April 2016 Reviews


1. Appleby Gipsy Horse Fair Mythology, origins, evolution and evaluation by Andrew Connell (Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 2015 Show more → Show less ↓

APPLEBY GIPSY HORSE FAIR Mythology, origins, evolution and evaluation by Andrew Connell (Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 2015 xii+103pp ISBN 978 1 7312468 0) no price stated

Today the fair known as the Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair attracts huge media attention in Cumbria and beyond. Andrew Connell has lived and worked in the town for many years. He is a historian who has served the community as a teacher in the local comprehensive school and as a council member including holding the office of mayor.  This book, as its title indicates, seeks to address the history of the fair, how it has changed over time and the difficulty of separating the ‘real’ fair and its evolution from the mythology that has grown around it. This is a carefully researched and well-produced book, informative and readable, which sheds light on what has in recent decades become a nationally known event but was originally just one of a network of such fairs throughout the country. Andrew Connell has used evidence from newspapers, local and county council records, published texts in journals and monographs as listed in the bibliography.

This slim volume gives a concise yet comprehensive account of the fair and its impact on the local community.  The contrast between the thriving Appleby New Fair held in June and the once equal and perhaps larger event in late September at Brough Hill only eight miles away, which has now dwindled to nothing, is remarkable but certainly its continued success and growth in the mid-twentieth century owes much to the reaction of the Gypsy/Traveller community to the threat of its abolition. The illustrations include a map showing the site in relation to the town, photographs of the fair from the early twentieth century, and portraits of local landowners and others.

In the final chapter, Andrew Connell seeks to set the fair and its participants in the context of national and international history, especially in the twentieth century, the position of minority cultures within society and related topics. Something of the complexity of the relations between the fair and the town of Appleby is revealed in the final sentence: ‘If it exists a hundred years from now it will surely continue to be an unpredictable, volatile, controversial occasion and a magnet for mythology’.

Margaret E. Shepherd

Margaret E. Shepherd is an emeritus fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is the author of From Hellgill to Bridge End: aspects of economic and social change in the Upper Eden Valley, 1840-95 (2003) and Across the Oceans: emigration from Cumberland and Westmorland before 1914 (2011).

2. Village by the water: A history of Bowness-on-Windermere from earliest times to 1963 by John L. Campbell (Kendal 2015 xxi+538pp ISBN 978-1-907710-59-9) £39.50 Show more → Show less ↓

This is a substantial book and, as indicated in the title, the author attempts to trace the history of Bowness through many centuries. Inevitably, the first chapters (entitled’ Ancient Highway’ and ‘The Untold Years’) contain relatively few facts and much use of terms such as ‘no documentary evidence’, ‘would have’, ‘scant evidence’, ‘suggests that’, ‘we may imagine’ and ‘many implied questions’. The final sentence in chapter 2 (‘it is unlikely we shall ever know more … than we do now’) sums up the difficulty of describing and explaining the early history of many communities in the northern counties.

However, even in these chapters John Campbell offers interesting and plausible accounts of the local area, the settlements and possible routes to and from Bowness. For me, a Cumbrian who knows the Windermere area well, these posed no problem but for a reader unfamiliar with the environs or the wider area an additional sketch map close to the text would have been helpful. The excellent maps between pages 186 and 187 are too distant to be useful here. In order to follow Mr Campbell’s  argument and,  for example, to identify Allen Knott, Orrest Head and the many names mentioned on pages 4-12, it would be helpful to have a good large scale map of the area at hand.

John Campbell has made good use of available source material throughout the book and contributes some of his own memories and family history to later chapters. These are organised by century and, especially by the time the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries are reached and more sources are available, the text ‘comes alive’ with information and descriptions of the social and economic structure of the area. The lake, its function as an economic resource in fishing, its use as a transport link by ferry or as a route from Waterhead to the southern end at Newby Bridge, and the occasions when it froze during hard winters, receive appropriate attention.  Prominent local families, details of wealthy incomers, the church, schools and the local economy ... even individual trees ...  all feature in the text.

In the last chapter Mr Campbell describes life in Bowness and the community called Windermere which had grown around the railway station in the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries. Here his own family connections with the area and his personal memories are highlighted. Plans show the growth of Bowness, while the reference to the comic mirrors outside Frank Robinson’s shop revived memories for me of an essential destination on the walk to the lake during my own childhood visits to Windermere and Bowness. John Campbell’s project was ambitious and he deserves congratulation for completing such a mammoth task. There is a glossary of local terms, and the 115 pages of notes indicate references and add comments and extra details. He has succeeded in gathering and documenting an enormous amount of evidence about the growth, development of, and life in ‘the village by the water’ and its surroundings. The book is interesting, full of information and a very useful addition to the literature about this part of the Lake District.

Margaret E. Shepherd

Margaret E. Shepherd is an emeritus fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is the author of From Hellgill to Bridge End: aspects of economic and social change in the Upper Eden Valley, 1840-95 (2003) and Across the Oceans: emigration from Cumberland and Westmorland before 1914 (2011).

3. No Other Way: Oxfordshire and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 by Chris Farman, Valery Rose and Liz Woolley (International Brigade Memorial Trust 2015 viii+124pp ISBN 978 1 910448 05 2) £8 Show more → Show less ↓

This engaging text provides considerable detail on the ‘Oxfordshire volunteers ... 31 men and women who were born, lived or studied in Oxfordshire and who fought for the Spanish Republic or who were front-line medical staff’. It begins with an introduction by Chris Farman which provides readers with contextual information on the Spanish Civil War; the next chapter, written by Valery Rose and Liz Woolley, examines Oxfordshire in the interwar period, and particularly the 1930s, and discusses the ways in which people from the region reacted to and engaged with the war in Spain and its repercussions. The central section of the book consists of short biographies of the 31 Oxfordshire volunteers; and the work concludes with an interesting and informative postscript on methodology.

The authors persuasively contend that support for the Republican cause helped to diminish the divide between ‘town’ and ‘gown’ in Oxford. As well as some people from the region volunteering to go to Spain, residents participated in pro-Republican campaigns in Oxfordshire and supported colonies of Basque children in the county following the evacuation of children from that region of Spain after the aerial bombardment of Guernica. In their chapter, Rose and Woolley consistently present pro-Loyalist sentiment in Oxfordshire as a component of a wider struggle against fascism, and the biographies reasonably argue that this factor motivated many, though not all, of the volunteers to go to Spain. These insights are valuable contributions to scholarship on both Oxfordshire and British reactions to the Spanish Civil War.

Although it focuses predominantly on pro-Republicanism, the book does acknowledge that support for Franco existed in Oxfordshire. However, this is not mentioned until p.45 and, given the title of the book, it is perhaps under-represented in this text. No Other Way would also have benefited from an analysis of the political dynamics of the various pro-Republican aid initiatives with which Oxfordshire residents were involved. Divides within the British Left impacted upon fundraising in support of the Loyalists in Spain. Neither Tom Buchanan’s The Spanish Civil War and the British Labour Movement nor Lewis Mates’s The Spanish Civil War and the British Left feature in the bibliography; consulting these texts might have helped the authors to frame the pro-Republican campaigns more effectively. Finally, given the focus of the postscript, it is both somewhat surprising and disappointing that no references are included in this book. These points notwithstanding, No Other Way is a well written and lively text. It shows the value of local history and local studies in informing even international themes such as the Spanish Civil War.

Ben Edwards

Ben Edwards works at Lancaster University where he gained a PhD. He has taught modern history at Lancaster University, the University of Manchester, the University of Bolton and Manchester Metropolitan University.

4. Banbury and the origins of the Coventry to Oxford Canal 1768-1778 edited by Jeremy Gibson (Banbury Historical Society 2015 20pp ISBN 978 0 900129 33 9) £3.50 inc p&p from BHS, c/o Banbury Museum, Spiceball Park Road, Banbury OX16 2PQ Show more → Show less ↓

This little booklet is a prequel to the Banbury Historical Society’s forthcoming records volume on Georgian Banbury. The Society has an illustrious publishing history, with a remarkably wide-ranging and eclectic bibliography of records volumes and monographs on the town and its hinterland, an achievement due in very considerable measure to the labours, during a period of almost sixty years, of the indefatigable Jeremy Gibson. The present publication is a compilation of extracts from primary sources which trace the genesis and construction of the Oxford Canal, which runs just to the east of Banbury town centre. Key themes identified include the initial raising of the capital for the project; the local people who were involved in the scheme; and the reporting of the news relating to its implementation. It is emphasised that the booklet does not try to tell the story of the building of the canal per se, but rather to illustrate particular aspects which concern the town of Banbury.

Among the sources used are the diary of Sir Roger Newdigate of Arbury near Coventry, a landowner and coal entrepreneur who sought to use the canal to enhance the potential of his coal reserves near Bedworth; newspaper advertisements promoting the project; lists of subscribers for canal shares; news items from Jackson’s Oxford Journal; and official parliamentary documents relating to the Company. The effect is that of a small and interesting scrapbook, and Jeremy Gibson makes it clear that this is simply a ‘spin off’ from the eventual larger publication. In terms of canal history, it is very revealing about the key sources which are likely to be available for research into the development of such projects. There is an index of personal names which unfortunately does not seem to work: Henry Essex, my 5 x great-grandfather, appears in the index with a reference on page 10, but that page comprises a map and a picture, and I cannot find Henry anywhere in the text. But that is a minor matter—this is a most interesting compendium of ‘snippets’ relating to the canal (which was opened in 1778) and I look forward with great interest to Life in Georgian Banbury, the larger work which it foreshadows.

Alan Crosby

Alan Crosby is the editor of The Local Historian. He is currently researching the life and political career of a small town politician—his great-great grandfather George Crosby, who was a member of the Banbury Corporation from 1859 to 1886, and mayor of the town in 1872-1873.