The Local Historian - Volume 47 Number 1 - January 2017

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1. ‘Colliery health care in the nineteenth-century North Durham coalfield’, 2-11 by Marian Morrison Show more → Show less ↓

This article, which won the British Association for Local History ‘short article’ publications award for 2016, argues that despite the exceptionally bad image ascribed to coal owners in the nineteenth-century, by many contemporaries and most historians, in reality a significant number made genuine efforts to improve the working conditions of their employees, with the provision of medical care being a major element in this. Indeed, it is suggested that in some mining communities this resulted in a standard of healthcare provision that was better than in the community more generally. 

The paper discusses evidence for the provision of medical care, emphasising that the documentary sources are clearly incomplete and ambiguous, and also that in the absence of any statutory requirement much depends on the existence of incidental references. Morrison shows, for example, that medical directories frequently do not mention doctors whose presence is confirmed from other sources. A key source for North Durham is the detailed and very descriptive journal of Thomas Giordani Wright, a Newcastle surgeon’s assistant, who made frequent visits to collieries. The paper then addresses the question of motive—why did certain collieries employ, permanently or on a casual or temporary basis, doctors or surgeons? It is suggested that economic motives—a healthier workforce, quicker recovery of injured employees, an improved public image for the employer, and a sense of wellbeing among the workers—were of special importance. But the paper also looks at other aspects of medical care, including dispensaries, sick and benefit clubs, and the role of doctors and surgeons within the wider community. Relationships between employers and the medical profession are considered in the context of social elites and, in particular, social links with pit managers who were at the top of the scale in colliery workforces. The article includes a helpful chronological table of the legislation and other factors which shaped colliery medical care.

2. ‘”The richest crop that it can grow”: building estate development in nineteenth-century Battersea’, 13-28 by Keith Bailey Show more → Show less ↓

In this paper Keith Bailey looks at the development of new housing estates in Battersea during the Victorian period, focusing especially on the process by which landowners released their properties for development. He begins with an overview of the work of earlier historians, from the 1960s onwards, who have studied suburban development, and includes a helpful review of recent literature. Bailey then sets out in some detail the circumstances of the rural but rapidly-developing village of Battersea, emphasising the highly-fragmented pattern of landownership in the early nineteenth-century, a factor of major significance in determining the way in which the district grew. He draws attention, though, to the fact that even large-scale landowners often had no coherent strategy for selling land, doing so piecemeal, and draws attention to the crucial importance of railway development, not only as a catalyst for suburban growth but also as a prime determinant of the physical shape of the growing suburb.

The second part of the paper analyses the development which took place between the 1830s and the early twentieth century, in terms of the chronology and size of building estates; the density of development by size of estate and period of development; and the social and economic characteristics of the developers themselves. He categorises the types of estate, highlighting their extreme diversity and the danger of generalisation. These key themes are then illustrated in case studies of several estates in the Stewarts Lane and Havelock Terrace areas of the parish, the investigation being carried through to a final major topic for discussion—the socio-economic make-up of the new communities and the rise or fall of the social status of the newly-built estates. The article will provide a wide range of ideas and themes for comparable case-studies, and details the range of key sources which can be employed.

3. ‘The decline of the hand-made nailing community in Wombourne 1841-1910’, 29-45 by David Thomas Taylor Show more → Show less ↓

David Taylor begins his paper on the nature of industrial decline in the nineteenth century by reviewing the existing published literature on the subject, noting the often contradictory statements or interpretation of historians, and suggesting that contemporaries were likewise confused or uncertain about, for example, the destination of those workers who left particular industries or trades. He also points out that little focused research on industrial decline in the Victorian period has yet emerged, most studies considering it as one element in a differently-orientated picture. The case study which Taylor undertakes is of the hand-made nailing community in Wombourne, on the western edge of the Black Country—he begins by explaining in detail his methodology for the study, which is built around census data from 1841 to 1901, and on the evidence that numbers employed rose from 179 to 287 between 1841 and 1851, before falling sharply to only 94 in 1871 and complete disappearance by 1901. A key factor is that on-line searchable census returns now make it possible to track migrants in a way that has hitherto been impossible.

The detailed analysis, supported by a series tables, looks at the following key themes: employment variations by gender; comparisons between nail-making and other occupational groups; evidence for the destination of those leaving this and other trades; possible motivation for leaving the trade; transferable skills or their absence; age as a determinant; propensity to out-migrate; churn rate (which is the turnover of entrants in relation to total workforce); those who moved into the trade; geographical origins; household structures;  and community impacts.

4. ‘”A great Fight in the Church at Thaxted”: social and religious tensions in the wake of the first Civil War’, 46-55 by Richard Till Show more → Show less ↓

This paper is a fine local case study of the impact of the tremendous social, religious and political tensions created by the first English Civil War (1642-1646), looking at Thaxted in Essex. The article begins with an overview of the major issues of 1646-1647 as the post-war stresses and strains were exacerbated by uncertainty as to the future shape of government. The situation in Thaxted, a market town and declining centre for the production of cutlery, is highlighted by a three-way split in the control of the parish and town between two absentee landowners and manorial lords, and the impoverished corporation, with the town’s magnificent parish church both physically dominant and also representing a fourth element in the control of the community. The paper discusses the events in Thaxted in the summer of 1647, involving bitter and acrimonious controversy about the appointment of a new minister which was symbolic of, and a practical element in, a vitriolic religious conflict. This eventually led to the House of Lords, to the imprisonment of sixteen parishioners, and to far-reaching divisions within the community.

In his conclusion, Richard Till emphasises that the recent war had greatly exacerbated existing differences of opinion, and that the complex links between local political control, landownership, the Established and dissenting churches, and the county gentry created the circumstances for this miniature civil war. He emphasises the long-term perspective. Not only were the origins of these disputes traceable back for at least two decades, but their impact could still be a quarter of a century later. In other words, a really effective local case study like this not only requires a broad context (the events of the time, the place of this community within the county) but also needs a long chronological view in order to understand its origins and to assess its consequences. Till notes that this conflict was one factor in the financial and jurisdictional chaos which in 1684 led to the dissolution of the borough corporation at Thaxted.

5. ‘Church and Town: the ministry of John Gott as vicar of Leeds 1873-1886’, 56-70 by Roy Yates Show more → Show less ↓

This paper examines the career in Leeds of one of the most influential clergymen in late Victorian Britain, John Gott, vicar of St Peter’s Leeds from 1873 to 1886 (dean of Worcester 1886-1891, and bishop of Truro 1891-1906). The title is a quotation from Cosmo Gordon Lang (archbishop of York 1908-1928 and of Canterbury 1928-1942), referring to the ministry of six successive vicars of Leeds who had devoted themselves to addressing the social challenges facing the Church, requiring it to adapt to the needs of working people and to bring it into a closer and more imaginative relationship with the community. Their work was paralleled by many priests who worked in, or had charge of, industrial parishes in the north and midlands, so Gott’s career, and approach to his task, should serve as examples which other local historians might use in researching their own communities.

Gott’s early life as a Leeds-born son of a family of woollen manufacturers is described, as is his public school education, lack of early vocation, and decision to take holy orders when he was 25. His first ministry, in Great Yarmouth, introduced him to the needs of a large working population, and he the value of a ‘mission type of ministry, bringing the church to the people. Yates then explains his return to Leeds, where he became vicar of the huge industrial parish of Bramley. There he honed and perfected his five-pronged strategy for meeting the immense challenges facing the Church in the city and in his own parish. These are discussed in detail: 1) Mission and outreach, including large-scale mission projects involving all the churches of the city; 2) The Leeds Church Extension Society, focusing on what was perceived as the vital importance of building new churches in growing areas of the city and its industrial suburbs; 3) the Leeds Clergy School, which emphasised the importance of practical experience as well as theological learning and spiritual devotion in the training of young men as priests; 4) Work at Leeds parish church, including a preaching ministry, the publication of a parish magazine, the strong emphasis on education, the importance of music and the beauty and dignity of worship; 5) Wider education and philanthropy, to relate the work of the church to everything that was going on in the town, widening its relevance (and challenging the secular education provided by board schools).


1. Little Walsingham: a study of historic buildings in a medieval pilgrimage centre edited by A. Longcroft, S.J. Brown, M. Brown, D. Barr and I. Hinton  Show more → Show less ↓

(Journal of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group vol.6 2015 vii+270pp ISSN 1741-5888) £12 to non-members (£16 inc p&p) from NHBG, c/o The Old Rectory, Barnby, Beccles NR4 7QN

The main part of this book consists of a detailed gazetteer containing descriptions and analyses of 69 buildings in the Norfolk town of Little Walsingham, once one of the two most important sites of religious pilgrimage in England. It follows similar work by the well-established Norfolk Historic Buildings Group in New Buckenham and in the area around Tacolneston (published respectively in 2005 and 2009). The gazetteer accounts for 200 pages, comprising an analytical record of each building, complemented by an account of ownership, occupancy and function drawn from documentary sources extending from the end of the fifteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century, and illustrated by a wealth of photographs, plans and sections, as well as by some reconstruction drawings. An introductory section of short chapters discusses the nature of the project to record the buildings, the development of medieval towns, the chronology of surviving vernacular buildings, the broader landscape in which Little Walsingham sits, and the history of pilgrimage at Walsingham. There are also summaries of the main characteristics of the buildings, and discussions of a programme of dendrochronology which, for technical reasons, produced disappointingly slender results.

The strength of the book is the gazetteer and the parts of the introduction which most directly support it. Students of vernacular architecture will find much of interest, very competently recorded and presented. Of particular structural significance is an unusual form of sixteenth- or early-seventeenth century truncated-principal roof truss not (yet?) found elsewhere either in Norfolk or further afield; also of especial note are the large number of late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth century hostels for pilgrims, mostly clustered opposite the priory site, the form of them being related to that of inns with large, undivided, first-floor rooms which served as dormitories.

The broader contextual chapters are admirable in intent, but they are something of a rag-bag, and it is not clear to what audience they are addressed. There is, for example, an over-long discussion of the origins both of the Group and of the project, much of which is of little relevance to what follows. An account of the development of small towns covers everything across England from the first Anglo-Saxon towns to the end of the middle ages: the result is highly generalised, too simple to be informative, and fails to illuminate the specific context of Little Walsingham; similarly, the discussion of the survival of vernacular buildings casts the net so wide that relevant parts of the context are lost. These sections, unfortunately, read a bit like student essays which include everything the student knows about the topic rather than a fully focussed selection of competent material. That is a pity, because there are contexts which could have been explored further. In particular, as is noted in passing, comparison might have been made with other small towns with late medieval economies largely dependent on pilgrimage, notably perhaps Dorchester-on-Thames which has been quite well studied (though not as fully as Walsingham). Similarly there is little discussion of the economic and social effects of the sudden termination of the pilgrim trade, though both the building records and their associated documentary histories contain much of the necessary raw material. It is here, perhaps, that the strength and interest of the book lies for local historians, for although they may not be given the answers to the kinds of question they might wish to ask, they have been provided with a significant resource. Someone, with the imagination to the evidence of both the buildings and the documents, should seize the opportunity to explore what it can reveal of the history of pilgrimage towns both before and after the Reformation.


Paul S. Barnwell is Fellow in the Historic Environment at Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and a former president of the Vernacular Architecture Group

2. Early Victorian Railway Excursions: ‘The Million Go Forth’ by Susan Major  Show more → Show less ↓

(Pen & Sword Transport 2015 x+195pp ISBN 978 1 47383528 3) £25

The railways created a rich and all-too-often underused vein of source material for social and cultural historians, and Susan Major’s book is a welcome addition to the literature. Examining the working-class railway excursion from the 1840s to the 1860s, she depicts a complex social world of railway companies, anti-excursion sabbatarians, and enterprising excursion agents, and highlights the experiences of the excursionists themselves. Local historians with a focus on English northern and midland cities in particular are likely to find some useful details here, as the book provides a substantial number of examples covering towns and cities such as Birmingham, Blackpool, Manchester, and Newcastle.

The debunking of the idea of Thomas Cook as the ‘inventor’ of the excursion is well done, though it seems slightly unfortunate that the book implies this is its main focus, for there is much more on offer here. The detailed account of Liverpool-based excursion agent Henry Marcus is well done, and provides a welcome examination of a railway company’s commercial relationship with entrepreneurial freelance individuals. The analysis of the motives of sabbatarians, those who opposed Sunday travel (and including those who sat on the boards of railway companies) is fascinating. The railway historian Jack Simmons once contended that railway companies had no ‘sociological principles’, an idea that is increasingly being disproved. Major provides a good example of this here, showing how railway companies were caught between profiting from an emerging market for excursion trains and defending religious sensibilities.

However, the main weakness from which the book suffers is its analysis of ‘the million’. Major argues there was an explosion of working-class mobility through the advent of excursion traffic, but there is too little analysis of who these working-class individuals were. Artisans and mechanics are highlighted as having the means to enjoy excursions, but for labourers the case is less convincing. The suggestion that dock labourers in 1830s’ Liverpool, earning as little as 18 shillings a week, could afford a 7 shilling excursion to Birmingham with ‘careful saving’ for a ‘the experience of a lifetime’ is contentious, especially as their work was likely to be irregular and there were likely to be families to support. Consequently, assertions that excursions were ‘affordable for the masses’ need more evidence than just highlighting an excursion’s relative cheapness compared to a normal third-class fare. It is to be hoped that this criticism presents an opportunity—a future article examining this theme in more detail would be very welcome.

This issue aside, this is a successful publication on a deserving topic. The source material is particularly rich in places and some excellent illustrations are provided, and the excursion train provides a fascinating insight into leisure in the Victorian period. This alone gives it relevance beyond just the field of railway history, and social and cultural historians of the nineteenth century will certainly benefit from it, as well as the more casual reader.


Simon Abernethy completed his doctorate on ‘Class, Gender, and Commuting in Greater London, 1880 – 1940’ at Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 2015.

3. Lincolnshire Parish Clergy C.1214-1968: A Biographical Register: Part 2 The deaneries of Beltisloe and Bolingbroke by Nicholas Bennett Show more → Show less ↓

(Lincoln Record Society vol.105 2016 518pp ISBN 978 1 910653 00 5) £40

This volume is the second of a series (the first of which was reviewed in this journal in October 2014) which will eventually form a biographical register of Lincolnshire parish clergy from 1214 (when Bishop Hugh of Wells introduced episcopal registration) to 1968, the year in which a Pastoral Measure enabled diocesan bishops to establish group and team ministries and to suspend patronage. Covering the 21 parishes of the deanery of Beltisloe and the 25 parishes of the deanery of Bolingbroke (placed alphabetically within each deanery) the volume continues the pattern of its predecessor by presenting a short history of the origins of each church and its patronage before listing successive incumbents, using information based principally on Lincoln bishops’ registers. Each incumbency list is augmented where possible by brief biographical sketches gained from a wide range of sources which, together with trenchant comments gleaned from the bishops’ registers, often bring incumbents to life. John Delap, for instance, who was instituted to East Keal in 1750, was said by Fanny Burney to be ‘a man of deep learning but totally ignorant of life and manners’; in 1910, Bishop Hicks considered George Wingfield Hunt, vicar of New Bolingbroke, ‘a foolish ill-tempered man ... The Churchwardens pour out their woes ... Alas what can I do with such a lunatic – for such he virtually is’. Descriptions of their household effects give interesting glimpses into the living standards of the richer clergy. Offered for sale at Careby Rectory in 1844, for example, were ‘handsome lofty four-post and tent bedsteads, with moreen, chintz and dimity hangings’, together with ‘an excellent Phaeton and harness’. Some famous individuals may be found within the lists. Annie Besant was married to Frank Besant, vicar of Sibsey (1871-1917). His wife’s unorthodox religious views and the publication of her pamphlet On the Deity of Jesus of Nazareth (1872) led her husband to order her to take holy communion regularly at Sibsey, or leave. She chose the latter and moved to London in 1874.

The biographical register will be of great interest to those studying aspects of religious history such as clerical non-residency and plurality. George Adams (another Sibsey vicar) was described in 1768 as ‘absent, no excuse, lives in London’. He is thought to have been the author of theological works. Ralph Tollemache, rector of South Witham, was non-resident during three extended periods between 1857 and 1869 because of debts which rose to almost £4000. He was imprisoned for debt in London and declared bankrupt in 1863. Personal narratives like these are always fascinating, yet the historian seeking to understand changes within the Church of England over time will find the forensic nature of Nicholas Bennett’s investigations even more valuable. When the Biographical Register is complete, its worth in terms of the quantitative and qualitative research it will generate will be enormous.


Jane Platt is an honorary research associate at the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History, Oxford Brookes University. She is the author of Subscribing to Faith? The Anglican Parish Magazine 1859-1929 (2015), and editor of The Diocese of Carlisle 1814-1855: Chancellor Walter Fletcher’s ‘Diocesan Book’ with additional material from Bishop Percy’s Parish Notebooks (Surtees Society and Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2015).

4. The Farmer and The Hen: a Lancashire love story: the poultry industry in the Fylde, 1845-1939 by John Grimbaldeston Show more → Show less ↓

(Zaccmedia 2016 xviii+121pp ISBN 978 1 911211 00 6) £6.99

In my small Lancashire parish of Tatham in 1939 (1931 population 447) there were no fewer than 21,496 hens, not to mention nearly 600 ducks, geese and turkeys. This was not exceptional. J.B. Priestley, travelling from Bolton to Blackpool in 1933, was struck that ‘The whole of Lancashire appeared to be keeping hens’. He was right. Although there was specialist dealers elsewhere, such as the ‘chicken crammers’ of Sussex explored by Brian Short (Agricultural History Review, 1982), it was Lancashire, and particularly the Fylde, that was the poultry capital of Britain.

The keeping of fowls, whether for meat or eggs, had long been common practice on farms but, apart from some specialist dealers, it had not been viewed as a major source of income and had been largely managed by the women of the household. Most national histories acknowledge its growing importance from the late-nineteenth century but have rarely explored its operation in detail, so Grimbaldeston’s book is to be welcomed. Chapter 1 explores national developments from the mid-nineteenth century, largely from published sources. Although practised in the country and on farms, it is difficult to conceive that what gradually emerged was ‘agriculture’ so his use of the term ‘poultry industry’ is apposite. By the early-twentieth century there were specialist breeders and manufacturers, chicken houses, incubators, feedstuffs, brooders, selective breeding, night lights, disease control, government legislation and marketing initiatives. The National Utility Poultry Society was formed in 1897 and county council farm schools were offering tuition. But why was Lancashire so advanced? Grimbaldeston proffers several possible reasons, in addition to a possible longstanding interest in cockfighting. He suggests that it was suitable for the smallholdings and market gardens which were common in Lancashire; was championed by the Preston Guardian (which eventually became the Farmers’ Guardian and carried specialist articles from 1884; and was sustained by growing demand from a heavily urbanised but increasingly prosperous population and by the organisational skills of farmers. Their initiatives included a Utility Poultry Society in 1918 and various co-ops such as the Preston and District Farmers’ Trading Society, which not only disseminated knowledge but campaigned for the industry’s interests including the restriction of imports and price controls. He might also have added the availability of cheap imported grain and the development of an agricultural feedstuffs industry which also benefited the county’s livestock farmers from the late-nineteenth century. The final section of the book draws on the local press and archives (visual and documentary) held in the excellent Fylde Country Life Museum, part of Farmer Parr’s centre just outside Fleetwood, to outline the personal careers of three of the leading entrepreneurs in the industry who specialised in breeding, designing and marketing equipment and promoting the products, even on a global scale.

Clearly, the specialists described in detail here were not the same as the farmers in my parish who generally kept hens as part of a mixed economy. But this local study highlights the key developments in what became, and remains, a big business which later spread to other parts of the country. There is scope for more local research into this, either replicating Grimbaldeston’s study period or taking the story further. It would be interesting to trace the industry’s fortunes during the Second World War when it was not favoured; the numbers in my parish fell by over a third in just two years. Equally interesting would be the post-war recovery and its spread to other parts of the country. Nationally there trade journals, the National Farm Survey, and parish summaries of the annual agricultural statistics held in the National Archives. Although few farmers have left us documentary records there are potential local sources such as the press, county council farm records and farmers’ cooperatives, and there is scope for oral history and even ‘field work’: the physical remains of chicken sheds can often still be found in local farmyards.

Whether or not all this amounts to a ‘love story’ is clearly open to debate, but what is certain is that this intriguing, and well-illustrated local study has highlighted a largely neglected aspect, and period, of farming history which deserves to be, and is capable of being, pursued by local historians . As the old advert used to say, ‘Go to work on an egg’.


Michael Winstanley was senior lecturer in history at Lancaster University until 2010. In ‘retirement’ he is able to pursue varied research interests unhindered by the distractions of work. He has researched extensively on aspects of the rural history and society of North West England.