimes in with the contents of the book perfectly. As well as striking covers, a book needs a range of interesting illustrations. I have ensured there are plenty of these in each book, mostly photographs and cartoons.  Some of these I have bought on eBay; this has, of course, cost money, but I am glad to own these items and add them to my collection. Others have been supplied free of charge by institutions: the library of the Birmingham and Midland Institute has been particularly helpful in this respect.

One final point needs to be made. These books are the best I can do. I have put as much work into them as if they had been brought out by a leading publishing house. They are thoroughly researched, with footnotes where they should be, at the bottom of each page, and written and revised with great care. It is unlikely that anyone will write about these men again and I want to ensure that they have received their due. Publishing through CreateSpace has caused much discussion in the magazine of the Society of Authors. For myself I can only say that I have enjoyed publishing my work this way, without all the delays and disappointments that often go with using a conventional publisher.

For more information on the ‘Birmingham Biographies’ series visit the website

5. Cursneh Hill: using antiquarian texts to explore local legends by Elizabeth Round Show more → Show less ↓

In this article, which was the winner of the British Association for Local History ‘Medieval and early modern essay’ prize for 2015, Elizabeth Round explores a story which appears—in one version or another—in most of the printed local histories of Leominster, Herefordshire. It concerns a battle which is said to have taken place at Cursneh Hill, outside the town, during the extremely brief reign of Lady Jane Grey. The article traces the origins of the legend in manuscript and published histories back to the early eighteenth century, and then dissects these various accounts to find factual evidence. Elizabeth Round then compares this with other sources, such as State Papers and other published sources for the middle decades of the sixteenth century, and with antiquarian texts which have long been dismissed as a source of reliable local history.

By piecing together these fragments and parallel sources she is able to identify exactly what did happen—namely that there was a meeting of involved parties at this spot, but that it took place not in the summer of 1553 as the legend stated but six months later in January 1554 during Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ill-fated rising against Queen Mary. She also confirms that it was not a battle, but rather a meeting or conference of protagonists, and argues that folk memories of a minor skirmish in the area during the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in the Wars of the Roses may have become confused with the later meeting at Cursneh Hill. The conclusion is that antiquarian texts may contain valuable genuine information, which may be very helpful in the investigation of aspects of local history which are otherwise not recorded or only recorded as legends.

6. Antrobus the cleric and Peter the cock: civil war, ministry and animal baptism in mid-seventeenth century Cumberland by James Mawdesley Show more → Show less ↓

This article is focused on an extraordinary allegation that Isaac Antrobus, the rector of Egremont in Cumberland, baptised a cockerel (naming it Peter) in the mid-1640s. James Mawdesley begins by considering the religious and political changes of the middle decades of the seventeenth century, and the ‘scandalous behaviour and royalist allegiances’ of Antrobus himself. He then assesses the sacrament of baptism and the possible reasons for the committing of this mocking and subversive act, in the context of theological arguments about baptism. The evidence for the allegation is analysed, both from contemporary sources and rather later accounts (including the autobiography of the parliamentarian astrologer William Lilly). The paper then considers the parish context, setting out extensive evidence for the adoption or rejection of attempts by Canterbury and York to impose conformity and uniformity from the 1630s onwards, and the statements and orders made during visitations designed to enforce these requirements.  The generally damning opinion of outsiders as to the quality and reliability of Cumbrian clergy is highlighted, as is the division within the parish between evangelically minded Protestants and those who accepted the rector’s lax ways.

James Mawdesley then weighs up the story in two scenarios (that the story was a myth or that it reflected a real event) and concludes by placing the story once more in the context of the unsettled times—the ‘sometimes transitory and fleeting nature of religious experiences during these troubled decades’. 

7. ‘On the far side of the hedge': Gypsies in local history by Jeremy Harte Show more → Show less ↓

‘Gypsies are largely invisible in local history’, suggests Jeremy Harte in this wide-ranging review of the subject. The paper looks particularly at Surrey and adjacent areas, but its themes have a very much broader relevance and can readily be developed by local historians in other parts of the country.  The paper begins with a section titled ‘The invisible people’, and then considers accounts of Gypsies in, for example, the works of George Borrow. The theme of genealogy and family history as a framework not only for oral history but also for Gypsy life is followed by an assessment of the Gypsy Lore Society (1888) and the ambivalence of its work in   recording the subject. The article considers the formal sources for Gypsies, such as baptism records, census returns and field-names, contrasting them with the mental maps of travelling groups, and also highlights the significance of urban Gypsies in the contemporary media. Sections on tracing Gypsies and family history point to the potential for research projects, and issues such as health, longevity, interaction with other members of the wide community, and names and identities, are discussed. The final section points to the hostility of the world and the absence of local research about the impact of legislation and restrictive laws. There is a very comprehensive set of notes and references to assist and guide other researchers.

8. The 1756 War Office survey: a source for local historians by John S. Hartley Show more → Show less ↓

The 1756 War Office Survey was undertaken by the Excise Office and gathered information about accommodation in inns and alehouses, and stable places for horses. It was the last of a series of such exercises, which in various forms dated back to the 1570s and were concerned with the provision of billeting for troops. In this article John Hartley considers the political and military circumstances which prompted the exercise, and the organisation of the information-gathering, with particular emphasis on the geographical structure of the Excise Office, which was divided into 49 areas called ‘Collections’, which did not necessarily conform to county boundaries. These were in turn subdivided into districts, divisions and walks (in towns) or ‘out-rides’ in the countryside. The detailed method of collecting and collating the returns is described, and the paper uses as a case study the Grantham Collection which was based on Stamford in Lincolnshire. This return is enviably detailed, listing 987 licensed establishments including a significant number where no beds or stable places were recorded. There is a substantial analysis of the returns, both in terms of their internal structure and the way they reflect the organisation of the exercise, and as evidential sources for local historians. It is suggested that these, and other Excise Office records, have much potential but are seriously under-exploited in local history research.

9. The fortunes of Sandy Baptist Church in the later nineteenth century by Peter Steere Show more → Show less ↓

This case study of the history of the Baptist Church at Sandy, Bedfordshire, is set against the later nineteenth century experience of the Baptists more generally. Its main theme is the social structure and community context of the church, explaining in detail the sources of evidence for the congregation and its fluctuating numbers between the 1860s and the beginning of the twentieth century, and showing how the overall growth in the size of the congregation was significantly greater than population growth in the town. From this the article moves on to discuss the financial circumstances of the church in Sandy, and its growing prosperity—indeed, a new church building was completed, though that in turn made the overall financial position more vulnerable. The paper then asks whether growing numbers and relative financial success were matched by strengthened spiritual well-being, and uses the evidence of minute books which record instances of discipline for misbehaviour and inappropriate behaviour (notably intemperance). It concludes that at the end of the Victorian period the church was in a strong position, and then notes that today is congregation is only one-tenth that of a century ago and the building is rarely used.


1. Hanes Cymoedd Y Gwendraeth Y Llanelli / A history of the Gwendraeth Valleys and Llanelli (in Welsh and English) by D. Huw Owen Show more → Show less ↓

Hanes Cymoedd Y Gwendraeth Y Llanelli / A history of the Gwendraeth Valleys and Llanelli (in Welsh and English) by D. Huw Owen (Y Lolfa 2014 v+121pp ISBN 978 1 84771 900 3) £5.95

Since Gwendraeth historian D. Huw Owen wrote the first volume of The Gwendraeth Valley and Llanelli in 1989 for Llanelli Borough Council, many other standard and authoritative books have been written on the history of Wales by historians such as John Davies (The History of Wales (2007)) and Kenneth Morgan’s Wales in British Politics, 1868-1922 (1991). There have also been publications encouraging people to visit the county of Carmarthenshire, in which Llanelli and the Gwendraeth Valleys are situated. In the view of Owen, with the exception of Kidwelly, the Gwendraeth Valley villages and their close links with Llanelli have been overlooked in these works. He finds this particularly surprising considering the important role they played in the religious, industrial, social and cultural development of the county and indeed of Wales.

To rectify this, he has in this volume made use of recently-published articles from the county historical journals as well as a broader range of up-to-date secondary sources to champion the role which the Gwendraeth Valleys played. Footnotes and an index would have been useful accompaniments to the bibliography for those wishing to explore this area further, but the text is complemented by a great array of photographs, past and present, which serve to illustrate the key developments in the area’s interesting past.

Taking a thematic approach to the history of the Gwendraeth Valleys, the author begins with an examination of how the spiritual needs of the population have been met since the Neolithic age, noting some individuals of significance who have worshipped in the area. Economic developments are studied next and here we are taken on a journey from the medieval period to present day. While the cloth, iron and tin industries are looked at briefly, over half of the book is devoted to the coal industry and its influence on the region. The author paints a picture of the villages that developed from the arrival of the coal industry as having great fighting spirit. His story focuses on the people’s struggle to rectify their many economic grievances and the punishments inflicted on those who dared to attempt to improve their circumstances. He describes how the people strove to advance the opportunities for their children by supporting the many educational establishments in the area, and how they sought release from the hardships of everyday life by establishing a rich and varied social and sporting scene. The fighting spirit is still evident today. With the demise of the coal industry came the decline of the Welsh language, for which the area was and is a stronghold. The author charts the successful efforts made to reverse this trend. One aspect missing from the book is the way these communities were affected by the two world wars. Recent protests over the possible removal of one of the war memorials in the area reveal that for the people of the Gwendraeth Valleys, that part of their history is worth fighting for today.

Despite this shortcoming, this book really does put the Gwendraeth Valleys on the map. Teachers of history in the region will find it a very useful resource to enrich their lessons and for anyone who lives in or had ancestors in the locality it will be great interest.

Helen Williams

Helen Williams taught history for several years in Queen Elizabeth Cambria Comprehensive School, Carmarthen where she was awarded the Guardian Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year 2003. She went on to be head of history at Tregib Comprehensive School, Llandeilo until 2013.

2. The Correspondence of William Stukeley and Maurice Johnson 1714-54 by Diana and Michael Honeybone Show more → Show less ↓

THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM STUKELEY AND MAURICE JOHNSON 1714-54 edited by Diana and Michael Honeybone (Boydell for the Lincoln Record Society 2014 lxiv+262pp ISBN 9780901503985) £40

For students of eighteenth-century sociability, science, antiquarianism or corresponding networks, the Spalding Society is a wonderfully rich resource, illustrative of so many facets of the period’s social, cultural and intellectual life. The fact that its first forty years—the heyday of its existence under the leadership of its founder, Maurice Johnson—are particularly well documented through minute books, correspondence and material culture renders the Society doubly important. This volume reproduces the correspondence between Johnson and his life-long friend William Stukeley, from both the Spalding Gentleman’s Society and the Bodleian Library Oxford, with the addition of two dissertations on Lincolnshire topics by Stukeley from the Society’s archive. The Honeybones are better equipped than any other scholars to complete this task and they have done an admirable job, both in the editing of the correspondence itself and in the extensive introduction that provides a biographical introduction to both correspondents and sets their intellectual and literary achievements in the wider context of science and antiquarianism of the day.

Of the two men, Stukeley enjoyed greater fame both in the eighteenth century and today, particularly for his important, if sometimes misguided, contributions to antiquarianism and the recording of the nation’s antiquities. The Honeybones provide a succinct and lucid summary of his main areas of interest from theology to gardening, from physiology to antiquities. His extraordinary range of interests in a day before disciplinary specialisation comes across very clearly. Importantly, however, Johnson is not allowed to be overshadowed by his more famous friend: these letters provide a valuable balancing corrective, demonstrating both his formidable antiquarian learning and the breadth of his interests. His erudition in matter of numismatics and monumental antiquities, for example, was highly regarded by his peers, and Stukeley himself was often indebted to him for advice. More importantly, the force of Johnson’s character is powerfully conveyed:  his devotion to his wife and family and the value he attached to female company; the strength of his vision for his ‘society in the Fens’ and the effort that he put into ensuring its continued viability—unlike so many provincial societies the Spalding Society did not flicker out after a brief spurt of activity, but continued uninterrupted until after Johnson’s death. For this the members had Johnson’s insistence on weekly meetings with proper papers (provided by Johnson himself if no others were available) and regular minute taking to thank; nor should his recognition of the importance of tobacco and beverages in supporting conviviality (‘there must be some Ale with some History’ as he observed to Stukeley) be underestimated. The fact that he was able to draw on so many family members (seventeen of the 25 children born to him and his wife survived into adulthood) in making meetings quorate or providing papers was another undoubted strength, as these letters illustrate.  

This is a hugely rich volume which will be of value to readers across many fields of history. The writers comment on political affairs from the South Sea Bubble to the Jacobite Rebellion, on a social life of music, race meetings, card playing and theatre, and on their own health and personal affairs. But it has a particular value for local historians: in addition to points of local information these letters eloquently demonstrate the over-riding importance of place –Spalding and the county of Lincolnshire—as a frame of reference and a source of identity for both men, and for Johnson in particular. His friendship with Stukeley, his ‘Dear Countryman’, rested on their common identity as Lincolnshire men. For all that the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society had a network of corresponding members across the country, including distinguished figures such as Sir Hans Sloane or Sir Isaac Newton, the mainstay of the society was its local Lincolnshire membership—and Newton was, after all, another Lincolnshire countryman. While topics of science or antiquities were discussed, they were refracted through a local lens—whether it was advances in surveying and draining the Fens or papers on local ecclesiastical or numismatic antiquities. Johnson’s vision, as these letters show, was for a network of societies, but a network that was circumscribed by the county boundaries of Lincolnshire based in Sleaford, Boston, Ancaster and Stamford.  It is tempting in this context to talk about an East Midlands Enlightenment of which the Spalding Society was a focal point, a counterpart to the Lunar Society of the (West) Midlands Enlightenment. But that is to impose a modern construction upon the past and to misunderstand Johnson’s own sense of place and the importance of his own networks of kinship, friendship and patronage through which it was bounded:  his was a contribution to the public good of his locus natalis, Spalding in Lincolnshire.

Rosemary Sweet

Rosemary Sweet is professor of urban history in the School of History, University of Leicester. She works on eighteenth-century urban and cultural history and has a particular interest in antiquarianism and the study of the past in the long eighteenth century. Antiquaries: the discovery of the past in eighteenth-century Britain was published in 2004.

3. Recollections of William Arnold by Keith Brooker Show more → Show less ↓

RECOLLECTIONS OF WILLIAM ARNOLD edited by Keith Brooker (Northamptonshire Record Society 2014 184pp ISBN 978-0-90127-571-4) £7 plus p&p

The paucity of working-class autobiographies and memoirs means that the publication of any recollections such as these is always welcome. This dearth, though, puts into question the authenticity of those that have survived and the extent to which they are reflective of the working classes—and with William Arnold this especially seems to be the case. Arnold rose from the most humble of surroundings to become, after a couple of false starts, a successful manufacturer in the boot and shoe industry in Northampton and a prominent public figure in the town. Such an unusual social transition makes this such an interesting story—one that the original publishers (it first appeared in 1915) hoped would act as an inspiration to others in the traditions of self-help—and a useful source for historians of the locality, the industry (which was going through an important transition period itself) and working-class lives more generally in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The recollections also offer an illuminating insight into the machinations of the manufacturing business in the period and the trials and tribulations that such businesses faced, broadening their appeal.

Accompanying Arnold’s recollections are an introduction and appendix that aim to contextualise his words, his life and the boot and shoe industry in the period in particular. Keith Brooker has provided a very detailed background to the recollections in his introduction and clearly it is the product of much research. However, the detail is often at the expense of analysis, the historiographical context introduced is somewhat outdated, and the important questions raised surrounding the recollections are invariably not answered. Much the same can be said of the appendix, which provides an interesting overview of the industry, but the links to the recollections are limited. Combined, moreover, they account for over two-thirds of the book. Undoubtedly, all of this is important in giving the reader a fuller understanding of the recollections, but this seems unbalanced and the structure is questionable. There does not need to be a separate introduction and appendix, which often cover the same material and are at times entirely repetitive, while they detract from the recollections that are of primary interest here. There are also a number of distracting prose and grammatical issues and the referencing is very inconsistent.

These relatively minor gripes aside, though, this is a very worthy republication and enhancement of the story of an interesting and unusual character, in an important industry at a significant point in its development. It is also a very personal and honest story, which gives it a human appeal. It is the recollections that are the greatest attraction here, providing a glimpse into a particular social, industrial and religious world, but the provision of so much supporting detail does give the reader an important context to what they are reading. In sum, this is a story that will appeal to many and are recollections that deserve a wider audience than they have previously had.

Marcus Morris

Marcus Morris is lecturer in modern history at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published on various aspects of the British labour and socialist movements in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.

4. A History Of Tedstone Delamere (Weale), A History of Edvin Loach (Wyatt) by Jennifer Weale and Allan Wyatt Show more → Show less ↓

A HISTORY OF TEDSTONE DELAMERE by Jennifer Weale (Bromyard & District Local History Society 2013 viii+280pp ISBN 0-9564212-3-9) £17.25; A HISTORY OF EDVIN LOACH by Allan Wyatt (Bromyard & District Local History Society 2014 xiv+462pp ISBN 0-978-0-9546212-5-4) £20.49

The Bromyard & District Local History Society in Herefordshire was founded in 1966, and has been publishing steadily since 1970. These two volumes are both labours of very considerable love, deeply researched, and excellently illustrated as a way of bringing the respective communities to life. Bromyard itself was written up by the Society many years ago, and since then studies of individual parishes of the parochia have been appearing at regular intervals. The area has ‘a unity which goes back more than a thousand years’, hence the work of the Society in documenting and explaining its various parts. Both authors had (or in Wyatt’s case learned) the skillset to use the surviving (often voluminous) documentation relating to their communities. They also appreciate the landscape, the buildings, the churches and so forth, all of which are part of the area’s local history. Tedstone Delamere lies north-east and Edvin Loach to the north of Bromyard. Edvin Loach was in Worcestershire until 1893. Both parishes have churches which were influenced by the renowned Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Jennifer Weale’s volume is unusually strong among local histories for its emphasis on the medieval period, largely because of the survival of manorial records going back to the fourteenth century, while Tedstone Delamere has one of Herefordshire’s five surviving Saxon churches. She is able, as a result, to concentrate on the church and the parish, and the manor and its lordship, in a way which is not always possible. From the sixteenth century onwards the story depends more firmly on the records we anticipate, including wills and inventories, and the tithe award of 1841. She devotes three chapters to the history of the farms, and investigates the nineteenth century rebuilding of the rectory and the restoration of the church. There is material as well on education, and at the evolution of the parish to the end of the twentieth century. The book includes family trees, illustrations of documents she used, and maps and plans.

Allan Wyatt’s history of Edvin Loach is in similar vein, if somewhat longer. Again he is dealing with a tiny parish which remains predominantly agricultural. With fewer than 30 people living there today it is really no more than a hamlet. He concentrates on the manor and property ownership, and on the church—perhaps, indeed, because these are really the only elements of the area he can reconstruct. He also looks at the various properties and farms, and at the importance for Edvin Loach of the Saltmarshe Castle estate, both in its creation and its decline.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these studies for the outsider is the influence of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Weale describes the gradual collapse of the old church at Tedstone Delamere, and the work undertaken by Scott in 1856-1857, which included a new chancel. Unfortunately this phase is disappointingly thinly documented. Four years later Scott built a complete new church at Edvin Loach, where the old church was gradually allowed to become a ruin and is now a scheduled monument.

These volumes are going to be mainly of interest to local residents and their families as well as to local historians of the Bromyard area. Neither village had a particularly remarkable history: they were, after all, small communities of mixed farming on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border, largely passed by in relation to wider movements such as the industrial revolution. Since the decennial censuses began Tedstone Delamere has never exceeded 251 (in 1881), and declined to a low point of 102 in 1951 before recovering to 139 by 1991 (the last date given) partly because cottages and farmhouses alike have become desirable country residences for retired people looking for a rural retreat. Edvin Loach is even smaller. It is just 535 acres and in 1801 its 85 inhabitants lived in 11 households. The trend has been downwards ever since: in 2011 just 27 people, including Mr Wyatt himself, lived in five households. Today the community has four farms, run by three families. The book more or less ends in 1953 when the Saltmarshe Castle Estate, which had owned most of the parish, sold off the farms to tenants.

Every community has a history, and Weale and Wyatt have amply demonstrated that it is possible to reconstruct their past in considerable detail. Perhaps surprisingly, Mr Wyatt feels compelled to warn his readers that, in not far short of 500 pages, ‘the history of Edvin Loach has begun to emerge, albeit unevenly and sometimes uncertainly’. This might come as a surprise but there is a sense in which the very smallness of the communities means they can have had only very limited social histories. Neither of them had a shop, a pub, a dedicated village hall, or a nonconformist chapel. Tedstone Delamere briefly had a school in the later Victorian period but it was never full and had closed by 1916, and Weale is able to find only enough social history to fill a single page, including a picture of a cricket team. Wyatt finds nothing at all. The absence of a social history does not devalue these two studies, but it does suggest that the manor and the church are more straightforward to handle than village life. Perhaps it points to a minimum size for such ‘life’ to take off. Both authors have done an excellent job and it is in no way their fault that the social life of these communities remains hidden from us.

John Beckett

John Beckett is professor of English regional history at the University of Nottingham, and was formerly director of the Victoria County History. He is chair of the Thoroton Society, the History of Lincolnshire Committee, and the editorial board of Midland History, and convenor of the Nottinghamhsire Church History Project.

5. Timbertown Girls Borders women and the First World War by Chris Brader Show more → Show less ↓

TIMBERTOWN GIRLS Borders women and the First World War by Chris Brader (Bookcase 2014 143pp ISBN 978-1-904-14783-1) £10

Chris Brader provides a sharp and interesting history of women munitions workers in the nine-mile long explosives factory complex that spanned the borders between England and Scotland from Carlisle to Eastriggs. The ‘Timbertown Girls’ were the wartime recruits from Northern factories, and from domestic labour and farming, and included Scottish, Irish and Welsh young women. They were housed in the timber-built huts and hostels that adjoined the 20,000-strong Gretna factory, though some lodged in surrounding small towns. They carried out gruelling and dangerous work on the massive munitions site, under strict work discipline, controlled by female supervisors and welfare workers. Beyond the works complex, local authorities, churches, and the many voluntary organisations of the period that targeted young women, attempted to impose their own standards of feminine behaviour and modest conduct on the young women—not always successfully.

Brader’s description of women’s work, welfare facilities, trade unionism, and housing is similar to histories of the massive Woolwich armaments and munitions complex near London.  Indeed, his book is a good general history of the development and functioning of the vast Gretna site. Recognising the women workers’ productive contribution to the war is a core message of the book. Beyond that, he argues that it was the female war workers’ new-found entry into public leisure—sport and exercise, cinema, dancing and pubbing—that brought women into public social spaces for good. Munitions factory work and hostel life, on the other hand, was more controlled by authorities and busybodies and also was limited to the duration of the war. 

Factories and gender-specific welfare services could provide leisure spaces, hobbies, and a basic social life for young women away from their homes. Gymnastics, athletics, and football were the most radical activities on offer in and around the works, the last proving very popular among players and onlookers. Many young women however sought unorganised leisure and ventured, unchaperoned on their own or in exuberant groups, into the dancehalls and pubs of adjacent towns. It was no coincidence that Carlisle and the Borders hosted an experiment with drinking institutions during the war, initially to improve work attendance by the men who built the munitions town. The authorities began to regulate public houses to the point of nationalisation in 1917, bestowing dining rooms, design and decoration, and non-alcoholic drinks on formerly rough and ready public houses. The new spaces were intended to be safe for women but also a civilising influence for male drinkers, drawing them away from a heavy booze culture. The furore aroused by young women drinking in pubs crystallised the moral worries of wartime society.

Class perceptions of a divide between ‘respectable’ or ‘nice’ girls and ‘rough’ girls persisted at the works and in society in the Borders, and facilities, including housing, offered to the Timbertown girls were differentiated by class. Brader shows that many women did not want to be cast as shrinking violets in need of protection, and that some escaped the constraints of gendered expectations and rules during their brief time in munitions, especially those who took up football—only to be forbidden the sport after the war. Even so, he argues that social emancipation for women resulted from what they did during the war, though work equality did not. His conclusions are in line with the drift of feminist history of the Home Front. ‘Timbertown Girls’ is well-written, well-researched, illustrated with photographs, and carries its scholarship lightly.

Sally Sokoloff

Sally Sokoloff is honorary lecturer in history at the University of Northampton and has worked extensively on aspects of the Home Front in the First and Second World Wars.

6. The Conservation Movement In Norfolk by Susanna Wade-Martins Show more → Show less ↓

THE CONSERVATION MOVEMENT IN NORFOLK A history by Susanna Wade-Martins (Boydell 2015 xvi+187pp ISBN 978 1 78327 007 1) £19.99

Every now and then a book comes along which prompts thoughts of “Why don’t I do something like that for my area” or which, because it breaks through conventional barriers of research, displays really innovative thinking. Susanna Wade-Martins has done just this with her The conservation movement in Norfolk, partly because she takes a long historical perspective in recounting and analysing what still seems to many people to be a ‘modern’ theme, regarded as ‘current affairs’ rather than ‘local history’. She also succeeds in extending the topic to embrace conservation in its many different aspects. The main element in this is the highly-effective weaving together of the themes of natural history and the human landscape, which intriguingly recalls one of the elements present in the work of many early local historians, and indeed the pioneering volumes of quite a few Victoria County History projects, where flora, fauna and palaeontology were key themes.

The book, which is beautifully-produced by Boydell with numerous excellent colour and sepia illustrations on top-quality paper, ranges widely in tracing the origins of the idea of conservation back to the writings of a few forward-thinking observers in the mid- to late eighteenth century, via the emergence of serious proposals and practical schemes for conservation in the nineteenth century, to the putting in place of an ever more complex raft of national legislation and local organisations which provide the framework and the practical means of implementing policies and strategies. From describing modest but valuable efforts to purchase key buildings, prevent the wholesale slaughter of fast-disappearing marsh and fen birds, and identify and catalogue species, the narrative moves on to the responses on the part of local and national authorities to the massive increase in tourism and leisure use of Norfolk’s fragile landscapes and coasts, to the challenges posed by large-scale afforestation and military use of precious heathlands, and the potential and actual loss of ancient monuments, historic buildings, archaeological sites and vanishing landscapes.

Throughout, the text has another strength. Not only are there numerous local examples of successes and failures (the wanton and calculated demolition of a twelfth century house in Kings Lynn in 1972 being among the most tragic of the latter) but the key individuals who have shaped policies, raised public awareness and fought practical campaigns are given full attention. Across the pages move a procession of aristocrats and landed gentry, local politicians and self-taught naturalists, and many others who have been instrumental in developing and extending conservation in the county. This personal dimension is a very important theme, because it emphasises how often one or two key individuals were, though force of personality or social and political position (or both) were able to further the cause. The book also reinforces our understanding of the role of voluntary organisations, the various trusts and societies which were devoted to conservation issues and which, in Norfolk, were notably active in, for example, the purchase of areas of important and threatened landscapes.

Norfolk presented many challenges to the conservation movement. It is a county without the conventionally dramatic scenery which was the focus of much of the early impetus towards landscape conservation, and its main candidate—the Broads—was omitted from the eventual list of national parks drawn up in the late 1940s, only achieving this status de facto in 1988 with the creation of the Broads Authority. Rural landscapes suffered heavily from post-war ‘agribusiness’ economics, and from a general sense that most of the interior of the county was not worthy of landscape conservation. On the other hand, the stagnant and depressed small towns and villages tended to suffer far less redevelopment pressure in the 1950s and 1960s (Thetford and Kings Lynn unfortunately excepted) and therefore Norfolk was fruitful territory for the designation of conservation areas from 1967 onwards and, from the 1970s, the listing of buildings for the importance of their vernacular architecture.

This book is a pleasure to read, and I hope that it might inspire other research and writing on the conservation movement elsewhere in the country. Some areas, such as the Lake District, have already been the subject of much writing, but much else remains to be discovered—and especially, as observed at the beginning, the imaginative idea of linking natural history and local history. 

Alan Crosby

Alan Crosby is editor of The Local Historian. A former resident of Norfolk, and for many years a regular visitor to the county, he has recently edited the text of A History of Norfolk by the late Chris Barringer, for which he has also done most of the photography.

7. Past in Mind: a heritage project and mental health recovery by Katherine Lack Show more → Show less ↓

PAST IN MIND: a heritage project and mental health recovery by Katherine Lack (published by the author 2014 iv+82pp ISBN 9780954621247) £5.95 from amazon (

This book is the culmination of an innovative heritage and mental health initiative supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. With the aid of volunteers, many of whom had experienced mental health difficulties, the project uncovered the story of Studmarsh, an almost abandoned settlement in rural Herefordshire. The interplay between archaeological and historical investigation on the one hand and ideas about recovery in mental health on the other are discussed and evidenced throughout the book. The introductory chapters explore the parallels between the processed involved with archaeology, historical research and mental health recovery, whether it be reconstructing stories carefully from the evidence or understanding trauma, and the need for support networks and coping strategies whether now or in the past. All the volunteers made a valuable contribution to the project, and had a clear and distinct identity separate to that of mental health difficulties. The project evidently had an overwhelming impact on these volunteers, empowering them and providing them with a positive social identity and a value social role. This extent of social inclusion both reduced stigma and helped to promote recovery.

The heritage of Studmarsh and mental health recovery are interwoven strands throughout. Constant references are made to the links between historical and archaeological investigations on the one hand and mental health on the other—for example, labelling and judging past societies on limited evidence and thus imperfect knowledge about them can be related to attaching mental health labels and society’s misjudgments. As well as outlining the project aims and objectives, the book provides an introduction to the history of Studmarsh from its origins through to the calamity of the Black Death and subsequent recovery. Heritage Lottery Funding, sought by the mental health charity Herefordshire Mind, made a full archaeological and historical survey possible. Evidence drawn from these investigations is scattered throughout the book, including illustrations of excavations, finds and documents. The book argues that Studmarsh, like many people experiencing mental health difficulties, was on the margins of society. In doing so it questions marginalisation as a construct of the rich and powerful, and challenges the concept with the project’s approach of collaboration and not differentiating between amateurs and professionals, and those with and without mental health problems. It also demonstrates how the margins can be ‘important and creative places if they are handled sensitively’, both referring to Studmarsh and those experiencing mental health difficulties. The section on the Black Death explores the impact of catastrophic change both on Studmarsh and on the lives of people experiencing mental health difficulties, but also shows that survivors can adapt and innovate.

One is left in no doubt about the powerful effects of being part of Past in Mind on the volunteers, and the links between local history, heritage and archaeology on the one hand and mental health recovery on the other. At times it would have been nice to know a little bit more about the archaeological processes and discoveries. An archaeological report does however accompany the project, providing a more in-depth explanation and is signposted in the book. Moreover, this book is far more innovative in its scope by drawing the parallels between the past and present, historical struggles and contemporary mental health, and this is undoubtedly its strength. While it may appeal to those with an interest in the history of Studmarsh, Herefordshire and the challenges facing rural communities during the middle ages and beyond, the key audience for this book should be much wider. There are many parallels between the project and my own work engaging people with mental ill health in local history projects. My practitioner research has similarly demonstrated the positive impact that being part of a collaborative research project about the history of local communities can have mental health and wellbeing. I would therefore strongly recommend this publication to both mental health practitioners and community historians alike.

Sarah Holland

Sarah Holland is associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and a tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association. Her research interests focus on the development of rural communities, knowledge networks, the relationship between town and country, and hiring fairs. She has also undertaken research into educational and cultural impact, and mental health and wellbeing.

8. Sir Richard Tangye 1833-1906: a Cornish entrepreneur in Victorian Birmingham (Roberts), The Chamberlains: Joseph, Austen and Neville 1836-1940 (Ward), Mocking Men of Power: Comic Art in Birmingham 1861-1911 (Roberts and Ward) by Stephen Roberts and Roger Ward Show more → Show less ↓

SIR RICHARD TANGYE 1833-1906: a Cornish entrepreneur in Victorian Birmingham Stephen Roberts (Birmingham Biographies 2015 ISBN 978 1 45122079 1 0) £4.99

THE CHAMBERLAINS: Joseph, Austen and Neville 1836-1940 Roger Ward (Fonthill 2015 184pp ISBN 978-1-78155-447-0) £20

MOCKING MEN OF POWER: Comic Art in Birmingham 1861-1911 Stephen Roberts and Roger Ward (Birmingham Biographies 2014 ISBN 978 1 5027645 6 0) £8.99

While the hopes of a literary revival in the West Midlands, driven by the opening of the new Library of Birmingham in 2013, have been dashed by the cuts recently forced on the region’s cultural services, Stephen Roberts, long-time contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and expert on the Chartist movement, is almost single-handedly trying to rescue some of the figures of late Victorian Birmingham from the obscurity cast by the broad shadow of Joseph Chamberlain. Having written studies of J.A. Langford and Sir Benjamin Stone, he has now turned his forensic eye on Sir Richard Tangye, the Cornish-born entrepreneur who became one of Birmingham’s greatest philanthropists.

Tangye was not part of the Chamberlain circle, preferring the company of John Skirrow Wright and declaring that ‘Joseph Chamberlain is for Joseph Chamberlain’. He did not follow other Birmingham Liberals such as Joseph Powell Williams, Jesse Collings and John Bright into Chamberlain’s Radical Unionist Association after 1886 and therefore forewent any chance of entering Parliament, unlike so many other Birmingham businessmen. Roberts very effectively and concisely highlights that Tangye’s true contribution to his adopted city’s civic life was both in his enlightened treatment of his workforce and in his generosity towards the Birmingham Art Gallery and the building of the marvellous School of Art building, a hidden gem of ‘Ruskin Gothic’ which still serves its original purpose, 130 years after it was opened. Roberts illustrates a forgotten civic figure with an array of varied sources and rediscovered writings which do much to illustrate the current vibrancy of local history in Tangye’s adopted city.

By contrast, Joseph Chamberlain and his family have been much studied in traditional biographical fashion, but recently, a more innovative methodology has been brought to bear on their dynasty. Roger Ward, former professor of history at Birmingham City University, deliberately wrote a biography of Birmingham in the late nineteenth century, rather than one of Chamberlain, published as City State and Nation in 2005. He has now followed D.H. Elletson and Peter Marsh in offering a study of the whole dynasty, across the period from Joseph’s rise to prominence in the Birmingham Education League of the 1860s through to the death of Neville in November 1940 as the Blitz ravaged Britain. Elletson’s study was in much need of replacement, concentrating as it did on Joseph and Neville, yet lacking access to Neville’s private papers. Elletson was also quite astonishingly right-wing in his judgements. He defended every action of the Chamberlains, even such miscalculations as the Jameson Raid or the Munich Agreement; General Dyer’s 1922 massacre of unarmed protesters at Amritsar was merely described as ‘strong action’; and the Labour party was routinely referred as ‘the socialists’.1

Roger Ward is far less forgiving in his concise and elegantly written book, which serves as a valuable introduction to the Chamberlain clan and their context—the 1897 Select Committee into the Jameson Raid is described as ‘a government whitewash’ and Neville’s attitude towards Hitler in 1938 as ‘self-delusion ... overwhelmed by his own vanity’. He does a far better job than Elletson in giving Austen’s life the same degree of attention as those of his more celebrated father and half-brother, and is clear-sighted in his judgments. We gain the sense that Joseph Chamberlain never quite reached the peak that his talent (if not his personality) deserved, perhaps because, rather than in spite of, the fact that he was ‘the most professional politician of the day’ in an age when the altruistic aristocrat still dominated Westminster. Ward also makes clear that his sons lacked the qualities to make a success of the high offices they attained and were outmanoeuvred by their rivals—Austen by Stanley Baldwin, Neville by Winston Churchill. Although had not neglected the electoral ‘duchy’ of Birmingham, their father’s ‘fiefdom’, in the interwar years, such was their personal hold on the Birmingham Unionist Association, and such were the changed circumstances of the Second World War, that their political legacy was quickly expunged in the Labour landslide of 1945.

Joseph Chamberlain was a regular target in the extremely vibrant Victorian illustrated periodical press, which was ‘read by peers, politicians and the proletariat alike’.2 Unfortunately, the regional satirical press has been largely overlooked by most historians. A collection of political cartoons from Birmingham, part-funded by the excellent Marc Fitch fund and edited by Stephen Roberts and Roger Ward, demonstrates the fecundity of provincial political culture and the depth of complexity of visual discourse in the period. A fascinating article from The Journalist of May 1887 revealed the sheer number of regional periodicals. In Birmingham, remarkably, there were three journals, all of which were over five years old at the time of writing.3 These magazines went on sale each Friday, offering sixteen pages for one penny. They included poetry and illustration but their mainstay was satire and comment on local politics and public affairs constructing the city as ‘an arena of pleasure’.4 The provincial satirical press was able to appeal both to middle class audiences, with their reports of respectable pastimes and prominent personalities, and to the lower classes with their disrespectful tone, abundance of visual images and doggerel verses.5

This volume contains sixty cartoons from the collections of the satirical periodicals held by the Birmingham and Midland Institute and the Library of Birmingham, which are mostly very well chosen. Towards the end of the volume, however, there are a number of images on national issues such as tariff reform which seem rather out of place in a publication focused on Birmingham’s politics. In addition, some of the cartoons are rather poorly reproduced, with captions or part of the image excised.  There are also far too many images from the Dart and far too few images from the short-lived Gridiron, which receives two pages of analysis in the introduction, yet only features with two non-satirical portraits, which belies its status at the most scurrilous and back-biting of all the Birmingham journals. There is also an undated cartoon reproduced from the Birmingham Graphic, but there is no mention of this publication in either the introduction or chronology.

The volume is not altogether satisfactorily formatted. There are expanses of white space throughout a very slim volume, largely due to an unnecessarily small font size. It fails to explain one minor issue—why did the Owl and the Dart cease publication on exactly the same date—and a crucial question—why did the journals of Birmingham, Chamberlain’s ‘fiefdom’, fail to support his leadership so consistently (at least until 1903)? Despite these misgivings, this collection is a significant blow against some of the questionable assumptions of disciples of the ‘New Political History’, who claim that British politics was ‘nationalised’ by the coming of a mass electorate in the 1880s and that local issues and concerns played little electoral role thenceforth.6 It assists those of us unlucky enough to be working outside the golden triangle of Cambridge, Oxford and London who have begun to focus on the increased use of images in the politics of period, offering a ‘visual turn’ to enhance the rather dated ‘linguistic turn’ which still preoccupies the ‘NPH’ (and which only British political historians could still regard as fashionable).7 Any PhD student could use any of these three volumes as a very profitable starting point in a study of provincial culture that could well occupy them for the rest of their careers. Understanding of the city’s history has clearly been moved ‘forward’ by all these texts and the authors are to be congratulated on their efforts.

1       D.H. Elletson, The Chamberlains (John Murray, 1966) 125-126, 228, 273-276

2       M. Huggins, ‘Cartoons and comic periodicals, 1841-1901: a satirical sociology of Victorian sporting life’, in M. Huggins and J.A. Mangan (eds) Disreputable Pleasures:  less virtuous Victorians at play (Frank Cass, 2004) 124.

3       R.R. Dodds, ‘Provincial humorous and satirical journals’, The Journalist 20 May 1887, 93-94

4       P. Joyce, The rule of freedom: Liberalism and the modern city (Verso, 2003) 204

5       See E. Jacobs, ‘Disvaluing the popular: London street culture, “Industrial Literacy” and the emergence of mass culture in Victorian England’, in D.N. Mancoff and D.J. Trela (eds) Victorian urban settings: essays on the nineteenth century and its contexts (Routledge, 2011) 89-113.

6       The most egregious over-simplifications can be found in J. Vernon, Politics and the people: a study in English political culture 1815-1867 (Cambridge UP, 1993).

7       See in particular, J. Thompson, 'Pictorial lies'?: posters and politics in Britain, c.1880-1914’, Past and Present vol.197 no.1 (November 2007) 177-210; S. Ball, Dole queues and demons: British election posters from the Conservative Party Archive (Bodleian Library Press, 2011); I. Cawood and C. Upton, ‘Joseph Chamberlain and the Birmingham satirical periodical press’, in I. Cawood and C. Upton (eds), Joseph Chamberlain: international statesman, national leader and local icon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Ian Cawood

Ian Cawood is reader in modern history at Newman University in Birmingham

9. Chepyng Walden A late medieval small town: Saffron Walden 1438–1490 by Elizabeth Allan Show more → Show less ↓

CHEPYNG WALDEN A late medieval small town:  Saffron Walden 1438–1490 by Elizabeth Allan (Saffron Walden Historical Society Publications 2015 prelims+218pp ISBN 978-1-873669-15-0) £10 + p&p from Saffron Walden Tourist Information: 01799 524002

Elizabeth Allan’s book, an intricate portrait of Saffron Walden at a time when it was still known as Chepyng (or Market) Walden, is based on her recent (2011) doctoral thesis for the Centre of English Local History at the University of Leicester. Many of the chapters start with a short question: for example, that introducing chapter 9 (Social structure) is ‘What were the characteristics of Walden’s social structure in the later 15th century’. There is a very welcome emphasis throughout the book upon understanding the town within its hinterland and its wider regional and chronological setting. Thus its place within urban hierarchies is assessed with reference not only to a regional setting that straddled the counties of Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, but also to the importance of major communication routes and to the town’s economic and other connections to London. These features make the book far more significant than a localised study of a single community which the title might at first suggest.

The author’s thirteen highly detailed chapters draw upon an abundance of documentary material for the late medieval small town, and cover a very large range of topics from ‘making a living’ to the building industry, town government, household structures and the role of women, religion and education. This was a dynamic period in the town’s history both economically and culturally, as Walden was one of those places that prospered in the aftermath of the Black Death. It did this partly through the development of a new industry—the cultivation, processing and marketing of saffron. This plant and its products had a wide range of uses extending to medicinal drugs, perfumes, dyes in the textile trade, and spicing-up food! As well as a chapter on this topic the book contains a useful appendix of early documentary references to saffron production and trade, both at Walden and more generally, which has been drawn from a wide range of sources. It seems likely that publication will stimulate other historians to offer further references for the author’s database.

One result of the prosperity of the town was the rebuilding of its magnificent church and the many exceptionally attractive and historic timber-framed houses standing today, the latter beginning in the late fifteenth century and extending through the sixteenth. The author uncovers much evidence both about the building industry (chapter 7) and the social context of the buildings (chapter 12). She comments that much in the central streets of the town dates from after 1500 so that it was unlikely that extensive new work was being undertaken in the late fifteenth century, but this statement seems to be contradicted by a map showing the distribution of dated buildings on which approximately equal numbers of fifteenth and sixteenth century buildings are indicated. Perhaps closer dating of the mapped buildings would have supported the author’s analysis, or was the town was gradually rebuilt over a longer period of accumulating prosperity?

The book has been locally produced by the Saffron Walden History Society to a high standard. It contains a glossary, a bibliography, a list of abbreviations and an index. The prelims are a little over-complicated, but it is generally well laid-out and edited. Chapter 9 ends on endnote 49, but the endnotes for the chapter halt at 48 (but probably no final reference was intended). The book has an attractive card colour cover, good quality paper, and is heavily illustrated with excellent black and white and colour images and maps. It is very good value for money.

Christopher Thornton

Christopher Thornton is an associate fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, and is county editor for the Victoria History of the County of Essex.