The Local Historian - Volume 47 Number 2 - April 2017

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


The first article in this issue of The Local Historian is short but to the point. David Dymond, who edited the journal between 1976 and 1982, and was chairman of the British Association for Local History from 1995 to 2001, is the author of Researching and writing history: a guide for local historians (2016), the definitive book on the subject and one which has evolved through no fewer than five stages since its remote ancestor was published back in 1981. It has progressed from a slim A5 volume, described as ‘a practical guide’, through to its present much more substantial and wide-ranging form, but throughout its 36-year existence David’s book has trained, guided, instructed and encouraged local historians to research accurately and systematically, analyse cautiously and open-mindedly, and write simply and coherently. It has been a key instrument in the emergence and flourishing of a better sort of local history, one which is both more sophisticated in its approach and more accessible in its character. Now, on pages 92-95 of this issue, David—who surely knows more about this than anybody else in the kingdom—summarises the local historian’s theoretical progress, stage by stage, from first tentative footsteps, via the beginnings of active research, to ambitious academic projects.

In all of this I trust that The Local Historian plays a useful part, as the only national journal devoted to the subject. This year TLH is 65 years old, and come the end of October there will have been 47 volumes and 259 issues since the first little publication back in the rationing-era summer of 1952. They chart the emergence of local history as a new sub-discipline, perhaps even a subject in its own right, and its gradual development as it became more confident, more accepted, and more ambitious. In the early days, when the journal was called The Amateur Historian, it is apparent that local history was still perceived as (and probably was in reality) a slightly quaint and essentially harmless offshoot of national history. The prevailing attitude was that the latter could in effect be broken up into little chunks—usually parishes, villages or small towns—each of which would reflect the same national themes, topics and experiences but on a very much more limited geographical stage.

Slowly—usually very slowly—this perspective began to differ. The realisation that the exact opposite might be the case—that national history might itself be the aggregated result of an infinite number of local experiences, decisions and events—took a long time to emerge and even longer to mature. That history itself could be created by the extremely complex interaction between processes and patterns of activity ‘at the grassroots’ with those superimposed by, for example, national legislation and international trends and events, was difficult for many to accept. However, it was greatly helped by the publication of seminal texts such as The Making of the English Landscape, which drew attention to local and regional diversity—that the experience of Cornwall and Caithness was not uniform was perhaps self-evident, but the understanding that there were significant differences between, for example, Norfolk and Suffolk, and also within Norfolk and Suffolk, took much longer to gain currency.

A crucial determinant of this process was the dramatic expansion of access to key primary sources from the mid-1950s onwards. We now take completely for granted the most important underpinning in the world of local history—our ability to access, exploit and analyse primary material, using documentary, cartographic and other resources. Its scope is beyond the imagining of those who worked in the 1930s and 1940s. When we realise that seventy-five years ago it was well-nigh impossible for anybody who was not a privileged member of a tiny social and intellectual elite to make use of parish registers, census returns, tithe maps and apportionments, probate records, local government records, churchwardens’ accounts, quarter sessions material, assize records (and so on, and so on), our extraordinary good fortune should be apparent. Indeed, perhaps one reason why the much-derided and much-mocked ‘antiquarian school’ of local history was so very antiquarian in its outlook and research agenda was that it only had antiquarian sources at its disposal. This is not to suggest that the antiquarians did not prefer to study the church, the manor house, the landed families and the ghostly legends, but rather to argue that even if they had wanted to investigate the social and economic history of the community as a whole they would have found it almost impossible to discover the evidence.

The impact of these developments can be traced through successive volumes of The Local Historian, as articles grew longer and more substantial, in contrast to the brief notes and snippets of the first decade. The structure of articles also changed, increasingly adopting the classic ‘introduction > evidence > argument > conclusion’ format which itself accorded with the methodologies being taught on the fast-growing range of courses in local history. During the 1970s and 1980s, under the auspices of the newly-expanded higher education sector, the number and variety of qualifications in the subject increased—indeed, it became a mainstay of continuing education—and the quality of tuition was enhanced, with greater academic rigour and (in the better examples) a far stronger emphasis on geographical, chronological and thematic contextualisation, a crucial progression towards ending the parochialism which bedevilled local history for so long (though that battle has still not been fully won).

For the journal the mid-1970s marked a turning point. Its size increased, it became quarterly, and the practice of having a smaller number of longer articles, together with a wide-ranging reviews section and a listing of new publications, was standardised. Local history continued to grow, its rise being matched by the extraordinary expansion of participation in family history. This was, and of course remains, the subject of controversy, reflected in the regular, and ultimately often futile, debates about ‘the amateur and the professional’. The notion that there is a yawning gulf between the two is contradicted by their many connections and interactions, but the suspicion—or dismissal—of local history and especially family history because they both include very large numbers of ‘non-professionals’ is still a powerful factor in some external perceptions of these subjects. Many would argue that the ‘broad Church’ character of local history is actually a considerable strength, but old attitudes die hard.

And now adult education is almost everywhere in seemingly terminal decline, the quite exceptionally rapid revolution in technology and access to information has further transformed the potential capabilities of local historians to exploit new resources and to disseminate their findings, and the rapidity of current social, economic and political change means that whole new themes for research and analysis are emerging. That will be the subject of a future editorial, prospective rather than retrospective in tone. In the meantime, looking back at issues of The Local Historian published in the mid-1990s evokes a sweet nostalgia for the old days before off-the-peg software and the worldwide web made it possible even for the likes of me, who was once labelled as a Luddite, to experience the joys, wonders and rich rewards of technology. And, as David Dymond reminds us, there’s still nothing to challenge the wonders of the original documents which have survived the vicissitudes of time.

2. The local historian’s progress (with apologies to John Bunyan) by David Dymond Show more → Show less ↓

pp 92-95

In this short paper David Dymond, for many years the national expert on the practice of local history, summarises his perspectives on the ‘growing’ of local history, charting a progression by which those interested in exploring local history can move from first steps (observing and reading, joining a local history society) via the acquisition of research skills and experience (using original archives, reading around the subject) to obtaining qualifications and involvement in formal activities (attending conferences, embarking on academic training). David emphasises the crucial importance of networking and interacting with others, arguing that ‘going it alone’ is potentially the source of inadequate and misguided history, and of duplication of effort.

3. 'Incontinent of her body': women, society and morality in Tudor Southampton by Cheryl Butler Show more → Show less ↓

pp 96-110

This fascinating article studies the detailed documentary evidence, available in the city records, for prostitution, sexual misdemeanour and the role of, and attitudes to, women in Southampton, focusing especially on the second half of the sixteenth century. Cheryl Butler observes that men and women in this period were generally judged by different moral criteria, and that as political and religious change gathered pace the pressures on women to conform to moral dictates grew apace. She begins with an account of the licensed brothels of the town, with some evidence back to the 1480s, and discusses—with many colourful examples—the organisation and management of ‘the stews’. The town was one of only a handful where licensed prostitution was institutionalised, and the evidence suggests that the brothels may even have paid something which resembled a ‘craft fine’, like other trade companies. However, the system ended in 1544.

Thereafter unlicensed prostitution flourished, though it long predated the 1540s. Butler discusses the prosecutions, fines and penalties in cases brought before the mayoral courts, with numerous examples which reveal the domestic and social circumstances of prostitution, including evidence of the clients and the pimps. The paper then considers sexual offences against single women, such as rape and assault, and the vexed question of adultery, which includes examples of men from the elite of the town, the fines being on a sliding scale depending on the social status of the offenders. The vocal and futile campaign of the town council to suppress adultery and fornication (a campaign particularly associated with the nascent Puritanism of the 1570s) is discussed. The consequence of sexual misconduct—the production of illegitimate children—is considered, and the paper finishes with an overview of the impact of the Reformation and the changing perceptions of morality from the 1540s onwards, as punishments became more draconian and sexual misconduct was increasingly linked, in the thinking of the authorities, to wider issues of subversion, sedition and social disorder.

4. ‘Dancing and drinking were the order of the day’: the hiring fairs of Chester, Nantwich and Whitchurch in the late-nineteenth century by Stephen Caunce Show more → Show less ↓

pp 111-126

In this important article Stephen Caunce discusses the background to the hiring fairs which throughout Britain were the occasions at which male and female farm servants agreed year-long engagements with farmers. He emphasises from the outset that there were pronounced regional variations in the timing, duration and procedures for these fairs, but argues persuasively that the hirings had a cultural and social significance which was wider than most historians have supposed, and that they largely withstood pressures for their suppression in the mid-nineteenth century.

Caunce discusses the evidence for the hiring fairs, which are poorly documented but which can be traced through newspaper coverage and reporting, and he focuses on the seven northern counties (and especially Cheshire) but suggests that this would be a profitable and valuable research topic for local historians elsewhere in the country. The newspaper reports provide a great deal of important detail but, as Stephen Caunce notes, are frequently either condemnatory or mocking in tone, emphasising such matters as excessive drinking and rowdy behaviour, or the ‘amusing’ peasant character of the farmhands. He reviews the quality of the evidence and concludes that these reports must be treated with caution but can reveal the true character and vitality of the fairs.

The paper considers the procedures for hiring, the legal and financial arrangements, and the disputes which sometimes arose (and which provide important evidence in the form of reports of court cases). Caunce then reviews the social character of hiring fairs, as a venue for mass entertainment and ‘daytime fun’, with respectable events such as dances and assemblies. The paper concludes with a broader assessment of the place of hiring in the agricultural economy, its place in rural society and culture, and the relationship between hiring and the different forms and characteristics of farm service well into the mid-twentieth century. With its comprehensive set of notes and references, this paper should stimulate more research and analysis of this neglected topic, especially in the south and midlands of England.

5. Civil defence activities during the First World War: a case-study of Hinckley, Leicestershire by John Martin and Robert King Show more → Show less ↓

pp 127-137

Arguing that civil defence is an aspect of the Home Front in the First World War which has been neglected by historians (in contrast to the extensive attention given to the theme in the Second World War), Martin and King look at how Hinckley, a medium-sized market town and industrial centre, organised elements of civil defence even before central government began to issue instructions. They begin by identifying the key individuals and elements in the town’s society—councillors and industrial employers in particular—and note the central significance of ‘volunteerism’ in the first half of the war. The Hinckley Volunteer Training Corps was established in August-September 1914 but encountered problems (in part because the government was notably unenthusiastic about such bodies). As the threat of invasion and direct involvement grew, the Hinckley Emergency Committee was formed in December 1915. The article looks at the structure of the committee, its high-ranking and influential leaders, its tasks and duties, and its response to the Zeppelin raids on nearby Loughborough. Among the work undertaken was the preparation of a detailed inventory of the men and equipment available for defence purposes in the town and its rural hinterland. The paper then considers the medical support services—VAD nurses (or British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachments) and the St Johns Association. The authors conclude that although the town was never actually threatened, local people had, largely through self-help and self-organisation, made important steps towards meeting such challenges, without significant pressure or involvement from central government.

6. Facts and fallacies: a reappraisal of the early years of the Cheltenham waters by James Hodsdon Show more → Show less ↓

pp 138-148

This article investigates the reliability and accuracy of ‘historical tales’—the accounts which were published in local histories, guidebooks and other printed sources in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. James Hodsdon takes as his case-study the discovery and development of the spa waters at Cheltenham, beginning with the earliest printed account (dating from 1740, which was only a quarter of a century after the properties of the waters were first recognised). He skilfully compares and contrasts the statements in a succession of printed sources, showing how elements of what are likely to be genuine factual information are mingled with misrepresentation, inaccuracy and exaggeration. The paper corroborates the evidence of printed sources with primary evidence derived from documentary sources, and from paintings and other visual representations, to build up a picture of the early decades of the spa which sometimes matches and sometimes contradicts the accepted wisdom. Hodsdon argues, convincingly, that he has produced a ‘corrected chronology’ of the spa between 1716 and 1741, one which overcomes the inaccuracies presented by earlier histories, and more widely suggests that an exercise such as this supports the case that antiquarian writings should be cross-examined by local historians, because they may contain a kernel of truth.

7. Dury and Andrews’ map of Hertfordshire (1766): a review essay by Heather Falvey Show more → Show less ↓


Local historians love old maps. Maps can be considered from various perspectives: as works of art; as examples of the skill of cartography; and as sources of information ‘allowing us to imagine how contemporaries experienced their world’, the approach taken here by Macnair, Rowe and Williamson. Every English county has a series of maps published during the 250 years before 1800. Hertfordshire, however, is exceptional, with more than 43 different examples produced between those of Christopher Saxton (1577) and Dury and Andrews (1766), the focus of this book—and of course the map of Britain drawn by Matthew Paris (c.1200-1259) was produced in St Albans. Although focusing on Hertfordshire, the first chapter outlines the production of county maps in general and the instruments and techniques used by surveyors.  Early maps were of small scale, not least to facilitate production: for example John Speed’s map of Hertfordshire (1610) had a scale of 1 mile:0.34 inches, and that attributed to John Seller (1676) 1 mile:0.46 inches. The first edition of Dury and Andrew’s map, however, was produced on 9 sheets, with a scale of 1 mile:1.95 inches and accompanied by an index map (1 mile:0.66 inches) to help navigate the large maps. Theirs was one of an extensive series of similar maps of counties in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland surveyed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These maps, however, were not part of a national project but formed an a uncoordinated series produced by private entrepreneurs. It was not until 1791 that the Board of Ordnance even began its country-wide trigonometrical survey, although in 1759 the Society of Arts had instituted an award for large-scale county mapping.

The scale of the Dury and Andrews map allowed those dwelling in the county to ‘visualise their own parish, local topography and even their own house, and its place in the wider landscape’. Perhaps with this in mind, Andrew Macnair decided to create a new digital version of this important county map and, with Anne Rowe and Tom Williamson, has interrogated the digital map, throwing new light not only on Hertfordshire’s landscape and society at the time of the original’s production but also in more remote periods. They explain what was done with the original map in order to make the digitisation workable: the technicalities are there but the main point is that the map had to be geo-rectified (in lay terms, brought into the ‘correct’ shape of Hertfordshire) so that the original could be overlaid on maps, for example, of soils or of contours. The main advantage of the digital image is ‘iterative mapping’, the ability to produce repeated maps to answer slightly varied questions.

A brief outline of the history of Hertfordshire demonstrates how the county’s development was affected not only by its own topographical features, rivers and geology, but also by its proximity to London, which made it a kind of suburb for the capital. The tensions between the influence of London and local circumstances and affiliations shaped Hertfordshire’s society and economy in the middle of the eighteenth century, as is manifested in various ways in the map. In the 1760s Hertfordshire was largely an agricultural county, with small towns and limited industrial development. Extensive areas were covered by the ornamental parks of the gentry but these were mostly managed by grazing and so were part of the agricultural economy. The county lies on the boundary of several of the principal landscape regions in England, as defined by different authorities, and so is difficult to categorise. Dury and Andrews were working at the start of the conventional ‘agricultural revolution’ of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and thus depict the county on the eve of changes brought about by widespread enclosure of open fields and commons, by changes in agricultural techniques and in patterns of land use. Therefore, the authors argue, their map can be used to throw light on ‘a number of important issues in agricultural and landscape history’.

As one might anticipate, the map was not necessarily accurate and this is highlighted by interrogating the digital version of the original. For example, when examining fields, woods and commons, it becomes clear that in the ‘champion’ areas in the north of Hertfordshire the profusion of isolated farms, ‘ends’ and ‘greens’ have been clustered into villages or large hamlets; and even though the countryside was depicted as mostly without field boundaries and with unhedged roads, most of the land is actually depicted not as arable but as pasture. Quite why they chose to depict the landscape thus is perhaps explained by fallows in the three-course rotation practiced in the chalkland open fields. On the other hand, in parishes where enclosure had already taken place, the hedges are shown; indeed outside the ‘champion’ areas most of the open fields had already disappeared by the 1760s. Thus, while not setting out provide an accurate survey of land use in the county, Dury and Andrews were aware of significant differences in agricultural practices in different districts. Similarly, there are discrepancies in the depiction of woods but the majority of woods shown on the map can be identified and some more recent plantings are shown.

The authors emphasise that this map is invaluable to local historians studying rural settlement in the county because it depicts the status quo in the mid-eighteenth century before wide-ranging changes reshaped those settlements and the landscape—changes such as parliamentary enclosure, canals, railways, major road building, the spread of industry, and demographic expansion. They argue that, for all its manifest inaccuracies, the map can help such study ‘simply by dint of its age’ and that it enables the reconstruction of Hertfordshire before the Black Death as well as in the eighteenth century. To analyse the complex range of settlements forms marked on the map the authors classified these by three basic elements: ‘cluster’, ‘row’ and ‘green-edge’. Although these classifications brought their own problems they did help to reveal some ‘interesting and previously unnoticed features of Hertfordshire’s landscape’. They have allowed, for example, careful analysis of place-names; this in turn has suggested that there were important distinctions between the kinds of ‘clusters’ that were given different types of name. To use the example of ‘bury’, it has emerged that in Hertfordshire the term was generally applied to old, pre-Conquest manorial sites. Many of the villages that had linear roadside forms (‘row’ settlements) were, at some time in their history, sites of markets but had faced competition from nearby, had failed and had reverted to agricultural settlements, such as Bushey, Buckland, Chipping and Codicote. As well as being a feature of rural settlement, ‘rows’ might also be urban—strung out along main roads. The analysis of parish churches, fondly imagined to stand at the heart of their villages, indicates that in reality the majority occupied a more detached position.

Perhaps of most interest to potential purchasers of the original map were the details given thereon of the county’s mansions, parks and gardens and their occupiers, and indeed these are of great interest to present-day historians of the county. Here portrayed are 169 properties with named occupiers, providing a snapshot of the county’s social geography at the time. There follows a detailed analysis of these occupiers (most were owners but some were tenants), how long their family had lived there and their social status, whether titled or professional. Only 27 (16 per cent) of the 169 properties were held by ‘core’ families (that is, held by the same family for six or more generations), including the Cecils at Hatfield House and the Egertons at Ashridge. The vast majority were relative newcomers. Unsurprisingly, given the proximity to London, 14 per cent of the occupiers were members of the legal profession, three had important government connections and no fewer than twenty were serving MPs, another eleven were former MPs and seven would soon become MPs.

The mansions, parks and gardens depicted are analysed both for the accuracy of their portrayal and for what they can disclose of the polite aspect of Hertfordshire in the 1760s. Although, due to the scale, the representation of elite residences is somewhat impressionistic it is argued that the surveyors appear to have paid closer attention to them than to other features of the map, although a few particular depictions are schematic—perhaps because they were denied access. Hertfordshire possessed, and still possesses, a large number of parks, originally deer parks, but the idea of a park as a designed landscape without deer gradually took hold in the eighteenth century. The digitised map enables us to see clearly the distribution of parks and large gardens (they are coloured red), while the features of the original map have enabled garden historians to trace and compare the development of particular parks with other records. From a personal pint of view it is pleasing that the authors single out Moor Park and the work there by Bridgeman and subsequently Capability Brown as depicted by Dury and Andrews.

Finally, the map confirms Hertfordshire’s characterisation as a ‘county of small towns’, with about twenty country towns, some mentioned in Domesday but others which only emerged (or were formally recognised) later. The three largest in terms of population—St Albans, Watford and Hertford—are depicted as the three largest settlements and the layout of all towns is essentially their medieval plan, with market places clearly shown as larger in the pre-conquest settlements. Some towns had complex plans, others were linear developments along main roads. Communications are indicated by dense networks of local roads and tracks and by a number of routes leading to London. Only three (of about eighteen) tollgates are shown but milestones or markers are shown on most of the turnpike roads. Interestingly, the Icknield Way running across the north of the county is depicted—and indeed is the only named road (so no ‘Watling Street’ or ‘Ermine Street’) and thus, although its origins are now debated, the map indicates acceptance at that time of its existence and importance. Interestingly, too, the map fails to distinguish between what were then major and minor roads, thus allowing ‘potentially ancient patterns’ of communications to stand out. Indications of industry are mostly lacking—only one quarry and a handful of brick-kilns—but windmills (32) and watermills (76) are there.  In previous centuries mostly used for fulling or grinding grain, by the eighteenth century many of the latter were part of the county’s expanding paper-making industry.

As the authors conclude, it would be wrong to pretend that Dury and Andrews’ map was a work of great accuracy, but their digital analysis demonstrates just how much it discloses about mid-eighteenth century Hertfordshire, and indeed the genesis and evolution of its villages and hamlets. This is a very clever piece of work: the analysis of the map is only possible through advances in digital technology but the sophisticated discussion of that analysis draws on a wide range of other sources. The book is lavishly illustrated and the authors positively encourage local historians to use their renditions of Dury and Andrews’ map to tease out more about the settlements depicted therein. This book of the same type as Macnair and Williamson’s William Faden and Norfolk’s eighteenth century landscape; hopefully others are in the pipeline. Local historians love maps.

DURY & ANDREWS’ MAP OF HERTFORDSHIRE: society and landscape in the eighteenth century by Andrew Macnair, Anne Rowe and Tom Williamson (Windgather Press 2016 ix+238pp+DVD ISBN 978-1-909686-73-1) £35+p&p from Oxbow Books, 10 Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford OX1 2EW, or online at

Heather Falvey teaches local history for the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education and for Oxford University’s Department of Continuing Education.  She is secretary of the Hertfordshire Record Society and has recently published an edition of the recipes collected by Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale during the eighteenth century.

8. A review of three record society volumes by Kate Tiller Show more → Show less ↓

p 153

THE DIOCESE OF CARLISLE, 1814-1855: Chancellor Walter Fletcher’s ‘Diocesan Book’, with additional material from Bishop Percy’s parish notebooks edited by Jane Platt (Surtees Society and Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society/Boydell 2015 lii+466pp ISBN 978 0 85444 074 0) £50

PARISH GOVERNMENT IN A LEICESTERSHIRE VILLAGE: the Buckminster Town Book 1665-1767 and Constable’s Book 1755-1813 edited by Alan Fox (Leicestershire Record Series vol.1 Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 2015 xxvi+288pp ISBN 978 0 95423 884 1) £15

RELIGIOUS LIFE IN MID-19TH CENTURY CAMBRIDGESHIRE AND HUNTINGDONSHIRE The returns for the 1851 census of religious worship edited by David M. Thompson (Cambridgeshire Records Society 2014 viii+274pp ISBN 978 0 904323 23 8) £27 to non-members

Record society volumes have been a feature of local history publishing since the 1830s. Usually funded through subscriptions and based on a variety of geographical areas (some like the British Record Society national, but most often county-based), these societies continue to print and publish transcripts of significant documents. In the most useful volumes the significance of the material is demonstrated in an introduction which establishes the archival and historical context and goes on to explain the content of the documents and its potential for understanding both general and local histories. These three recent volumes offer particular insights into the current state of this important genre of local history, including some of the challenges it faces. First is volume 219 of the Surtees Society, founded in 1834 to publish records of the ancient kingdom of Northumbria (Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire) and whose website bills it as ‘The oldest English society of its kind’. Alongside this is the first volume of the new Leicestershire Record Series, originally mooted in 2005. Then we have, in volume 21 of the Cambridgeshire Records Society, an example of how different series, by publishing their local texts of a major national record type, contribute to a cumulative and more widely comparative body of study. In this case the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire returns of the 1851 religious census join 27 other such volumes for England and Wales, between them the work of 25 record societies, published between 1975 and 2015.

The Diocese of Carlisle, 1814-1855 brings together complementary nineteenth-century manuscripts from the working papers of Walter Fletcher, Chancellor and Hugh Percy, Bishop of Carlisle. These offer a picture of the diocese and the Church of England before the onset of the reforms of the 1830s and as those changes began to have effect. It is a picture sometimes redolent of the worldly concerns of an ancien regime Church and sometimes of careful engagement and concerned management at parish level. On becoming chancellor, Fletcher soon began to ‘audit’ the 130 churches and chapelries of Cumberland and Westmorland. In an excellent introduction Jane Platt gives us a biographical picture of the man, important to understanding the ‘Diocesan Book’ which forms most of the volume. He was a ‘quintessentially Georgian clergyman’, conceiving his task as recording and protecting the rights and property of the Church and ensuring that canon law was observed. The value of livings, patronage, tithes, parsonages and church fabric looms large, alongside information on schools, charities, dissenters, antiquities and place-names. As a historian Fletcher tended to the derivative and he was suggestible to fashionable romanticism, for example describing the ‘wild sequestered’ Gaythorne Hall. As an administrator he was steady and conscientious, and as a man a mix of ‘punitive paternalism’ and personal kindness. He was a staunch Conservative and an active JP, confronted in his parish with the poverty and radicalism of local cotton workers and embroiled in tithe disputes.

As Platt retails, in 1841 at a height of Chartist activity, Fletcher was asked to baptise the children of a weaver and parishioner, Thomas Warton, with the names of the Chartist leaders Feargus O’Connor, Henry Vincent and John Frost, and did so. His book has little personal reflection on such things. However, its detailing of places and of topics—from the poverty of curates, to the parsimony of patrons, the state of church buildings, the pre-ecclesiological settings and patterns of worship, and shifts in clergy education (in 1814-15 about a third of clergy in Carlisle diocese were graduate, the rest ‘literate’; by 1855 the situation was reversed, with the merely ‘literate’ down from 61 per cent to 36 per cent), make it valuable. The bishops of Carlisle, like Percy whose guide it was, found it so, as will present-day historians of locality and religion, thanks to this edition. The volume is a joint production of the Surtees and Cumberland and Westmorland societies, a welcome instance of a co-operative approach to getting material of shared interest into print and more widely distributed.

The launch of a new record series is a cause for celebration, and congratulations are due to Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society as they add to their existing portfolio of annual Transactions, The Leicestershire Historian and two magazines. Volume 1 of the Leicestershire Record Series is compact and attractive, at an accessible price presumably costed from scratch. One wonders why the pricing and marketing of record society publications are so variable and sometimes so expensive. Who are these volumes aimed at in 2016, and how is this related to print run, price and format? LRS 1 offers transcripts of two books, which record the year-by-year workings of local government in the north-east Leicestershire parish of Buckminster, on the border with Lincolnshire. In addition to the main settlement the parish included the chapelry and township of Sewstern. At times they had separate sets of annual office holders. Local practice was to combine the duties of churchwarden with overseer of the poor, and of constable with surveyor of the highways. The introduction to this volume is a missed opportunity: there is a brief description of content but no effective discussion of context or historical significance. There is no sense of Buckminster or Sewstern, their size, economy, society, landownership, occupations or other key characteristics. The annual lists of officeholders are not analysed, being mentioned only as names ‘which should be useful to family historians and genealogists’. It is noted that ‘The officers appear to have been selected according to the houses they occupied’ but there is no discussion of status, power, oligarchy, family and kin connections, turnover of office holding and the many themes so often debated by historians of local government and society. Reference to earlier such studies is cursory and labelled as ‘early modern’ when the Buckminster books, like the studies by Snell and Reay which are quoted, go well into the modern period, thus raising important questions of the transition from traditional to modern in rural communities. The repeated use in the Buckminster books, from the 1680s to the late eighteenth century, of intriguing phrases such as ‘by consent of the neighbours’ and ‘when the neighbours met’ begs many significant questions about the nature of community, custom and how these might have been changing. Town books and constable’s accounts are familiar sources in this field. Other Midland examples have been the subject of record editions which show the national and local importance of such evidence and how it may be analysed and linked to other sources; for example Alan Roger’s edition of the Clayworth town book 1674-1714 (Centre for Local History University of Nottingham Record Series 2, 1979) and Banbury Historical Society’s volume of the Wiggington constable’s book (1971). Neither is cited here.

David Thompson’s edition of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire returns of the 1851 religious census takes its place in an already extensive literature on this source, with record society texts and secondary works debating its meaning. Professor Thompson was the author of one the early contributions to the literature, in Richard Lawton’s The census and social structure (1978), so it is no surprise that he brings both a wide general and a specific local perspective to the task of introducing and editing these returns. The result is an expansive, 62-page introduction which contextualises the area in terms of communications, economy, demography, politics, the Cambridge University presence and earlier religious traditions. It also revisits the completeness and reliability of the religious census returns, and the familiar discussion of the vexed question of how far totals for church and chapel attendances on census Sunday, 30 March 1851, at morning, afternoon and evening worship include repeat attendances by the same individuals, the twicers and even thricers. An analysis of the timing of services in the two counties shows that in nearly four-fifths of the places with both Anglican and Nonconformist places of worship at least one service was on at the same time, reducing this likelihood. This is just one example of the many detailed findings, to which full justice cannot be done in a short review.

In broad terms these two rural counties are shown to have relatively high rates of church attendance by national standards, with both Anglicanism and Nonconformity strong. The primary forms of Dissent were Baptist, linked back to seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Baptist and Independent presence which had sometimes been affected by more recent evangelical revival; and Wesleyan and Primitive Methodism, developing in the west of the area in the first half of the nineteenth century. Some local patterns are related to particular changes, notably the draining of the fens which generated new populations away from the main villages. There chapels flourished and the Church of England was relatively slow to respond. Thompson speculates that 1851 may have represented a peak of Nonconformist growth, an example of how he sets out to use the introduction to contribute to general debates on rural Anglicanism, rural Nonconformity and non-attendance and secularisation. Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire are compared with adjoining counties and related to national statistics derived from the religious census. The tension between the national and the local perspectives is apparent and Thompson’s reflection on the ‘need to move from the statistics to the people they represent’ will strike a chord with local historical readers.

He urges more work on rural religion in nineteenth-century England on a scale ‘that makes it possible to control for several variables in assessing the evidence’. This call, and the related discussion of the work of Robert Currie, Snell and Ell, and Alisdair Crockett, are welcome and timely. However there is more work to take into account and more definition needed of potential directions than Thompson covers. The comprehensive-looking bibliography lacks three published volumes of Yorkshire returns (2000 and 2005), one for Berkshire (2010) and two for Wales (1976 and 1981). Since Thompson wrote, the returns for Warwickshire (2014) and Bristol and Gloucestershire (2015) have joined the list. Some relevant secondary references are also absent, while Thompson’s comments on our overdependence on a limited number of secondary interpretations of rural religion are too unspecific to be helpful. There are certainly rich possibilities to be developed in this field for local, social and religious history alike. Record society editions such as this, which make available and discuss the significance of the local returns of a national source, are playing a major part in those developments.

KATE TILLER is Reader Emerita in English Local History, University of Oxford. Until the end of 2016 she chaired BALH’s Education Committee. She is a council member of the Oxfordshire Record Society and chair of the British Record Society.

9. Review article: publications on the history of churches and monasteries by Michael Haslam Show more → Show less ↓

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Publications on individual parish churches continue to appear, very often with a much wider remit and greater depth of research and analysis than the traditional guidebook. A particular strength of the better publications is that they set the architectural and artistic elements of the church building more firmly in the context of liturgical and social requirements, and the changes to these over time. Furthermore, they demonstrate a far more sophisticated awareness of the nature of faith and belief at national, local and individual level. At the same time, archaeological investigation, architectural assessment and a more rigorous approach to the documentary evidence are helping to write, or rewrite, the stories of major religious buildings such as cathedral and monastic houses. Here, too, a far greater emphasis on context and on the broader social, cultural, political and spiritual dimensions can contribute invaluably to a more complete and nuanced narrative. In this article Michael Haslam reviews five books on churches and monasteries, two being by the same author and relating to the same place [Editor].

ANDOVER’S NORMAN CHURCH 1080-1840: the architecture and development of Old St Mary, Andover, Hampshire by Martin Coppen (Andover History and Archaeology Society 2015 54pp ISBN 978-0-903755-25-2) £7+p&p from

Very little research has been published on early Anglo-Norman aisleless cruciform parish churches in England, so Martin Coppen’s book is a particularly welcome addition to this largely overlooked corpus of architectural history. Old St Mary’s, as the church is referred to, was demolished in 1840-1841 to make way for a new and enlarged building in a Gothic Revival design broadly modelled on the Early English style of c.1170-1290 (for which see the following review). We are reminded of the remarks made by Bishop Wulfstan II of Worcester (1008-1095) when pressure to rebuild in the Romanesque style, the need to accommodate the increasing size of the monastic community there, and the limited space available for building a new church, made it necessary to demolish the church which had been built by St Oswald: “We poor wretches destroy the work of Saints, vainly supposing that we can do better. How much more excellent than we [are] was St Oswald, who built this church”.

No such sentiments were expressed at Andover in 1840. The Old Church was demolished with hardly any protest or resistance, and regrettably without a measured survey being carried out to record the plan form, the masonry details internally and externally, the central tower and evidence of alterations and additions that would all have helped to identify the sequence and dates of phasing. Even the stonework seems to have been disposed of as the new church was constructed from imported Caen stone. The only extant evidence is the twelfth-century Romanesque west door-case and the floor of the crypt under the present church, which is the original floor of the tower, south transept, chancel and chancel chapel of Old St Mary’s.

Early parish churches often have a complicated history which is made all the more interesting by a lack of documentary evidence. Martin Coppen is to be congratulated on producing an excellent architectural history of Old St Mary’s Church from limited available evidence. His book is very well researched and he has produced a well-argued case to support the conclusions he drew on the form and development of the Romanesque church, providing a methodological research exemplar for students and local historians to follow. Further research is needed to verify the date the church was founded and its original plan form. The date of 1080 seems too early, although the first church on the site was granted after the Norman Conquest to the Benedictine abbey of St Florent prés Saumur in south-west France. Dr Jill Franklin has concluded that the aisleless cruciform church in Romanesque Europe was a building type intended exclusively for the priesthood until the late eleventh century, after which it continued to be used by canons but was also adopted for a time by monks.

The church burnt down in the early twelfth century and its replacement was presumably Old St Mary’s, meaning a founding date of c.1130 x1150 is perhaps more feasible. Another issue is whether the east end was square or apsidal, with or without an ambulatory. In the neighbouring provinces of Normandy such as Saumur, the apsidal ambulatory plan was common. The apsidal east end in England was generally superseded from the middle to the late twelfth century by the square east end.  Before this, the chancel was commonly vaulted with a semi-dome if an apse or a groined or rib vault if square-ended. Most cruciform churches would have had three altars: the main east altar plus one each in the transepts.

It is hoped that research into this important lost church will continue in an attempt to answer these questions and many others that Martin Coppen’s research has raised. The aim of the book was to gather together what is now left of the old church and to review the evidence in order to appreciate the architectural structure and development, which Martin Coppen has admirably achieved. It has been a pleasure to read this book which has made an important contribution to knowledge of this early style of church design.


PILLARS OF THE CHURCH: building a new parish church in Andover, Hampshire 1840-1849 by Martin Coppen (Maryacre Publishing 2016 123pp ISBN 978-0-9933216-0-3) £8+£2 p&p from the author 01264 335386 or

This is the companion book to that reviewed above. It is a social history of events over a nine-year period from the inception of the plan to demolish Old St Mary’s, through the design, procurement and construction processes of its successor, to its consecration. It describes in great detail the background and local politics leading to the project, the parties involved, the patron Dr Goddard, and events during the building process including the catastrophic collapse of the partly-built north clerestory wall and roof nineteen months into what turned out to be a 5½ year project.

The mid-nineteenth century was a challenging time to be building a new church.  Victorian church building was a direct consequence of a period of unprecedented social, cultural and legislative change. During the 1830s and 1840s the Catholic Church experienced an upsurge in interest in church architecture following the publication of two books by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin: Contrasts [in architecture] in 1836 followed by The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture in 1841. The growing interest within Catholicism prompted a new awareness of architectural reform within the Anglican Church at a time when the Oxford Movement (formed in 1833) sought a renewal of Roman Catholic thought and practice within the Church of England. Another influential group of Anglicans was the ecclesiological reform movement, the Cambridge Camden Society, formed in 1839. They published the Ecclesiologist from 1841 and combined the doctrines of the Oxford Movement and Pugin, adapting them to their own uses and aiming to instruct architects on how to design in this style. This was hugely influential in shaping English church architecture throughout the Victorian period. New church buildings up to 1845 were generally based on the Early English style, which is reflected in the basic design for the new St Mary’s church, although architects later strayed into the Transitional and Decorated periods to achieve greater visual impact, as also happened at St Mary’s.

Pillars of the Church has been meticulously researched by Martin Coppen and is a fascinating account, taken from surviving letters, minutes of meetings and personal testimony, of the problems faced in deciding to build a new church and demolish its medieval predecessor. The acrimony that developed between the parties as the project extended, and in particular the defensive position adopted by the architect when part of the structure failed, gives a unique and fascinating insight into the difficulties faced in undertaking such a major project, and how these obstacles were overcome. The final achievement gave the patron the legacy of a church with an outstanding design, able to accommodate an increasing population, as well as a bold attempt to head off the challenge of a resurgence in Catholicism.  


THE CHURCH IN KIRTON IN LINDSEY: a history by L.A.E. Dejardin (Kirton in Lindsey Society 2015 183pp ISBN 978-0-9932243-0-0) £8.50+p&p from or 01652 648435

The book is a reprint of a 1993 first edition, retaining the original text and grammatical style but including an increased number of illustrations and an updated list of ministers and organists, with the latest information included in a postscript. It is interesting to learn about the principal church in a town and in particular the context of how that church developed and changed over time. However, the title of the book, The Church in Kirton in Lindsey, and its structure conflict with each other. The reader anticipates that the book will be a historical account of the development of the Church as an institution in the Lincolnshire town, but of its 34 chapters 27 are devoted to the parish church of St Andrew. The denomination of that church is elusive—there are clues in the description and the language used makes the reader assume that it is Church of England, but right at the end in the postscript we find that it is now St Andrews United Church where Anglicans, Baptists and Methodists worship together. It would have been helpful to have had some commentary on this in the foreword.

There is no doubting the quality and reliability of the research set out in the book—it is that the author, who died some years ago, was steeped in the history of St Andrew’s and the development of the wider Church in the town. The book is a mine of information and a good starting point for local historians and students wishing to conduct further research into St Andrew’s and the other churches in the town, and their social history. The postscript is a gripping account of how it became a United Church and illustrates the tenacity of the local community in finding a common solution to the increasing problem of declining church attendance and too many churches in a small place, including the obstacles that some statutory bodies put in the way of amalgamation.

But it is regrettable that the Kirton in Lindsey Society was unable to rewrite the original work by Dejardin. It is clear he was revered and highly respected, but it would have been possible to reformat the original text and still give the author full credit for his work. The chair of the Society acknowledges in the foreword that readers may find the author’s writing and grammatical style strange to modern eyes, but it is more serious than that—it is a difficult and laborious read. Simple changes would have helped—for example, transferring the lists of vicars and curates with accompanying notes to appendices, and combining several of the chapters to reduce the fragmented structure of the book. This is an important medieval church and deserves its architectural and social history to be written in a style that will appeal to a wider audience outside the membership of the Society, and reflecting more fully the recent and current research.  


NORWICH CATHEDRAL CLOSE: the evolution of the English cathedral landscape by Roberta Gilchrist (Boydell & Brewer 2016 xi+294pp ISBN 978-1-78327-096-5) £25

This monograph was first published in 2005 in hardback and this 2016 paperback version is a reprint: there are no references later than the original date, and a 2005 article and book are described as being ‘in press’. The author’s preface is undated and it would have been helpful if the publisher had included a foreword to the paperback edition clarifying this, given the interval of eleven years.

Fortunately, Professor Gilchrist has done such an outstanding job in researching and writing this book that Norwich Cathedral Close is as relevant today as it was in 2005. Although a substantial number of journal articles have been written about individual aspects of cathedral precincts before and after the original publication, including Norwich, only five major studies of cathedral precincts or closes were carried out prior to 2005 and only one since then. When Eric Fernie wrote An architectural history of Norwich Cathedral (1993) it was so comprehensive that it seemed unlikely anyone would be able to add any significant new evidence, but Roberta Gilchrist has confounded this view by considerably extending the boundaries of existing knowledge and she has done so in more ways than one. The object of the book is to redress the imbalance of scholarship between the cathedral church and the precinct, in order to reflect a cathedral community and to explore the relationship between the religious and secular buildings on the site in the context of social, economic and political change, drawing on archaeological, architectural and historical evidence. This has been achieved by a rigorous re-examination of the historiography of the cathedral archaeology involving the recording and scrutiny of the church fabric; conducting a reappraisal of the methodology and sources of evidence previously used; and most importantly, by adopting a new interpretive approach advancing from straightforward description and interpretation of the use and meaning of church buildings to what is described as a more anthropological and contextual approach. In this, ‘archaeological and historical evidence is interpreted with ethnographic aims’ evaluating the experience of medieval life rather than passing judgement on general aesthetic, social and economic achievements alone. All this makes Norwich a model for the contextual study of a single cathedral.

Professor Gilchrist was cathedral archaeologist at Norwich for twelve years and thus had unrestricted and privileged access to the fabric of the building, and to the archaeological and historical records, and was able to draw on the expertise of many researchers as well as having the support of grants from several funding bodies. This emphasises the challenge of undertaking a project of this magnitude and explains why only two major monographs have been published on the precincts of the seventeen medieval English cathedrals. The bibliography contains over four hundred references. Professor Gilchrist’s skill in collating, analysing and presenting all this information in a clear and well-written format is exceptional and has made her research accessible to a wide audience including students and local historians. This is a work of outstanding scholarship that will continue to be a standard reference for many years to come and quite rightly deserves the prestigious American Library Association 2006 CHOICE ‘Outstanding Academic Title’ award.


THE ROYAL ABBEY OF READING by Ron Baxter (Boydell & Brewer 2016 xix+354pp ISBN 978-1-78327-084-2) £60

As long ago as 1950 George Zarnecki said of Reading that “It is most unfortunate that existing documents do not give any indication of how the building of the abbey progressed. The fabric itself remains in such a ruinous state that we lack sufficient architectural evidence for the study of the history of the building”. It has been a long wait, but now we have a fine and informed account of the foundation of the abbey, its architecture and its sculptural decoration. In this meticulously researched book Ron Baxter has reinstated Reading to its rightful position as one of England’s largest and most important medieval abbeys. Built in 1121 by Henry I as his mausoleum, the abbey had a scale and grandeur exceeding most of the other great churches in England, not least because of its royal patronage continued until the dissolution of the abbey in 1539.

The architecture of the abbey has been established through a remarkable piece of detective work. Four early systematic surveys, and relatively recent excavations carried out in the 1970s, were reviewed and their findings interrogated and compared to evidence from subsequent research. This allowed a floor plan of the twelfth century church to be prepared with a good degree of confidence. The overall length of the church has been estimated at about 128 metres, exceeded only by Winchester (144m), Bury St Edmunds (c.153m), Old St Paul’s (182m) and Norwich (134m).  The appearance of the exterior and interior elevations remains a matter for speculation but persuasive arguments have been postulated based on comparable evidence from surviving churches at Tewkesbury, Evesham, St Frideswide’s Oxford and Romsey Abbey. It is clear that Reading Abbey was comparable in design and construction to some of the greatest English early Romanesque churches.

Two lengthy chapters are devoted to the architecture and sculpture of the cloister, to the extent that more is now known about the Reading cloister than any other early twelfth century example in England. In addressing the significance of the sculpture at Reading Abbey, Ron Baxter is an expert. Zarnecki invited him to carry out the fieldwork for Berkshire when the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture was first established, and Baxter is now its research director. The collection of surviving sculpture comprises capitals (including the Coronation of the Virgin capital, the most significant of Zarnecki’s discoveries because of its iconography), bases, springers, voussoirs, and the figural (including the beakhead ornament) and foliage styles which are all described in considerable detail and are characteristic of the Reading cloister workshop of sculptors associated with the patronage of the king. The third group or section of topics in the book discusses pilgrimage and relics, death and burial, the abbey and the royal court, and its Dissolution and ruination. Reading was intended from the outset to be a place of visitation for pilgrims and was designed for them to circulate along designated routes so they could visit altars to venerate the 230 holy relics held there and chronicled by Matthew Paris.

This immensely learned book is well structured, well-illustrated and very fluently written, making it accessible to a broad readership. Above all the book demonstrates how much more can be discovered and learned by clear thinking, thorough research and collaborative working making it possible to extend the boundaries of existing knowledge of a building that many researchers have avoided because of a perceived lack of primary evidence. The Royal Abbey of Reading will become a standard work of reference.   


Michael Haslam is a chartered surveyor and ecclesiologist specialising in the history and architecture of the Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman and Victorian Gothic Revival periods. He has an MA in History from the University of Lancaster and a postgraduate certificate in architectural history from the University of Oxford and is a committee member of the Lancaster Archaeological and Historical Society.

10. Three books about schools and education history by Tim Lomas Show more → Show less ↓

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LITTLEHAMPTON SCHOOL LOGBOOK 1871-1911 by Ruth Brown (Sussex Record Society vol.95 2016 70+400pp ISBN 978 0 85445 077 0) £20

This is an excellent publication.  Firstly, it is a detailed set of entries rather than merely the few ‘selected extracts’ of juicy interest which often characterise log books in print. Secondly, it is almost exclusively the entries of one man, Thomas Slatford, who was headteacher of Littlehampton Elementary Boys’ School until he died in service.  And thirdly, these are the entries of a man unable to restrict himself to factual snippets: the 1862 Code’s insistence that ‘no reflection or opinions of a general character are to be entered’ is gloriously ignored. Slatford has to be described as heroic. His honesty, dedication, commitment, optimism and hard work are apparent on almost every page. While generally sensitive, he is caught up in the age in which he lived. He could not escape a belief in a social hierarchy and he was willing to judge and sometimes dismiss boys and types (‘all cross-eyed boys are tiresome’ or ‘he is a great lout with evil propensities’). In most cases he cared very much for the boys, pointing out that he was a teacher and not a constable. Something that emerges clearly is the large number of parents who seem to have had little or no control over their children: Slatford tried to help them. He worried about the many illnesses faced by the pupils—diphtheria, dysentery, measles, ringworm and scarlet fever were widespread and there were occasional deaths, including his own son and his wife. 

He went through some momentous changes in educational policy and practice. Control of his school changed from the Church to a school board and then to West Sussex County Council. He seems to have taken such changes in his stride. Within the pages one sees the development of a seaside community and the poor attendance that often went with families earning a living in the tourist trade. Attendance throughout his career was a problem.  Truanting was commonplace even with the youngest children. Slatford was not against physical punishment but he knew that it often failed to achieve its objective.  He recognised that the problems often stemmed from home and he often felt for the children. He was generally optimistic, but on a few occasions this slipped: ‘the irregularity of many children on the slightest possible plea is most disheartening’. He had strong views on the worst culprits and these included the families of guards on the steamboat and railways. Oversleeping seems to have been a problem, for children and for staff. He also spent much time dealing with poor behaviour and sometimes the violent and worrying traits displayed by some pupils, such as horrific cruelty to animals. Stone-throwing was common and there was bullying, bad language, petty theft and arson. A sizeable number of pupils are described as inattentive and fidgety. Slatford hated lies but he had to face many examples, as well as minor damage and vandalism and, increasingly, smoking and chewing tobacco.

Slatford usually speaks highly of his teachers but clearly recognises that not all were up to the mark. Sometimes his comments are trivial: ‘Holland gave a lesson on wheat ... The radical fault was the absence of an era of wheat which was easily obtainable’. The greater problem was that many of them did not stay and he was often looking out for new staff. Working conditions were poor, sanitation was so bad that the Board of Health came close to bringing a case, and there was also an extraordinary number of broken windows. School resources were not well looked after by children, but things slowly improved so that by the 1890s the school had a library, museum and even a savings bank. The school was affected by local events, such as the removal of the cross-channel ferry to Newhaven in 1882, but surprisingly there are few references to national ones. Emigration did take place, to destinations such as the USA, Canada and Australia, and we see a wider flexibility in the labour market with families moving locally or further afield. 

It is not just the log book entries that impress.  The lengthy introduction covers many themes, such as the development of elementary education, board schools, the class system, teachers, parents and the effect of the railways and tourism on Littlehampton. Later nineteenth century improvements are dealt with, such as liberalising the curriculum and better teacher training. All told, this is a very useful addition not just to Sussex Record Society’s list of publications, and local historians in the region, but also to those more broadly interested in education history or later Victorian and Edwardian society.  The volume is carefully produced with very useful footnoting and explanation. School log books are often of value beyond an immediate school—and this one certainly is.


PULPIT TO PRIVATE Aspects of 19th century education in North-east Hertfordshire by Peter Bysouth (EAH Press 2016 135pp ISBN 978 0 9576147 2 7) £12

This is a slim volume but there is plenty packed into it. So many books about education lack a scholarly analysis but this one achieves that very well. It covers the whole of the nineteenth century—in some respects the most significant century in British educational history, in which provision moved from a haphazard situation with many not in favour of educating the masses to a universal compulsory funded system. This book reminds us that this involved more than a few key pieces of legislation and that the picture was actually quite variable even within a small geographical area. The commentary on the national scene is good, with plenty of references to the purposes of education. The 1870 Act is given a good deal of prominence but the author is at pains to point out that much happened in the earlier part of the century.

Neither was it all about church and board schools, and considerable attention is given to the large number of private schools. Peter Bysouth analyses data about their pupils and teachers and concludes that many private schools were far superior to the image painted by authors such as Dickens. Using census data, the trades of parents are analysed and show wide variation—farmers, solicitors, clerks, market gardeners, merchants, brewers, grocer, drapers.   Many of these private establishments seem to have gone well beyond rote learning in the 3 Rs:  advertisements for these schools, for example, show coverage of subjects such foreign languages, commerce, book keeping as well as dancing and tennis. 

The varied provision especially in the first half of the century is well illustrated by the careful scrutiny of the different villages and parishes of North East Hertfordshire. The author is aware of how the raw statistics can mask the reality of some poor-quality education. Even at the time of the Newcastle Commission in 1861, only 20 per cent of children stayed beyond the age of 11, and there was an average of four years of schooling. Local factors played a major part in this. Thus, in the area covered, it was not always the largest settlements that had schools at an early date. By the middle of the century, larger schools emerged and others, which were poorly managed, closed (such as dame schools). Only four places in the area were deemed by 1870 to lack adequate provision and required to set up a school board, though there was some vigorous resistance by the Church against the imposition of such bodies.

Whilst the minutiae of classroom life are given limited coverage, attendance and standards are investigated.  Absenteeism was lower in the larger schools but it was still almost one-third even as late as 1893. Logbooks are used to gain some idea of school standards and reveal that the fear of inspection was as significant then as it remains to the present day. Log books quite frequently demonstrate social values and attitudes—statements which tend to appear with regularity include ‘they are so stupid’ and ‘nothing can be done with such dunces’, or ‘the girls seem dull and wanting in intelligence’. Each chapter deals with a separate element of education—sometimes an account of the national picture and sometimes the local. One concerns teacher training, with a case study of Whitelands College, an Anglican college for females.

One widely-used method of assessing literacy levels is the examination of signatures in marriage registers. Peter Bysouth recognises its crudity but still considers a statistical analysis is useful.  Perhaps not surprisingly, using this method he found a decade by decade increase in literacy rates in North East Hertfordshire, but the rates seem lower than those recorded in many other rural areas. His conclusion parallels that for other aspects of education:  things did vary between places. The correlation with the existence of a school was poor, as is any attempt to study the impact of different types of schools on literacy. The detailed analysis and numerous tables showing Hertfordshire data make this book of particular relevance to those in the area but there is much useful material and information on the wider national scene—and some of the methodology employed would provide good examples to be followed elsewhere. 


BERTUNA’S CHILDREN The history of education in a Suffolk village by Sue Spiller (Arena Books 2017 396pp ISBN 13 978-1-909421-92-9) £18.99p

How do you produce a detailed history of a small village school—in this case, at Great Barton in Suffolk—when key records such as log books are not available for the period before 1925? This book, by a former headteacher of the school, shows the way and does so very well. By using, for example, census returns, newspaper reports and oral testimony, the school is put in a broader context—among the most fascinating aspects are the descriptions of families and their circumstances including crime, emigration and wartime experiences. The biographies of various people connected with the school are particularly prominent, and the book closes with detailed life stories of the headteachers.  

In placing the school in the wider context of the village and surrounding area, the role of the local landowning families is extremely significant: they paid for the school and their influence was successful, long and usually benevolent at least into the early twentieth century (first the Bunbury family, who actually owned the school, and then the Riley Smiths of John Smith’s Brewery fame). Great Barton (Bertuna being the Saxon name for the village) is near Bury St Edmunds and it becomes apparent that the school was not isolated, as teachers often linked with those of neighbouring schools.  The influence of the teaching unions and other associations and connections between schools is a topic not often covered in school histories. Furthermore, the author is fully aware of the national circumstances affecting education and the role of factors such as the actions of the county council. Being an educational insider, her grasp of the various changes is really impressive. She brings the story right up to date and her own headship is incorporated into the narrative. Some of the recent material is more akin to a school newsletter, but is no less interesting for that.

It is apparent that so much has changed, but that small rural schools have faced similar problems over two centuries. Teachers even a generation ago would scratch their heads at the idea of Ofsted, local financial management, academies, special needs co-ordinators and the influence of governors. Those from earlier times would barely recognise a community without patriarchal influence, the status accorded to women teachers, and their own inability to inflict corporal punishment (although here there was only one caning recorded, for careless work).  Yet they would largely relate to struggles with pupil numbers (which have fallen from 217 to 52 before rising again), attendance problems, bureaucracy and the pressure to achieve results—as well as the dedication of the many teachers who often fulfilled a pastoral as well as pedagogic role, and were invariably respected by many in the village.  

One admires the grasp by the author of what made the school and community tick over a long period of time.  Most school histories steer clear of more recent times, partly because of the absence of sources, but Sue Spiller is never short of information. Oral history supplements her own knowledge.  This is a very impressive and all-embracing account of a village school in its wider context, in which occasionally the amount of detail is overwhelming and there is some repetition. But it is a really useful account of how schools functioned, with their priorities and concerns and how these change and developed over time. I previously knew nothing about the Suffolk village of Great Barton. After reading this book, I have a strong awareness of this village and its people.  


Tim Lomas is currently chair of the British Association for Local History. He was formerly an education inspector and adviser.


1. THE DIGNITY OF CHARTISM by Dorothy Thompson Show more → Show less ↓

edited by Stephen Roberts (Verso 2015xxx+206pp ISBN 9781781688496) £14.99

Stephen Roberts, a friend and former student of the renowned Chartist historian Dorothy Thompson (1923-2011), and the publisher Verso are to be congratulated for producing such a handsome, readable, and enjoyable collection. It comprising sixteen chapters, mainly of Thompson’s essays and reviews on Chartism, published over sixty years. Roberts’ aim is to bring together in an accessible form writings originally published in ‘many different places’. Of particular interest to readers of the present journal is the centrality of local history to the ‘Thompsonian historical method’ (associated with Dorothy and more famously her husband, E.P. Thompson). For all the attention to national bearings, and the international reach of their scholarship, that project was always underpinned by a robust local history: real communities of ordinary people, the rescuing of whom was central to the research of husband and wife.

In this respect, the fulcrum of this collection is a hitherto unpublished essay, jointly authored by Dorothy and Edward, on Halifax Chartism, which, as the attractive blurb on the cover of the book rightly observes, is a ‘superb piece of local historical research by two historians then on the brink of notable careers’. A product of the seventeen years that the Thompsons lived in Halifax (from the late-1940s to the mid-1960s), during which time Edward’s Making of the English Working Class was researched and written, the essay is a blueprint of the ‘local case study’ approach that came to dominate the historiography of Chartism from the 1950s to the 1980s. All the hallmarks of the Thompsonian method are present: a sensitivity to the local social, economic and cultural landscape of the working class; a forensic portrait of the different occupational groups comprising the working class, with degraded artisans at the centre; the centrality of class identity as a cultural identity; and above all, a militant assertion of the importance of provincial activists and local leaders over metropolitan and all too often divided national leaderships.

These were the perspectives of seasoned political activists. Dorothy always claimed that the history of protest movements like Chartism was best understood by those who were activists themselves. To her dying days, she was involved in the running of a local credit union in Worcester where she lived. Having said that, as Stephen Roberts points out in his introductory biographical chapter on Thompson, there is an under-acknowledged metropolitanism to Dorothy Thompson: not only was she born and raised in London, but she retained a life-long love for the city. The emphasis that Dorothy and Edward placed on real people in local communities was also at the heart of their dissatisfaction with Marxism, explored in the final essay of the volume in which Thompson offers some reflections on ‘Marxist teleology’. As she freely admits, the ‘economic’ never had the ‘absolute priority’ or ‘near universality’ for her as it did for most Marxists. As comes through very powerfully in the chapters dealing with aspects of Chartism, Dorothy was distrustful of the way Marxist historians ‘were more concerned with what the working class of the period ought to have been doing than what it was actually doing’. As this collection of essays underlines, for all that Dorothy became the foremost defender of the class interpretation of Chartism in the 1980s and 1990s, the portraits she produced of the Chartists offered much more than an analysis of the class identity of the workers who made up the movement. Thompson was one of the first to explore the role of women and the Irish in Chartism. Above all, she rehabilitated the reputation of Feargus O’Connor, that much maligned Irishman who led Chartism and whose popularity was second to none in the West Riding communities where she lived, worked and researched. 

Matthew Roberts is senior lecturer in Modern British History at Sheffield Hallam University. He works on nineteenth-century popular politics and protest. 

2. STEEP, STRAIT AND HIGH Ancient houses of central Lincoln by Christopher Johnson and Stanley Jones Show more → Show less ↓

(Lincoln Record Society: Occasional Series 1/ Boydell 2016 xxvi+216pp ISBN 9781910653012) £40

This book is described as the first of an occasional series, but in reality it is the fifth and final report of a 45-year long project surveying the architecturally- and historically-important buildings of Lincoln. This volume sets out to study the development of different building styles in timber, stone and brick over a period of 750 years and covering the buildings south of Bail Gate on Steep Hill, the Strait and the top section of High Street, with a final section gathering together other important buildings in the city not covered in the earlier four volumes (an appendix lists the buildings surveyed and published in these earlier volumes).

The area covered stretches southwards down the hill from Bail Gate and includes many of the well-known stone-built buildings on Steep Hill and Strait. There are three street plans at various stages in the book identifying the buildings surveyed, but they do not coincide with the nine sections into which the book is divided—it might have been easier to follow if there was a plan at the start of each section, especially since the property numbering of the streets concerned is unusual and inconsistent in sequence. That small niggle aside, the analysis of the important buildings has been undertaken comprehensively through a combination of documentary evidence; architectural analysis with numerous floor-plans and elevations, as well as old and modern photographs.

In all, almost 100 properties are described, some by using documentary records alone, others by additional brief architectural analyses, while some have an extensive architectural analysis including excellent plans, elevations and in some cases isometric projections, which really bring the buildings to life. In these cases the analysis is thorough and admirably detailed—these appear to be the more important buildings in the three streets of the title that were surveyed by the author some years ago as part of the larger survey of Lincoln's buildings. In a way it is unfortunate that some of the buildings standing between them could not have been inspected internally and written up in order to provide more of a context. Were some of these buildings hiding earlier origins? As the text notes elsewhere, in some, aspects of medieval building methods have been concealed by later alterations and additions, only to be uncovered by detailed inspection.  

The comprehensive analysis of the medieval and post-medieval documentary records, especially leases and court records, enables better sense to be made of some of the buildings and adds colour to the architectural analysis. Occasionally, the building history of some of the stone-built buildings has proved difficult for the researchers to understand as there was frequent reuse of stone and multiple rebuildings. However, recent documentary research has helped to throw light on them, including some were originally occupied by the community of Jews around Steep Hill. The introduction to this volume promises a future project on the contribution of the Jewish presence in Lincoln, which was cut short late in the thirteenth century.

Overall, the text manages to present the complex details about the buildings and the lengthy documentary evidence in a very readable way and, together with the excellent production of the book, this results in a volume which greatly adds to the history of the buildings of Lincoln, and which should prove of interest not just to the people of Lincoln, but to other building and social historians.

Ian Hinton is one of the founder members of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Group and was elected chair in 2016 year. He has a PhD in landscape history, awarded after taking early retirement from surveying and IT work some 20 years ago.


(Manchester University Press 2014 [paperback 2015] xiv+312pp ISBN [hb] 978 0 7190 5264 4 [pb] 978 0 7190 5265 1) £70 hb/£17.99 pb

As a historian of English drinking and the public house, I have over the years given numerous talks on those subjects to local and family history societies and other groups. In the questions and discussion which follow, one issue almost invariably raised is that of women’s drinking generally and specifically their use of pubs. One point frequently made is that historically no ‘respectable’ woman would ever dream of going into one. This book, from a fellow historian of these subjects, is therefore most welcome, drawing as it does upon many years of detailed research and publication. It is one of the Manchester University Press studies in popular culture which have encompassed a wide range of topics, including the cinema, seaside, horse racing, smoking and darts in what it advertises as a readable and accessible style.

On the whole Gutzke's volume lives up that claim, although for a wider readership he is perhaps too keen in parts to engage with the growing amount of scholarship on drink and drinking places. Similarly, I felt that chapters 10 and 11 to some extent go back over ground already covered. Having said that, he provides a clear and often lively exposition of the subject, arguing for a chronology of women’s drinking which I will now state succinctly without remotely doing justice to the wealth of detail and analysis displayed. The Edwardian pub, it begins, was a ‘masculine republic’, shared by only a minority of poorer women or an even smaller minority of middle-class women in the capital, who patronised separate ladies’ bars in more substantial public houses. The First World War saw a large influx of women into the world of the pub, as they entered the workforce in large numbers for the duration of the conflict, but this influx was sustained in the inter-war years, partly through the conscious attempt by some brewers to ‘improve’ the world of the pub from its pre-war maleness and roughness. This was to be achieved particularly by making them more attractive to women, and hence more genteel, and by offering food and non-alcoholic refreshments.

But after the next war, in contrast, women’s use of pubs diminished rapidly, with the renewed emphasis on home and family and the pronounced manliness and sexism of the post-war drinking scene. Gutzke devotes, for example, space to the all too frequent sexism of the brewing industry’s advertising, which alienated many women, alongside the generally unwelcoming or downright hostile pub environments they encountered. This only changed towards the end of the century, partly as social changes affected the position of women in society and their drinking habits, and partly as a new generation of pub entrepreneurs with new money and ideas, notably (in Gutzke’s view) J.D. Wetherspoon, sought to appeal once again to women and families, to offer food in their pubs and, not least, the clean and attractive toilets essential to the female customer.

In charting this chronology, Gutzke is keen always to acknowledge the importance of regional and local difference. Women’s use of the pub has certainly not been uniform across the country and the subject offers much scope for further research. There have in recent years been many local studies of pubs, but these have often not been sufficiently placed in the context of the wider drinking culture. This book is an important addition to our knowledge of such cultures. In this, however, the local researcher is rather hindered by the absence in the index of references to specific regions or places, with no entry for example for the ‘north’ (certainly a region with a particular culture of drink and the pub), or for many towns and cities which receive attention in the text. A dozen interesting illustrations are provided, although curiously they are very much biased towards the earlier years of the study, with not a single illustration of the later twentieth century pubs which are discussed in so much detail.

Overall, both for the context it provides for local research and for its detailed and readable account of a key area of social history, this book is warmly recommended.

Paul Jennings is a social historian who has specialised in the history of drink and drinking places in England. His chief publications are The Public House in Bradford, 1770-1970 (Keele University Press, 1995),  The Local: a History of the English Pub (History Press, 2007 and 2011) and A History of Drink and the English, 1500-2000 (Routledge, 2016).

4. OAKHAM LORDSHOLD IN 1787 A map and survey of Lord Winchilsea’s Oakham estate edited by T.H.McK. Clough  Show more → Show less ↓

(Rutland Local History and Record Society Occasional Publication no.12 2016 104pp ISBN 9780907464556) £10+£2.50 UK p&p

A crumpled old map found in a cupboard at Burley on the Hill, the one-time home of Lord Winchilsea, turned out to be a very fine estate map of 1787, closely associated with four field survey books already held in the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. This publication, by the former curator of Rutland County Museum and Oakham Castle, is a detailed analysis of the map and the survey books, throwing considerable light on the historical townscape of Oakham, before the open fields were enclosed, the main road into town was turnpiked, and the canal, railway and later developments such as the ring road changed the locality almost out of recognition. Moreover, the presence of such features as stretches of ditches within the town, shown on the map though no longer visible on the ground, allows the reconstruction of the early urban morphology and the pre-urban nucleus, a former Anglo-Saxon burh which developed post-Conquest to include a motte and bailey, a parish church and market, within a defended enclosure ditch first recorded in the fourteenth century.

The map was made for George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea, by William Wrighton Cullingworth, an estate and enclosure surveyor active in the eastern counties between 1764 and 1797.  Winchilsea himself was a keen amateur scientist, President of the Royal Institution (1799), and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (1791) and the Royal Society (1807), so he may have taken a close personal interest in the methodology and accuracy of his survey. Measuring 1295 x 890 mm, and mapped at the scale of five chains to the inch (1: 3960), the map is a fine example of the type, showing many of the standard features of estate maps of the era, including the almost complete absence of any features outside the Lordshold, one of the two subdivisions of the manor and parish of Oakham (the other being the Deanshold, held by the dean and chapter of Westminster). Thus the mapped area hangs in space, surrounded to north and south by the open fields of Oakham, named but not mapped, while a few scattered holdings beyond the main surveyed area exist as islands, unconnected to the ‘mainland’ of the Lordshold.

The accompanying field survey books have considerable interest, listing every parcel numbered on the map, naming its tenant or occupier, and giving the area together with its annual value to the estate. Extensive transcriptions of the notebooks, together with appendices, take up more than half of the 104 pages of the publication. Although these are not reproduced, they included the surveyor’s original calculations, which allow the reconstruction of the method used to measure these parcels. The surveyor proceeded by dividing each irregular parcel into a number of rectangles or triangles, the sides of which were then measured in links (7.92 inches) using a surveyor’s chain of 22 yards. The sum of these calculations for each parcel resulted in a number expressed in thousandths of an acre (one acre = 10 square chains or 100,000 square links), which was then translated into the acres, roods and perches recorded in the notebooks and here transcribed. The example is given of Cutts Close, divided into one rectangle and four main triangles, each subdivided, each measured, the area calculated and added together to make 6 acres and 627 thousandths, which in turn converts to 6 acres, 2 roods and 20 perches. There are 138 such parcels requiring this sort of manipulation. One can only admire the men who could do all this without the aid of an electronic calculator.

If there is a criticism, it is that the book has focussed more on the notebooks than on the map. The map is reproduced as fig 2, but at approximately one-thirtieth of its full size. In addition, individual small sections are reproduced at or near full size, to illustrate specific points which the editor makes—but trying to hunt down on fig.2 the parcels numbered in the notebooks but not included in one of these sections can be a frustrating experience.  Clearly reproducing the map at full size would have been out of the question, but if ever a book cried out for an attached CD containing a full-size digital version, or even a link to a website featuring the map, this is it. Undoubtedly of considerable interest to Oakham local historians and family historians whose ancestors’ names and holdings can be found in the Lordshold notebooks, and of more than passing interest to historians of cartography and surveying, this publication is inevitably of less interest to the general reader, other than perhaps to encourage them to seek out similar estate maps for their own locality—and if none such exists then, who knows, it may be worth turning out the cupboards in the hope that something like this may turn up.  

William D. Shannon is an independent researcher in history. Following retirement in October 2002, he graduated MA in local and regional history from Lancaster University in 2004, and PhD in July 2009, with a thesis on enclosure in the lowland wastes of early-modern north-west England. His main research interests and published papers concern the landscape, agricultural and cartographic history of England in the early-modern period.

5. LOST COUNTRY HOUSES OF NORFOLK History, archaeology and myth by Tom Williamson, Ivan Ringwood and Sarah Spooner  Show more → Show less ↓

(Boydell 2015 ix+351pp ISBN 978 1 78327 072 9) £29.95

Laments for the disappearance of country houses great and small were first heard in the 1920s, as the impact of financial insolvency or uncertainty, the break-up of estates and the loss of heirs in the First World War combined to threaten the survival of these giant symbols of an ostensibly time-honoured social structure. The perception that many such houses were doomed was responsible for the activities of among others James Lees-Milne, who in the late 1930s toured the country estates of England, trying (often successfully) to persuade owners to hand over to the National Trust on distinctly favourable terms.

The quiet lamentations grew to a deafening chorus in the 1960s and ‘70s, as Roy Strong and others highlighted the fate of the great houses, arguing in 1974 that no fewer than 1116 houses had perished during the previous hundred years, half of them since 1945. Apart from demolition or ruination, the alternative fate of many seemed to be conversion to institutional uses, hotels, care homes and, eventually, ‘luxury’ apartments. Certain celebrated cases, such as Mentmore and Calke Abbey, drew the attention of press and public to the question of what to do with these—as they were often seen—anachronistic and impractical monsters, and the National Trust, in a sense hoist by the petard of its willingness to accept even somewhat second-rate houses in the 1930s and 1940s, was generally assumed to be the likely salvation. In reality, as the introduction to this fascinating and important book emphasises, the tide was already turning by 1970s, partly because of more proactive government policies and beneficial taxation changes, and partly because the alternative uses became more viable.

Recent estimates suggest that almost 2000 country houses have been lost since the 1870s, but the authors of the book highlight the problems of definition (what is a country house? and what does ‘lost’ actually mean?) which render such statistics at best a mere guide. No less important is their summarising of some key points in the ongoing debate about such buildings: first, the fact that there are powerful political and ideological overtones which run through the past hundred years of the story; second, that there is actually a continuum of experience, whereby some houses were simply demolished, but others survive even though drastically altered within and without, or extended, or remodelled; and third, that the process of change and eventual destruction could be protracted and complicated, with several successive uses prior to eventual demolition.

Norfolk, one of the largest counties in England, had (and has) a quite remarkable number of country houses—disproportionately so, it might be argued—because of a combination of distinctive local circumstances such as favourable topography, large agricultural estates and (of special significance) in the eighteenth century numerous freehold farms of 400-500 acres, where large farmhouses matched in size the lesser country houses of minor gentry. In the nineteenth century its growing reputation as a suitable place for newly-rich merchants and industrialists to acquire a country estate (land prices being relatively low) led to a new generation of grand Victorian mansions, a process facilitated by the expansion of the railway network and by the emergence of the North Norfolk coast as a fashionable, holiday, retirement and recreational area ... dreams of a country house near the golf links at Sheringham.

This volume is a model which could readily be followed for other counties. The 76-page introduction outlines themes, provides a wealth of statistics, and discusses the chronology of abandonment and loss. There are five short chapters, and I recommend that anybody thinking of researching this theme for his or her own county should read these for guidance as to how to put together, with crystal clarity, the background and overview of the subject. The bulk of the book is occupied by a 230-page gazetteer which details 89 houses, from Appleton House to Wroxham House, giving the history, architectural description and fate of each, illustrated where possible with plans, photographs, engravings and contemporary sketches. About some of these houses almost nothing is known—only a brief paragraph is possible for some which vanished long ago—but for others a great deal can be said (for example, the Victorian red-brick giant at Stow Bardolph, converted to hospital use in 1939, abandoned in 1981 and finally demolished completely as recently as 1994). A particularly poignant picture shows the once-lovely sixteenth-century Beaupré Hall at Outwell, on the fen edge in west Norfolk, standing empty and derelict in 1963 with the central road of a banal estate of new-built bungalows heading straight for the front porch. The house was demolished three years later. The houses range from the small—not much more than a grand farmhouse—to the magnificent. Kenninghall Place, principal mid-sixteenth century home of the Dukes of Norfolk, and the house where Mary Tudor took sanctuary in 1553 and from which she masterminded her successful campaign to gain the throne which was rightfully hers, was large and lavish, but was demolished almost in its entirety in about 1650.

The book concludes with an appendix which neatly highlights the problems of classification as well as the diversity of fates: it lists six houses which fell into complete dereliction but were rescued and restored in the nick of time; four which are much-truncated versions of the original property; five where a sizeable modern house has replaced a demolished older one; and fourteen where almost no documentary evidence can be found, and little or no physical trace remains.

Alan Crosby is editor of The Local Historian and a former resident of Norfolk.

6. BRITISH FARM SURVEYS 1941 to 1943 The National Farm Survey of England and Wales and the Agricultural Survey in Scotland: reports and statistical analysis by Oliver Finnegan and Catherine Glover  Show more → Show less ↓

(List & Index Society vol.354 2014 236pp and CD; with iv+18pp PDF introduction; ISBN 9788 1 906875 1) £50 to members; £75 to non-members; a PDF of the introduction is also free to download from

The introduction to this volume, which is also separately available on free download PDF, is written by Professor Richard Hoyle and provides a perceptive critique and history of the National Farm Survey, which constitutes the most comprehensive investigation into agriculture and the condition of the rural economy in England and Wales since the ‘Domesday survey’. Complementing the NFS is the Agricultural Survey in Scotland, the history of which is also perceptively evaluated.  This section not only explores the historical importance of the NFS in context but also reviews potential criticisms of its methodology.  

The book, in conjunction with a very impressive PDF file included on CD-ROM with the publication, provides a unique insight into wartime farming types, cropping and stocking, machinery, employment, farm size and structure in respect of farms which were five acres or larger at the time of the survey. The data provided constitutes the most in-depth and detailed assessment of British agriculture, without precedent in the annals of agrarian history. The relevance and value of the data is underpinned by the fact that it was undertaken at the most crucially important time in Britain’s history, when the country was on the verge of being unable to import sufficient food from abroad. The importance of the Second World War in establishing modern agriculture based on technologically-efficient high input and high output methods of farming, and the prevailing system of agricultural support, cannot be overestimated. 

The NFS provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct farm layouts and farming landscapes, the potential of which has not yet been fully appreciated by researchers. While reconstruction of this nature is not without its own challenges, the difficulties of which are acknowledged not only in the text but also in the sources (which are ably footnoted), this approach provides the most effective way of gaining an objective insight into the state of farming in a particular locality. This is further assisted by the use of the well-known but rather subjectively derived Primary Farm Returns, which required the assessor to grade the capacity of farmers on a scale of A to C. While this classification of farmers was in many cases controversial, it nevertheless remains an important source of information for subsequent researchers. The statistical analysis of the NFS has in comparison attracted considerably less attention, and it is for this reason that it has been reproduced in this book, making it readily available for the first time. The evaluation of the value of the NFS as an historical source is, if anything, rather too critical in that it may put off researchers from using it. In the final analysis it is important to remember that it is the most important and detailed source of information we have available.

The inclusion in the book of the NFS summary report and county reports, as well as sample county reports for Bedfordshire and the Agricultural Survey in Scotland, ensures that this is an invaluable archival source not only for a wide range of academic disciplines, but also for those with an interest in the countryside. The real gem is the PDF file, which contains reports and statistical analysis relating to the NFS. Making these readily accessible in this format is an outstanding initiative on the part of the editors. It will, hopefully, do much to raise the profile of this very important but still largely neglected primary source within the research community. However, like agricultural production, it may take time for the seeds disseminated by this book to reach fruition and produce a bumper crop of locally based NFS studies. The wait will, I assure you, be well worth while.


John Martin is Professor of Agrarian History at De Montfort University. His main research interest is the impact of government policies on British agriculture and the countryside since the 1930s.In addition to his publications he was the series consultant for the BBC’s 'Wartime Farm' series, and agricultural consultant for its 'Tudor Monastery Farm’ and ‘Full Steam Ahead’, and  ITV’s 'Home Fires'.

7. ROOKWOOD FAMILY PAPERS 1606-1761 edited by Francis Young  Show more → Show less ↓

(Boydell for Suffolk Records Society 2016 lx+115pp ISBN 978 1 78327 080 4) £25; THE GAGES OF HENGRAVE AND SUFFOLK CATHOLICISM 1640-1767 by Francis Young (Boydell for Catholic Record Society 2015 xxxiv+241pp ISBN 978 0 902832 29 9) £50

The recent historiography of post-Reformation English Catholicism has unveiled a number of discrete approaches to the subject, including biographies of noteworthy priests, surveys of English religious orders and—something of a breakthrough—research into Catholics ‘below the level of the gentry’. Perhaps of particular interest to readers of this journal is what might be described as a regional slant on the subject. Major contributions have included a long-range study of the Catholic community in its Lancashire heartland, J. A. Hilton’s Catholic Lancashire from Reformation to Renewal 1559-1991 (1994). In Persecution without Martyrdom: the Catholics of North-East England in the age of the Vicars Apostolic c.1688-1850 Leo Gooch surveys the history of the recusants of the north-east in the period between the fall of the James II and the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, the culmination of decades of gradual emancipation. Earlier studies of the Catholics of Yorkshire were ‘Catholic Recusancy in York’ (1970) and ‘The Catholic Recusants of the West Riding of Yorkshire’ (1963), both by Hugh Aveling.

Such works have enriched our knowledge of Catholic survival and revival in the post-Reformation strongholds of English Catholicism, the northern counties, which resisted Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1536-7 Pilgrimage of Grace and disputed the Protestant Elizabeth’s religious changes in the Revolt of the Northern Earls of 1569-70. But Suffolk was surely Reformation country and its Protestantism and emergent East Anglian puritanism must, we might assume, underscore the gulf between the recusant survivalism of the northern counties and the acceptance of religious reform in the south and east of England. By the middle of the seventeenth century Suffolk had what has been described as a ‘predominantly Presbyterian’ ruling elite and provided rich recruiting ground both for the puritan New Model Army and for the radical gathered churches.

Yet the projection of a monolithically Protestant southern England, typified by Suffolk, contrasted with a partly Catholic north, will not stand up to scrutiny. Pre-Reformation Suffolk was fertile with Catholic piety, centred on the county’s great Benedictine monastery of Bury St Edmunds, where Henry VIII’s inspectorate found ‘moche vanitie and superstition, as the coles that Sant Laurence was tosted withall, the paring of S. Edmundes naylles, S. Thomas of Canterbury penneknyff and his bootes, peces of the olie crosse able to make a hole cross of ... with such other’. On a wider canvas, the East Anglian region has been described as ‘possibly the most intense area of traditional practice in England’ before the Reformation. There was priestly missionary activity in Suffolk well into the reign of Elizabeth: the priest John Robinson was martyred at Ipswich in 1588.   

This is the background against which we may view the narrative recounted by Dr Young in the two books reviewed here. The long reign of Elizabeth was decisive in converting Catholic England into a Protestant country. By the closing decade of the century, Suffolk’s population of rural-based ‘plebeian recusants’ was down to four, compared with 26 in strongly Protestant Norfolk and 40 in Derbyshire. The evidence suggests that lower-class Catholicism had become extinct in Suffolk, a considerable success in the drive of local and central, royal and ecclesiastical, government to make ‘popery’ history. But in the English Catholic community’s northern redoubts late-Elizabethan demotic Catholicism was vigorous, as in Yorkshire in 1592, with 78 rural Catholic classifiable as ‘plebeians’ and, the most arresting of these late statistics, Lancashire with 249 lower class recusants in 1592. The working formula in that most durably Catholic of English counties was a combination of rural gentry patronage and protection with a wide and deep popular base, as Catholic country squires attracted, encouraged and made religious and priestly provision for Catholic tenants and servants. The coalition of commoners with rural elites gave Lancashire Catholicism an exceptional elasticity, allowing it to survive the centuries of Protestantisation. The bedrock of Catholic working people remained in place, alongside the country squires and their families, into a period of rapid industrial change:  there were 1186 weavers who were Catholics in Lancashire in 1767, contrasted with Suffolk’s two.

Yet perhaps we should not over-emphasise the extinction of Suffolk recusancy below the level of the gentry: by the mid-seventeenth century, along with Essex and Sussex, Suffolk had its yeomen Catholics. There was also an urban recusant presence in Bury St Edmunds where, although Protestant Nonconformity was a potent factor, there had always been a minority Catholic grouping. Indeed, this minority was relatively sizeable: 2.5 per cent of the town’s population in 1767 compared with less than one per cent of the national population in 1750.  However, that Catholic continuity had little to do with folk memories of medieval monasticism or the culture of bogus relics that drew the ire of Henry VIII’s enforcers. Instead, Bury St Edmunds’s Catholic cluster owed its existence largely, though not entirely, to the gentry patronage of the Gages of nearby Hengrave, fostering a Benedictine, and subsequently a Jesuit, mission. Through the efforts of the Jesuit John Gage, backed by the astronomical sum of £2000 of Gage family money, local Catholics acquired a new and flagrantly public chapel in Bury St Edmund’s Westgate Street in 1762. This initiative was  an extraordinary act of  audacity, anticipating by three decades the second Catholic Relief Act of 1791 which permitted the opening of such places of worship, and even then subject to close controls. The gentry element of the Catholic population, almost 10 per cent of the  total, was disproportionate, but while such seigneurial patronage, evidenced by the building of the chapel, was a precondition of the growth of the faith in Bury St Edmunds, Catholic profession took on a social momentum of its own. Through the middle decades of the eighteenth century, the borough’s Catholic craftsmen formed 22 per cent of the total, an artisan element which reflected the wider Georgian English Catholic occupational profile. Bury St Edmunds also had Catholic traders including inn-keepers, while almost ten per cent were servants, and eight per cent labourers. Thus the town forms a microcosm of what we might describe as the ‘Lancashire model’ of Catholic survival—social heterogeneity across a diverse class spectrum, anchored by gentry leadership. In other words, if the post-Reformation English Catholic community had consisted of rural aristocrats alone, it would have withered on the vine long before the great revival of the nineteenth century. Conversely, had the community consisted solely of ‘plebeians’, however these are defined, in an intensely rank-conscious society the small localised congregations would have lacked the elite support that in so many ways, not least financial, ensured its perpetuation.     

There is, however, a further dimension to the influence of the Gages and their wealthy Rookwood recusant relatives that we might consider, in the light of the seductive allure that aristocratic Catholicism, with its exotic poshness, cosmopolitanism, hauteur, exclusiveness and colour, has always had in England’s insular and puritan-influenced culture. The Gages of Hengrave and the Rookwoods of Coldham Hall had style, chutzpah and assurance in spades. In the 1790s the Gages transferred to Hengrave the canonesses of the convent in Bruges, traditionally a Continental home-from-home for the daughters and sisters of recusant squires and nobles but now relocated in flight from the French Revolution. The ladies brought with them the whole repertoire of Continental baroque Catholicism, the full office and liturgy, vespers and compline on Sundays and feast-days, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and daily Masses, one of them open to neighbours. The family’s lordly self-assurance was fully evident when a school was opened following consultations between Lady Gage, the two local MPs, and the archbishop of Canterbury himself. While conservative political sympathy in the 1790s created fellow-feeling for the victims of the events of France and the Low Countries, early Romanticism was encouraging a new cultural empathy with Catholic mystery. So, admitted to Mass at Hengrave,  members of the Protestant Suffolk gentry were entranced by the liturgical splendours on show, a polychrome stateliness that contrasted with an austerely  Protestant Anglicanism: one of them burst out at the Elevation of the Host during Mass, ‘This is solemn indeed’.

The material underpinning of such solemnity can be glimpsed in the magnificent assemblage of liturgical vestment, fabrics and ceremonial equipment reproduced by Francis Young in the ’Inventory of the Contents of Coldham Hall’, of 1737. While the hall’s iconic collection included ‘’twenty prints of our savior’s passion’ and (reflecting the Jesuit influence) ‘one picture of St Ignatius [Loyola]’, there were no longer any entries for such items as the ‘coles that Sant Laurence was tosted withall’. For this was a Catholicism of the English Counter-Reformation, sensitive and judicious over the relic culture of the past. Francis Young’s linked pair of studies, deeply researched and beautifully produced, provide us with essential fresh literature on the growing bibliography of early modern provincial gentry Catholicism in England.   


Michael Mullett is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Lancaster and is the author of Catholics in Britain and Ireland, 1558-1829 (1998) and English Catholicism 1680-1830 (6 vols., 2006).

8. NOT IN OUR NAME: war dissent in a Welsh town by Philip Adams  Show more → Show less ↓

(author 2015 288pp ISBN 978-0-9930671-1-2) £15

The numerous commemorations that have been staged in Britain to mark the centenary of the First World War have mainly focused on the military battles and the experiences of the men who fought them. There have also, though, been exhibitions and publications that tell a different part of the story: the opposition of men and women up and down Britain to their country’s involvement in the conflict with the central powers. Philip Adams seeks in this self-published book to tell the story of war resistance in Briton Ferry, an industrial town in south-west Wales, which had by the outbreak of war in 1914 already established itself as a site of popular radicalism.

The historian Cyril Pearce has rightly argued that a better understanding of opposition to the First World War will require more studies of the situation in particular localities. This inevitably raises the sort of problems familiar to anyone who wants to study the history of the marginalised and the forgotten. The reconstruction of the experiences of conscientious objectors is particularly difficult, since most of the relevant records were destroyed after the conflict ended, while many of those who refused to fight were in any case anxious to get on with their lives. Philip Adams seeks in Not in Our Name to recover some of the forgotten voices of the war resisters of Briton Ferry and its immediate environs. He attempts to do this by sketching out the experiences of local men and women, telling their stories against the well-known background of the military tribunals and government propaganda on the one hand, and the panoply of organisations that sought to oppose the war on the other.

The book is in fact at its least successful when dealing with the broad picture (perhaps not surprisingly given its complexity). Organisations like the No Conscription Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation are discussed by Adams in rather perfunctory and one-dimensional terms. So too are the military tribunals.  Recent research has shown how hard it is to generalise both about war resistance and attempts by the government to overcome it. The experience of conscientious objectors—the men who refused to fight following the introduction of conscription at the start of 1916—in particular varied enormously (often as a result of simple chance and luck). But Adams’ main aim is, in fairness, to explore the situation in one particular community. He uses a mixture of newspaper reports, private albums, and community recollections to achieve his goal. His book contains numerous photographs and illustrations designed to give life to these lost voices and forgotten times.

Adams spends a good deal of time—perhaps too long—on discussing some of the well-known radical figures who visited Briton Ferry at some point in their career: Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, J.B. Glasier, and so on.  These pen portraits are interesting enough, and certainly show that Briton Ferry resonated in the political ecology of British radicalism, but they do not really throw much light on attitudes within Briton Ferry itself. More interesting are the sections of the book that discuss the attitudes of local men and women who opposed the war. Most were motivated by a mixture of religion and politics—a distinction that would not have made a great deal of sense to Baptists and Congregationalists brought up to believe that their faith required not only a personal code of behaviour but also an active attempt to change the world they lived in. The paucity of sources nevertheless means that Adams finds it hard to really ‘get under the skin’ of many of the men and women of Briton Ferry. He describes the arrest and imprisonment of those who refused to fight. He shows how most of them were working men from the local steel and tin-plating plants or (less often) men in white-collar occupations. He provides some useful information about the women who supported them. Adams finds it harder, though, to provide much insight into the lived experience of these people: the ideals that inspired them; the stress of imprisonment; the sense of isolation. Nor does he really address the question of whether Briton Ferry was a community of resistance, collectively immune from the siren calls of nationalist propaganda and jingoistic enthusiasm, or rather a place that simply had a higher than usual but still small population of ‘war resisters’. This reviewer would also have found it interesting to know if questions of Welsh nationalism and language played a part (a question too often ignored by historians of Wales whose principal focus is on class and labour).

All this perhaps sounds too critical. The sources seldom exist to reveal in depth what Cyril Pearce calls ‘the real story of attitudes to war’. The material that survives tells us many interesting things, but it cannot answer all the questions to which we would like to have answers. Not in Our Name is perhaps really aimed more at readers interested in the history of Briton Ferry rather than those most concerned with attitudes to war and peace in Britain during the First World War. It nevertheless provides a useful reminder that a focus on local history can often undermine broader narratives of national history which fail to take into account the particularities and peculiarities of place.


Michael Hughes is Professor of Modern History at Lancaster University.  He has published extensively both on the attitudes of the British churches towards war in the twentieth century and the role of religion in shaping international politics