The Local Historian - Volume 46 Number 3 - July 2016

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

As we progress through the sequence of anniversaries and commemorations in what has been described in Ireland as ‘the decade of centenaries’, the range and breadth of published work by local historians which focuses on these events and their impact in individual communities continues to expand. I think the only comparable generator of research and writing was sixteen years ago for the millennium, but so much that was published then was general and unfocused, or was of the ‘then and now’ variety. In contrast, what we have seen since 2014 and will continue to encounter for several more years is the investigation of the specific and, very importantly, the linking of the local with the national and the international. In fact, this is one of its hallmarks—nobody working on the themes of war and conflict, loss and survival can possibly be unaware of the wider context and the underlying issues and themes. A criticism frequently (and often quite unjustly) made of local history is that its practitioners pay too little attention to, or are apparently unaware of, the bigger picture and the framework within which local experience is placed. That certainly cannot be said of most of the Great War-related work now being researched and published.

I find it particularly interesting and encouraging that this awareness extends to the broader themes and questions which are actively discussed by historians more generally. In this issue of The Local Historian, for example, John Buckell looks at conscientious objectors in Northampton, tracing the examples in detail and looking at their social, religious and economic background. This theme, and the one of desertion and ‘cowardice’, have been widely investigated by national historians in recent years as they probe the questions of outright opposition to the war, and fear and terror and abject disillusionment during its course. Similarly, there has been a growing awareness among historians of the extent and significance of social dissent and economic turmoil in Britain during the First World War, including rioting over food supplies and price inflation—a subject with a very prominent local dimension. In the January 2015 issue Bonnie White highlighted her case study of food protests and ‘the inequality of sacrifice’ in Devon, and work from other parts of the country, such as the coalfield and coastal towns of West Cumberland, shows that these phenomena were very widespread.

Some familiar notions of the Great War are being revisited with greater depth and sophistication. For a hundred years the role of women on the Home Front has been almost a clichéd image (‘they drove the trams ... they cleaned railway engines’) and photographs of women performing these tasks are a mainstay of books which cover the period. But historians now engage with this topic from a longer-term perspective, questioning the idea that it really changed forever the place and status and, crucially, the freedoms of women. In 1918 most women over 30 were given the vote—it would be good to see more local studies of the suffrage movement and of the way in which the partial emancipation of 1918 was received in individual communities. Popular histories of suffragism tend to focus on the national celebrities and give little attention to grassroots involvement and to local political activism by women. Roger Smalley’s book on Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, a politically-committed Lancashire mill girl, is reviewed in this issue—but there were many others like her whose names are almost forgotten and whose activities are perhaps overshadowed by the absolute dominance of the war in the thinking of contemporaries and of later historians.

We can also seek to exploit local archival resources which include much material relating to the war that has not been tapped by ‘mainstream’ historians, or is under-used. Overwhelmed by the terrible and hideous statistics, and with the inevitability of hindsight, we often fail to appreciate the way in which the stark and grim story unfolded, day by day, in each community. I have been researching two places in North West England—one in Cumberland, the other in mid-Lancashire—where the war’s evolving horror, and the ever-growing intervention of centralised bureaucracy and government regulation, are charted in a variety of sources which are not often used for this purpose. School logbooks are comparatively familiar, but I have also been using parish council and district council minute books, and parish and deanery magazines, to see different perspectives, building up a picture of the different ways in which the community responded to the loss of young men, the torrent of ministry circulars and the pressure of growing shortages alike. These sources have an immediacy and I feel that, because they were written by people who had no idea of the outcome of it all, they reflect more authentically the changing emotions involved. In the Cumbrian village which I have investigated, the tone of the parish magazine moves from excited jingoism and religious fervour, to the dawning realisation that death might come aplenty, to an exhausted and slogging weariness. That was, of course, the experience of every community across the kingdom, but to trace this on those cheaply-printed and yellowed pages was deeply moving.

No less moving in its way was another piece of my research, looking at the building of the war memorial in the nearby market town. As Kate Tiller has observed in her definitive book, Remembrance and community: war memorials and local history (BALH, 2013), ‘There is much to research and much to tell, both in recognising the original intentions of those who created the memorials and in preserving and reflecting on them in the present’. Her case studies demonstrate that what might fondly, at this distance, be imagined as a coming-together of the community, unanimous in its desire to cherish and commemorate the departed in a public memorial for ever more, was in reality often contentious and divisive. Far from promoting harmony between all groups in a community, the proposals for a war memorial frequently generated acrimony over siting and location, style and design, funding, ownership or sponsorship, and the social and military hierarchies which might be expressed or reflected in how the names were ordered and set.

Many local historians have produced excellent work on the people themselves—asking ‘who were those young men and sometimes young women’—but to understand fully the war memorial as an object or artefact in its own right, its history must be investigated. In doing that, the researcher may learn a great deal about the structure of the community, its social orders and antagonisms. My research on the Cumbrian market town revealed that in this place of about 5500 people there was a bitterly-fought and extremely public argument which set the large majority of the townspeople against a self-appointed ‘memorial committee’ of the great and good. Recorded in a remarkable collection of letters, petitions, newspaper cuttings and minutes, it showed how grief and sorrow overflowed into anger and dismay, a sad coda to the war and one which lasted until 1922. There is much for us to do, in rescuing these stories and by doing so giving new local dimensions and highly-focused new perspectives on one of the most terrible periods in world history.

2. ‘The conscientious objectors of Northampton during the First World War’, 180-193 by John Buckell Show more → Show less ↓

In January 1916, sixteen months into the Great War, the Military Service Act brought in automatic conscription for all unmarried men aged between 18 and 41. Implementation began in March, but not everybody was prepared to fight—significant numbers refused on religious, ethical, political and social grounds, or argued on the basis of their employment. To assess these applications for exemption, tribunals were set up over local areas (individual boroughs, urban districts and, rural districts) with county appeals tribunals having the last word. The records for many of these have been lost, but those which survive are a particularly valuable source for the long-overlooked theme of opposition to the war, and the challenges to particular aspects of it.

In this article John Buckell studies the evidence from the Northamptonshire and Northampton Tribunals, among the very few to have survived almost complete. He describes the organisation, structure, membership and work of the tribunals, looking at the range and variety of individual cases which came before them and the very diverse reasons which were given to justify the claims for exemption from military service. The article then focuses on one key group, the so-called ‘absolutists’ who on the grounds of conscience refused any form of involvement in the military system. They contrast with those who accepted alternative but non-combatant work and were known as ‘alternativists’ under a Home Office scheme which is explained in the paper. The former were frequently subjected to draconian prison treatment, and Buckell quotes Northampton examples in detail.

He then turns to public reaction, including hostility and contempt, and to the support networks which developed between conscientious objectors and with the groups and organisations to which their religious, political and other beliefs were affiliated. He explores the motivation for their stand, showing that the reasons were often complex and frequently idealistic, and finishes with a revealing section which shows how some Northampton objectors eventually achieved respect and status, as local and national political leaders.

3. 'The records of equity courts: an under-used source for local history’, 194-208 by Susan T. Moore Show more → Show less ↓

The records of the courts of equity contain an extraordinary variety and immense quantity of material which is of the greatest relevance and potential interest to local, regional and family historians. But they are also extremely complex in their structure and organisation (matching the complexity of the courts which created the records) and to make full use of them requires a considerable degree of technical knowledge and understanding of the ways in which the courts operated. Susan Moore’s article begins by summarising the history of the various courts of equity (namely: Chancery; Court of Requests; Star Chamber; equity side of the Court of Exchequer; and the equity courts which operated for varying lengths of time in the palatinates of Lancaster, Chester and Durham, and in Wales and the North).

The paper then sets out the procedures in the courts of equity, explaining how the differed from those in courts of common law. The following key phases, and their accompanying documentation, are summarised: pleadings; interrogatories and depositions; affidavits; petitions; decrees and orders; masters’ reports; masters’ exhibits; masters’ documents; masters’ accounts; and cause books.

The third section of the article provides examples of six case studies drawn from different parts of the country, showing how the documentation of the causes sheds important light on questions and issues of interest to local historians, and provides rich evidence for the analysis of institutions, buildings and families.

4. ‘Local political history: a suitable case for treatment?’, 209-219 by Roger Ottewill Show more → Show less ↓

In the introduction to this important article Roger Ottewill argues that ‘local electoral history has the potential to be a research area of considerable interest and significance. Yet until relatively recently, it has been a ‘no go area’ eschewed by electoral historians and local historians alike’. Ottewill explains the scope of the concept of ‘local electoral history’, which includes the formal legal framework governing the conduct of elections, as well as ‘behavioural aspects’ such as the identity and backgrounds of candidates, the turnout, the politics and, of course, the results. He also emphasises that it includes elections for all types of authority, from county councils, via borough and district, to parish level, together with specialist bodies such as school boards and boards of guardians. There is also an overlap with the local dimensions of national elections.

The article explains clearly and succinctly the sources which can be used to investigate these themes, noting that these are often quite limited and problematic, and it then sets out a series of eight key questions which researchers might ask as a framework for their own research and analysis. The paper draws attention to the work which has been done in recent years to identify, collate and publish election results, for a small number of individual areas and authorities and under the long-term project to cover all 83 interwar county boroughs. This section links with an exploration of the ‘discusses the range and approach of the secondary and analytical literature: a) treating elections as major political events, but focusing almost exclusively on national coverage (only the first county council elections being seen as significant); b) using local data to explore the ‘grand narratives’ of political history, such as the rise of the Labour Party; c) exploring the formal and procedural aspects, such as the impact of the franchise changes and voting arrangements; and d) looking at specific hotly-fought contests for parliamentary seats (such as Winchester 1945 and high Peak 1885).

The final section returns to research frameworks, asking broader and more open-ended questions about the existing (and generally quite inadequate) treatment of local electoral history, and suggesting more challenging and ambitious approaches on the part of local historians.

5. ‘Education in an eighteenth-century Northamptonshire village: the Rockingham schools register 1764-1773’, 220-228 by Ann Redshaw Show more → Show less ↓

Ann Redshaw observes in the opening sentence of her article that ‘The preservation of a rare eighteenth-century charity school register in the archives of a formerly large Northamptonshire estate has provided the opportunity to examine the composition of a small rural school in a period for which very few primary sources usually survive’. The school, in the village of Rockingham, was run under the auspices of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK: founded 1698) within the context of the great estate of the Watson family of Rockingham Castle, and its surviving register covers ten-year period 1763-1773.

The article begins by explaining the local history background and then describes the principles of the SPCK and its work in the area of charitable education, including the credentials which were laid down for the qualification of its teachers. It then provides a detailed and thorough analysis of the Rockingham School, looking in turn at a series of key themes: funding, finances and patronage; the arrangement of classes and the curriculum; the ages of scholars; progression through the school, and evidence of attendance; the teachers; the children and their families; and, finally, the advantages of education and the rationale for its provision among the rural poor. The decline of the school after the 1780s is noted, and the evidence of (for example) the government commission which investigated education in 1818 is used to highlight the changing nature of provision in Rockingham and adjacent communities.

The paper argues that the school had a powerful impact upon village life, and that there is an identifiable link between the education of the poor and, for example, the emergence of Methodism and the Baptist denominations. It is clear that this source is a most unusual one—such registers very rarely survive—but the lessons it teaches may have a much greater validity and application.

6. ‘The production of charcoal in South-East Hertfordshire 1550-1850’, 229-240 by Peter Austin Show more → Show less ↓

In previous issues of The Local Historian (May 2013 and July 2014), and as part of his major and extensive research into woodland management and exploitation, Peter Austin has published papers on pollarding and coppicing, using South-East Hertfordshire as his case study area and exploiting the archives at Hatfield House. In this present paper he focuses on one of the key elements of the exploitation of woodland resources—the production of charcoal in the period from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The sources used are the account books of the Hatfield and related estates; other estate records; and a wealth of published primary and secondary material on trade and woodland management.

The paper explains the rationale for charcoal-making, including the preferred types of wood, and then provides a valuable detailed account of the techniques involved, beginning with agreements between woodland owner and charcoal-maker and continuing through the selection of site, choosing of wood, making of hearths, vigilant management of the burning,  and removal and carting of the charcoal. These activities are identified in the accounts, with numerous examples quoted. From this, Austin moves on to consider the economics of the industry, looking at the returns for the landowner and the sale prices and production costs involved. Again, the theoretical discussion is illustrated by many specific examples of transactions.

The paper then addresses the practical aspects of charcoal production within a changing landscape—one changed by the industry, but also managed for a range of other purposes. Much of the landscape impact depended on the quantities that were produced in a given area over a certain period of time, and this aspect is analysed in considerable detail. The sale of, and trade in, charcoal is analysed, as is the use made of it (though it is emphasised that the article does not include analysis of the industrial use of the commodity). Finally, a paragraph looks at the end of the trade. There is a large and comprehensive set of references which will be valuable for any local historian wanting to pursue the themes discussed, in his or her area.

7. ‘Scrapping at Carlisle: the battle for Christ Church 1895-1929’, 241-252 by Jane Platt Show more → Show less ↓

Using two scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings, held by Cumbria Archives and Carlisle Cathedral Library, Jane Platt traces the events at Christ Church, Carlisle over a 35-year period which saw bitter feuding between factions of the congregation and their minister. The conflict was part of a much wider and far-reaching battle within the Church of England, between the Anglican Evangelicals who were strongly opposed to ‘ritual’ in any form, including the liturgy itself but also the arrangement, order and decoration of the church, and on the other hand the Anglo-Catholics who no less strongly supported its use and whose theological and liturgical foundation remained the post-1559 form which incorporated key elements of pre-Reformation Catholic worship.

Jane Platt begins by setting out the principles which underlay the arguments, including the five major areas of (as far as the Evangelicals were concerned) unwelcome change: faith [tradition versus scripture]; justification [via the sacraments or by direct access to God]; Church ministry [apostolic succession versus congregational ministry]; the Eucharist; and ‘mechanical acts of spirituality’ such as confession. She then shows how between 1854 and 1906 a series of decisions by Church courts, commissions, the privy council and other agencies changed the legality of many key aspects of Anglican Eucharistic worship, each one of which was both preceded and followed by fiercely antagonistic debate.

Her paper then turns to the case of Christ Church, Carlisle, and she charts the career of the central figure in its small civil war, the Reverend John Compton Butterworth (vicar 1895-1904) and its longer-term consequences. The account is full of rich quotation from contemporary newspapers, and the tendency of Butterworth to ride rough-shod over the preferences and expectations of his parishioners is highlighted, as he sought to impose an Anglo-Catholic form of worship on a hostile congregation. Throughout, the local events and arguments are placed firmly in the context of the ‘big issues’ which beset the contemporary Church of England, so that this study exemplifies the importance of providing other dimensions to local history studies. It concludes by noting that the Anglo-Catholicism which Butterworth imposed was sustained after his death, such that the church acquired a statue of Our Lady, paschal candles, incense, crucifixes and other features which even today would be regarded as ‘high’. But, Jane Platt, notes, the irony is that in 1952 the church was demolished, its arguments long forgotten and its congregation dwindled to only a handful.


1. HOW RAILWAYS CHANGED BRITAIN: a new social and economic history edited by by David St John Thomas (Railway and Canal Historical Society 2015 232pp ISBN 978 0 901461 63 6) £25 Show more → Show less ↓

HOW RAILWAYS CHANGED BRITAIN: a new social and economic history edited by David St John Thomas (Railway and Canal Historical Society 2015 232pp ISBN 978 0 901461 63 6) £25

This new book, produced by the Railway and Canal Historical Society and edited by the noted railway historian the late David St John Thomas, commendably aims to provide the non-academic reader or researcher with an understanding of how the railways and their development transformed the British nation from 1830 to the present day. Each of the nine chapters, authored by respected railway historians among whom are M.C. Reed and David Hodgkins, touches upon a wide range of subjects relating to railway development in Britain. The reader is taken on a journey starting with construction and financing; the impact upon financial systems; how railways altered the nation’s leisure habits; their impact on the landscape; the establishment of railway towns; and railway management.

The text is well written and informative, and every chapter has a sense of the issues involved, and interesting points or examples raised, though on occasion the focus could have been improved. While the work is a useful compilation of research examining the railways and the social-economic environment in Britain, the potential breadth of the chosen themes means that it inevitably becomes a victim of its own remit. Some subjects are given less attention than would be hoped for from a book with this title—for instance the impact of railways on demographic change and migration;, female railway employees; and developments in the twentieth century. These reservations should, however, be tempered by the fact that this is not intended to be a work providing full coverage of the different subjects, but rather a collection that draws on the knowledge and experience of the contributors, who clearly demonstrate a deep understanding and passion for their subjects throughout.

A noted weakness of the book, which limits its ability to provide insight for the researcher, is the omission of in-text references. That editorial decision means that the reader cannot easily discover where a statement, fact or argument came from. This is, however compensated, by the inclusion of useful bibliographies at the end of each chapter and for the book as a whole. The lack of in-text references is also problematic when considering a statement in the introduction, that the book was to draw on knowledge the authors had acquired ‘without necessarily recalling when’. This leaves the work open to the suggestion that some of the material came from that sometimes dubious source, memory. 

But overall, these criticism are minor when considering the book’s intended purpose, its informative nature and the achievement of the Railway & Canal Historical Society and David St John Thomas in compiling a useful guide for individuals starting to explore the broad impact of the railways on British life.


David Turner is associate lecturer in railway studies at the University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning where he teaches its on-line postgraduate diploma in railway studies.

2. THE NOTEBOOKS OF ROBERT POUNDER edited by Ann Alexander (Thoresby Society 2015 254pp ISBN 978 0 900741 75 3) £18 Show more → Show less ↓

THE NOTEBOOKS OF ROBERT POUNDER edited by Ann Alexander (Thoresby Society 2015 254pp ISBN   978 0 900741 75 3) £18

There are few published autobiographical writings of workers from the first half of the nineteenth century. That in itself makes Robert Pounder’s notebooks of more than local interest, though those with a special interest in the West Riding textile industry will particularly appreciate their publication. Robert Pounder (1811-1857) already has a fragment of literary immortality in that he is quoted by Frederick Engels in his Condition of the Working Class in England of 1845. However this ‘anikdote’ is not representative of the writings in Pounder’s notebooks: it is a secondhand account of a Manchester, a place of which he knew little, whereas his notebooks are full of immediate and intimate details of his own life in Leeds.

Like many autodidacts, Pounder had a magpie mind and that is reflected in the jumbled miscellany of material he recorded. His highly erratic orthography is also a reflection of someone self-taught but, for a man who was relatively literate, the idiosyncratic spelling of even familiar words like ‘America’ would suggest some degree of dyslexia. Deciphering this script must have been a difficult task and it would be pedantic to point out errors and misinterpretations that have crept in as a result. Ann Alexander, the editor, should be congratulated for her dedication in bringing Pounder’s writings to the attention of historians. Her introduction, summarising the content of the notebooks and various aspects of Pounder’s life, and the numerous footnotes, are indispensible, although not without omissions.

The notebooks record material from 1827 to 1847 and include some earlier biographical details. It is perhaps easier for the reader to start with the ‘small notebook’ first, although it is second in the volume, since it contains information about Pounder’s early life.  As well as references to contemporary events, the notebooks contain recipes for medicines, poems, inventories of belongings, snippets of financial accounts, notes of acts of charity he received, genealogical details, records of wages and teazle prices. An anthology of Pounder’s own verse fills 75 pages of the 193 pages of transcribed notebook content. As a working-man poet Pounder is not in the league of Ebenezer Elliott or John Clare, but as a record of the intimate thought and ideas of someone in his station of life his work is invaluable. His political and religious beliefs, his joy, his grief, his love of nature and hatred of oppression all find naive and ingenuous expression in his verse.

The tantalisingly laconic references to political events and social movements can be frustrating, since although Pounder’s life touched on many aspects of working-class radical activity of the time, he chose not to record them in detail, at least in the surviving notebooks. That he was capable of such detailed journalism, notwithstanding his spelling problems, is clear from two letters which Richard Oastler published in his ‘Fleet Papers’ and which are reproduced as an appendix to this volume, including that reproduced by Engels.

Pounder was a teazle handle setter, and therefore part of the cloth finishing branch of the woollen industry. For a time he worked at Oatlands Mill at Woodhouse, which in January 1812 suffered an arson attack attributed to the Luddites. However, his writings throw little light on what it was like to be in the cloth finishing trade in the years when hand-finishing finally gave way to machinery. In the 1830s he was involved in the trade union movement, but his entry for 10 May 1834, when Yorkshire trade unionists were locked in an epic battle for survival with the manufacturers, says only that ‘This day 24 mills stopt on perpes to breck up the traids uinon which thee was 3,000 men and upwords thrown out of imployment besides children and women which...’, ending in mid-sentence. He was also a founding member of the Commercial Order in Leeds, a little-known venture in cooperative production linked to the Owenite trade union, about which he records nothing other than this fact. 

A staunch supporter of the Ten Hours Bill and opponent of the New Poor Law, Pounder was also a personal friend of Richard Oastler (who visited his home and who referred to him as ‘Robert’ in a letter to the Northern Star) and of the leading West Riding radical and Chartist Lawrence Pitkethley, but he adds little to our knowledge about them.  Similarly, although he shared a platform with the Chartist George Julian Harney, Pounder’s other involvement in the movement is unmentioned. He is also modest about his own role in the allotment movement, of which he was a leading promoter in Woodhouse.

Although Pounder may be reticent about his political activity, his stoical record of personal suffering in the 1840s as a sick and unemployed worker, compounded by loss of his wife, are vivid and moving. In his jottings and verse he provides a greater insight into the  ‘Hungry 40s’ than any economist’s account does or could, and is worth reading for this alone.


Alan Brooke is a member of Huddersfield Local History Society and co-author, with the late Lesley Kipling, of Liberty or Death: Radicals, Republicans and Luddites in the Huddersfield Area.

3. WINDOWS ONTO THE POOR LAW: comparing the Croydon and Godstone Unions from 1835 to 1866 by Brian Lancaster (Proceedings of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society vol.19 no.8 2015 115pp ISBN 978-0-90647-30-9) £6.95 + £1. Show more → Show less ↓

WINDOWS ONTO THE POOR LAW: comparing the Croydon and Godstone Unions from 1835 to 1866 by Brian Lancaster (Proceedings of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society vol.19 no.8 2015 115pp ISBN 978-0-90647-30-9) £6.95 + £1.60 p&p from the Society, 96A Brighton Road, South Croydon CR2 6AD.

Although the literature on the New Poor Law is voluminous, there is still room for further studies, especially when they are as detailed and insightful as this exploration of its impact in the contrasting areas of Croydon and Godstone. As Lancaster explains, while Croydon rapidly urbanised during the period under review, Godstone remained predominantly rural in character. In constructing his narrative, he draws upon a rich mix of primary source material, including the minutes of the two Boards of Guardians where they have survived; local newspapers; and correspondence between the Croydon Guardians and the Poor Law Commissioners and from 1847 Poor Law Board. He is well aware that these are ‘top down’ sources from which far more can be learnt about those who administered the Poor Law than about the poor themselves. However, when something went wrong the subsequent enquiry provides what Lancaster characterises as a ‘window onto the Poor Law’. There are a substantial number of ‘windows’ throughout the study and they help to bring to life what it was like to be at the ‘sharp end’, not only for paupers but also for those charged with administering the system, such as relieving officers and parish overseers.

Lancaster begins by sketching in the background to, and main features of, the 1834 reform of the Poor Law. While much of this will be familiar to many readers it does help to contextualise the sections which follow. These deal inter alia with the establishment of the Croydon and Godstone unions; the financing of the system; the guardians and their standing in the community; masters and matrons of workhouses; chaplains; vagrants; outdoor relief; medical officers; and Poor Law schools. One of Lancaster’s principal aims is to highlight the complexity, diversity, anomalies and inequities inherent in the system, as well as the tensions between central control by the Poor Law Commissioners/Board and local autonomy exercised by the boards of guardians; between poor law unions and their constituent parishes; and between the different categories of staff and the guardians.

While this is a work based on extensive research, as evidenced by the 601 references, and the author’s undoubted familiarity with the source material, it does have a number of shortcomings. There is a substantial amount of unacknowledged and unnecessary repetition. For example, it is mentioned, on at least three occasions, that Bletchingley and Godstone could not be ‘called towns’ and that Godstone’s relieving officer had to travel on foot since he did not have a horse. More seriously there are sentences which are clearly incomplete, such as ‘Some of the clerk’s involved correspondence with other unions’ (p.388) and ‘Both the Croydon and the workhouse accommodated infants and young children’ (p.410). Moreover, in places the author appears to contradict himself. The section on workhouses begins with the statement that ‘No new workhouse was built either in the Croydon or the Godstone union’ (p.398), yet considerable attention is devoted to the need for, and construction of, Croydon’s new workhouse which was opened on 29 October 1866 (p.401). Here it is unfortunate that use was not made of Peter Higginbottom’s extensive Workhouses website, which contains an evocative photograph of Croydon’s new workhouse dating from 1866 and also provides details of a new workhouse designed by John Whichcord and built in Bletchingley in 1839. Such lapses mar the work as a whole. This is a great pity and could have been partially remedied by employing the services of a copy editor or a proofreader. That said, this is still a study that can be strongly recommended to anyone who is keen to learn more about the challenges involved in operating the Poor Law at the grass roots level.


Roger Ottewill retired in 2008 after 35 years in higher education. He was awarded a PhD in Modern Church History by the University of Birmingham in 2015 and has contributed articles on aspects of local political and administrative history to various journals, including Southern History, Hampshire Studies and The Local Historian.

4. 1885: THE GENERAL ELECTION IN DERBYSHIRE’S HIGH PEAK by John Crummett (New Mills Local History Society: 2015 ii+20pp no ISBN) £3 Show more → Show less ↓

1885: THE GENERAL ELECTION IN DERBYSHIRE’S HIGH PEAK by John Crummett (New Mills Local History Society: 2015 ii+20pp no ISBN) £3 + p&p from New Mills Heritage Centre, Rock Mill Lane, New Mills, High Peak SK22 3BN

This monograph is a welcome addition to the relatively small number of case studies focusing on general election contests at the parliamentary constituency level. As such, they complement works by electoral historians who seek to construct an overarching narrative for the election as a whole. This is especially important where, as in the case of the High Peak constituency in 1885, the outcome was unexpected. As Crummett explains, it was generally anticipated that the Liberal candidate, John Frederick Cheetham, would comfortably hold the seat. He had been one of the MPs for the previous two-member constituency of Derbyshire North and Liberalism was the dominant political force throughout the county. In the event, however, his opponent the Conservative, Captain William Sidebottom, won by the very small margin of nine votes.

Drawing almost exclusively on reports from five local newspapers, the Liberal-supporting Ashton Reporter, High Peak Advertiser and Buxton Advertiser and Conservative-supporting Glossop Dale Chronicle and Buxton Herald, Crummett describes many of the key features of the election. These include the fact that this was first contest in which rural working class males could vote, having been enfranchised in 1884, and that most constituencies were now single member. He provides background information on the political and socio-economic character of the constituency; mini-biographies of the candidates and their views on the issues of the day; insights into the campaign and approaches to electioneering; and what happened on polling day. He also gives some reasons for the result, of which complacency on the part of the Liberals seems to have been an important factor along with the decision to locate their headquarters in Buxton rather than Glossop. In such a socially-mixed and geographically extensive constituency as High Peak, territorial politics inevitably played its part. The account ends with helpful summaries of the future careers of Sidebottom and Cheetham.

Overall, Crummett’s coverage of the 1885 High Peak election makes an interesting read. However, this reviewer has a few quibbles. First, the numbering of the sections should have begun with the one headed ‘Background’, as opposed to the ‘Preface’ and descriptions of Punch cartoons, which are preliminaries. Second, rather than a combination of endnotes and the embedding of newspaper references in the main body of the text, a more consistent approach to referencing would have been welcome. Last, it should have been made clear that Cheetham won the Stalybridge constituency at a by-election in early 1905, having failed to do so at the previous general election of 1900 (p.19). These, however, are minor matters and should not deter anyone with an interest in local electoral history from acquiring a copy of this fascinating monograph.


Roger Ottewill retired in 2008 after 35 years in higher education. He was awarded a PhD in Modern Church History by the University of Birmingham in 2015 and has contributed articles on aspects of local political and administrative history to various journals, including Southern History, Hampshire Studies and The Local Historian.

5. The Victoria History of the County of Durham vol.5 SUNDERLAND edited by Gillian Cookson (Boydell and Brewer/Institute of Historical Research 2015 x+332pp ISBN 978 1 904356 44 8) £95 Show more → Show less ↓

The Victoria History of the County of Durham vol.5 SUNDERLAND edited by Gillian Cookson (Boydell and Brewer/Institute of Historical Research 2015 x+332pp ISBN 978 1 904356 44 8) £95

The origins and early history of the VCH were outlined in the Diamond Jubilee Celebration booklet published in 2012, which also offered a progress report on the various counties. Durham already had three volumes in print by 1928, when publication ceased. Vol.4 on Darlington appeared in 2005. By this time the older volumes, although still useful to local historians, had become historical records in themselves, demonstrating as they do the preoccupations and approaches of a past generation of researchers. This fifth volume appeared at the end of 2015.

The revived Durham project was fortunate to be chosen as one of the pilots for the Heritage Lottery-funded ‘England's Past for Everyone’ initiative, and as a result was able to produce three paperbacks—one for Darlington and two for Sunderland. The first of the latter, entitled Monks to Mariners, dealt with the origins and development of the settlements that eventually came together to form the town. The second, Building a City, offered insights into its later physical development up to the time of writing (2010), Both were designed to engage the interested local observer and as such fulfilled the aims of that project. The research undertaken for these paperbacks has fed into the ‘Big Red Book’, but this is a very different product with different aspirations, designed to offer a thematic chronological history from the earliest times to the present day as well as examining the histories of individual institutions: churches industries, public utilities and cultural organisations. Whether this is the optimum division of the subject matter is open to question.

Sunderland's history is a complex story of fluctuating fortunes, usually the result of forces beyond the control of the townsfolk—a situation which remains true to this day. After a chequered mediaeval history, dominated by the bishops of Durham, Sunderland developed as a port and manufacturing centre after the Reformation, under lay leadership and based on the coal and salt industries. A Puritan town, its entry into the coal trade was facilitated in the seventeenth century by the temporary suspension of exports from royalist Newcastle. Shipbuilding, the industry that came to define Sunderland, was already well-established in the eighteenth century, received a massive boost during the Napoleonic wars, and survived the transition from wood and sail to iron and steam to become a leading producer before and during the First World War. The post-war recession hit the town hard but Second World War demand revived its fortunes and maximum production was achieved in 1942 and continued despite German bombing. Even after the war, and despite the limitations on bulk carrier building imposed by the width of the river Wear, by a dint of amalgamation and modernisation the industry remained healthy into the 1970s. However in 1977 the shipbuilding industry was nationalised, leaving Sunderland vulnerable to the vagaries of Conservative policy in the following decade. As a result by 1989 there was no more shipbuilding on the Wear. Sunderland had to adjust itself to a post-industrial future and is still doing so.

The town is now a city, and its civic and cultural pride was much in evidence at the launch of this volume at St Peter’s Wearmouth, a church which encompasses the remains of the monastery where Bede worked and looks down on a precinct of the University with a glassmaking museum and craft facility on the site of one of the major shipyards. There is much more to Sunderland than a lost industrial past, and the present volume with its scrupulous referencing offers scope for future researchers to look into many other aspects of the city's life rather than simply rehashing a familiar tale of rise and decline. Worth waiting for and well worth using.


Winifred Stokes is a former university lecturer, and is now chair of the Durham County Local History Society. She is currently researching the history of early-nineteenth century joint stock companies in North East England.

6. The Victoria County History of Gloucestershire vol.14 pt.1: YATE AND DISTRICT edited by Rose Wallis (Boydell and Brewer/Institute of Historical Research 2015 x+119 pp ISBN 978 1 909646 10 0) £9.50 Show more → Show less ↓

The Victoria County History of Gloucestershire vol.14 pt.1: YATE AND DISTRICT edited by Rose Wallis (Boydell and Brewer/Institute of Historical Research 2015 x+119 pp ISBN 978 1 909646 10 0) £9.50

This is the first instalment of what will be VCH vol.14, covering this and other parishes of South Gloucestershire. It is also the first production of the Gloucestershire County History Trust, which was established in 2010 to continue the VCH history of the county, and is therefore warmly to be welcomed.  Moreover, it is good to see South Gloucestershire getting the attention which it deserves, but has to some extent missed as a result of its shifting local government status, with records dispersed almost arbitrarily between Gloucester and Bristol. On the other hand, is it not time that the VCH abandoned the parish as the unit of local history? It has not been a relevant unit for social or economic history for the last two centuries.

This account is organised thematically, which is very helpful to researchers who wish to mine it for leads and sources. With over a thousand references in the book, they will not be disappointed. The work seems comprehensive and thorough, and a remarkable achievement for no more than two years’ research and production  (and part-time at that). Frequent references to the Yate Heritage Centre bear witness to a considerable local archive, itself testimony to strong local interest. Perhaps the work of the South Gloucestershire Mines Research Group could have been drawn on with advantage for the sections on coal and celestine. And it is a shame that the author could do little more than mention the doings of the so-called Wickwar Gang of racketeers (actually based in Yate) of the early-nineteenth century, which she herself has researched and written up elsewhere. One penalty of such a fully-documented account is that topics take up space proportionate to their source material, while those for which there are no sources may be passed over. Thus manorial and estate holdings and transmissions amount to about 10 per cent of the whole volume, while the absence of vestry minutes and churchwardens’ accounts before 1782 means that two centuries of parish poor relief are a blank, and the lacuna is not even mentioned.  

The thematic organisation does fewer favours for readers looking for a history of the development of Yate, who  would be better served by a chronological treatment. As it is, they must make their own connections between the sections on Economic History, Social History and Religious Life; or Manors and Estates, Manorial Government  and Patronage. They will be assisted by cross-references, but it will still be rather for them to construct a coherent history.

There are two dozen illustrations, some recent and some themselves historic, including the union workhouse by George Gilbert Scott. The book is well produced and sturdy enough to stand up to strenuous handling. It will be an obvious and rewarding starting point for anyone seeking to explore any aspect of Yate’s history. One also expects to see it, like its predecessors, cited in wider studies of themes such as mineral exploitation, or late-twentieth century planning. 

Note: this review is substantially the same as that printed in the Avon Local History & Archaeology Newsletter no.145 (Jan-March 2016).


Jonathan Harlow is visiting research fellow at the Regional History Centre, University of the West of England, treasurer and membership secretary of the Bristol Record Society, and editor of the Avon Local History and Archaeology booklets and reviews.

7. THE BATTLE OF THE FIELDS Rural community and authority in Britain during the Second World War by Brian Short (Boydell 2014 468pp 9781843839378) £75 Show more → Show less ↓

THE BATTLE OF THE FIELDS Rural community and authority in Britain during the Second World War by Brian Short (Boydell 2014 468pp 9781843839378) £75

This book provides an in-depth analysis of a range of aspects glossed over in most accounts which deal with the War Agricultural Executive Committees (WAECs) and their role in transforming the agricultural sector and the rural community in the Second World War. It provides an entertaining and perceptive insight into the challenges facing the state in transforming what was, until that time, a tepid agricultural economy, into a fully functioning productive sector within five years. It explores the problems in bringing about an unprecedented structural transformation, involving the expansion of arable farming at the expense of livestock production. The author’s investigation of the significance and complexity of the way the Committees operated is unrivalled, and this is particularly evident in terms of the details of the membership of the local Committees, and the role they played in surveillance, and in the move from tradition to mass agricultural production which emerged during the war. This work explores how these power relationships operated in practice, particularly in respect of the controversial system of dispossession—the author quite rightly devotes a chapter to the tragic case of Ray Walden, a small dairy farmer in Hampshire who lost his life in the process of being evicted from his farm.  

The book is beautifully constructed and the author is to be congratulated for providing such a detailed and comprehensive investigation of a wide range of secondary and primary sources. The exhaustive nature of the tables further adds to these detailed sources, as does the pertinent use of photographs. In contrast to most other accounts, there are important insights into the working of WAECs and Government powers, especially in regional variations on the impact of wartime control. This encompasses not only pastoral farmland but also fenland and coastal marshes. Equally to be commended is a chapter covering the impact of wartime control in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which faced different challenges from those faced in England and Wales.

The chapter on ‘representation, memory and fiction’ analyses how the WAEC achievements can be viewed not only through the lens of official documents (as used by previous researchers) but also in contemporary representation in literature, poetry, posters and film. This provides an intriguing and valuable narrative on the WAECs and their strenuous effort to portray themselves in a positive light.  This chapter also provides a perceptive critique on how far research on this topic has developed in the last decade.

A sharper, more detailed investigation could have been made in respect of the Committees’ achievements and how far their activities led to a significant increase in agricultural output and productivity—rather than their ability to bring about a structural realignment, with the switch from pastoral to arable farming. Questions can be raised about the occasional use of very long quotations, but the credibility of the arguments and quality of the analysis are not affected. While the author’s enthusiasm for the topic gives an outstanding resource for agricultural specialists and academics focusing on the Second World War, the book will also be of immense value and relevance to those interested in the history of the countryside, especially in its rapid change during the mid-twentieth century.

An important issue for any reader is the cost of the book. It is only available as a hardback for £75 and so its price, rather than its quality, will limit the sales market to universities libraries and a few specialist readers. A less expensive version in softback would makes it more accessible to the public, as it deserves.


Gilbey Lund works in the museum sector, having completed a Masters by independent study on state control of agriculture in Bedfordshire during the Second World War and a further Masters in Museum Studies focusing on the First World War centenary and museums. 

8. BREAKING THE BONDS OF CAPITALISM The political vision of a Lancashire mill girl by Roger Smalley (Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster University 2014 157pp ISBN 978-1-86220-317-4) £12.95 Show more → Show less ↓

BREAKING THE BONDS OF CAPITALISM The political vision of a Lancashire mill girl by Roger Smalley (Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster University 2014 157pp ISBN 978-1-86220-317-4) £12.95

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962) was a radical and impressive woman. A Lancashire mill girl, she worked as a cotton weaver in Great Harwood near Blackburn from the age of 11. From her late teens she published poetry and then journalism and went on to have a varied career, living precariously by her pen. By her mid-40s the ‘Ex-Mill Girl Who Became a Literary Celebrity’ had, according to The Yorkshire Observer, written a total of  ‘ten novels, 15 serials, two films, and a host of short stories, essays and poems’. With her husband she had also run a monthly penny newspaper (The Clear Light) which in 1924 became the organ of the National Union for Combating Fascism. She was a committed socialist feminist and was important, as Roger Smalley points out, both to the history of twentieth-century British political dissent and to working-class writing. Why she is so little known, despite her prolific ‘career of passionate dissent’, is one of the questions raised by this short but impressive and well-researched critical biography.

Smalley is an expert on Carnie Holdsworth—the book is a development of his PhD thesis—and is particularly strong on the dynamic socialist culture around Blackburn and Burnley at the turn of the twentieth century. The book offers a chronological survey of Ethel’s life, moving from her work for Robert Blatchford in London on The Woman Worker, through her ideas on class education as a ‘propagandist’ for the Central Labour College, to fascinating sections on her work for the anti-conscription British Citizen Party during the First World War. Her literary oeuvre, which was eclectic and vast (the full extent of her serial publications is still unclear)  is a key feature of the book’s narrative and Smalley makes constant illuminating attempts to put this into its literary and historical context. He looks, for instance, at the Romantic influences on her poetry and the impact of local folk memory about the Pendle witches in her bestselling novel, Helen of Four Gates (1917). Across all her writing, Smalley argues, she adopted popular genres ‘as a way of embedding socialist ideas into the plot and getting readers to take them more seriously’.  

Smalley is quick to draw comparisons with Carnie Holdsworth’s better-known dissenting contemporaries and argues that Annie Kenney, Hannah Mitchell, Ada Neild Chew and Alice Foley are better known because they published autobiographies, letters and diaries. In one sense Carnie Holdsworth is a biographer’s conundrum—no  apparent diary and few letters have survived—but Smalley reads her published journalism and imaginative writing as an important source and addition ‘to the meagre knowledge base that currently represents the story of early twentieth-century protest by women’. She died in obscurity but after a long period of oblivion new editions of her works are now appearing and the rediscovered film of Helen of Four Gates is bringing her to the attention of a wider audience. This study is convincing about why she deserves more recognition.   


Nicola Wilson is lecturer in book and publishing studies at the University of Reading. Her first book is Home in British Working-Class Fiction (2015) and she has published chapters and essays on the early twentieth-century book trade and reading patterns. Nicola is general editor of the Ethel Carnie Holdsworth series.

9. THE BELLS TOLD The story of ringers and ringing at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich by Maureen P. Cubitt (author 2014 128pp ISBN978-1-907750-88-5) £10 from or from Simon Smith, 23 Beatrice Road, Norwich  Show more → Show less ↓

THE BELLS TOLD The story of ringers and ringing at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich by Maureen P. Cubitt (author 2014 128pp ISBN978-1-907750-88-5) £10

This book, which is well presented and thoroughly researched, was published in connection with the 300th anniversary of the first ever ‘peal’, a special bellringing performance of over three hours’ duration, which took place at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich in 1715. This event, and the associated history of the bells at Mancroft church from the fifteenth century to the present, are described in a way which is very accessible to non-bellringers—the social and historical context provided is of general interest.

Change-ringing on church bells is a peculiarly English invention and performers need both physical and mental skills. Barely touched on in the book, the circumstances that gave rise to the 1715 performance include the existence of an employed class with leisure time to devote to such activities, advances in mechanical engineering allowing heavy bells to be swung and controlled, and the development by bellringers of mathematical techniques that are vital to today’s knowledge economy but which were only rediscovered by professional mathematicians 200 years later.

The Bells Told is a book of two parts. The first two-thirds cover the history of bells and bell-ringing at St Peter Mancroft. Among topics of general interest are the close integration of bellringing with city and social life, including ringing to mark military and parliamentary victories and defeats, and the associated political controversies; details of the Norwich Ringers’ Purse, a friendly society founded in 1716 to provide support for ringers and their families in poverty or unable to work, which existed until the late nineteenth century; the intense rivalry between ringers and descriptions of all-day ringing competitions; and the journeys made on foot by ringers over wide areas of the country in pursuit of their interest.

Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, ringing had been a paid secular activity, but in 1901 a new vicar banned ringing for political purposes, locked the tower and impounded the ringer’s gotch (a huge beer jug) while volunteer ringers from the church were recruited. The tragic loss of life in the First War led to women ringers being allowed for the first time, and journeys by rail and by charabanc replaced the walking tours of earlier times. The last third of the book is a set of recollections and reflections by current ringers. Apart from a description of the Ringer’s Purse, these are probably of less interest to the general historian, though they form a useful record for bell historians of the future.

Unfortunately, the book lacks an index, and although a good list of sources is provided, quotations in the text do not always provide a full reference, such as the date or page number of newspaper articles. However, the book is short and very readable, and provides useful background and context for anyone who comes across references to bell-ringing in Norfolk or any part of the country in the course of other research.


Bill Hibbert has been a church bellringer for over forty years and has a major interest in the history of bellringing. He is a director of Ringing World, the weekly journal of the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers, and was awarded a doctorate by the Open University a few years ago for research into the sound and acoustics of bells.