April 2018 Reviews


1. CALLED TO ARMS 1803-12 IN THE STAFFORDSHIRE-CHESHIRE BORDER REGION: Volunteer Infantry Corps for home defence under the threat of a Napoleonic invasion by Paul Anderton Show more → Show less ↓

(Audley & District Family History Society 2016 146pp ISBN 978-0-9574622-8-1) £7.60 available from http://www.audleyfhs.co.uk/

Called to Arms is a study of part-time military forces, known as volunteers, raised in response to the threat of invasion in the Napoleonic Wars. It aims to highlight the value to the local historian of the volunteers’ military paylists held at The National Archives (series WO13). The book is organised into three sections: a general introduction to the topic; twelve studies of individual volunteer units; and then transcriptions of the pay lists that underpin the work. Throughout, Paul Anderton has included maps, images of the documents, and prints, photographs and other illustrations of individuals and places discussed. The broadsides and newspaper material that give so much of a flavour of the period could be more clearly referenced, to underscore the variety and depth of locally held material on this subject.

The general history of the volunteers and an overview of the scholarship on the subject is provided in a succinct introduction  which makes clear that the phenomenon of volunteers was complex, and could be self-serving wrapped in patriotism. There is, however, a key factual and interpretative misconception. Although the raising of volunteers was very much locally-led, it was situated within a national framework of legislation and government circulars that encouraged and shaped it. This was most notably the case in 1803 when it was said that, if sufficient volunteers were not forthcoming, compulsory training would be introduced under a ‘Levy en Masse Act’ (which was passed and not ‘failed’ as the book suggests). Reference to John Fortescue’s County Lieutenancies and the Army of 1909 would have cleared this up.

The value of book lies in the individual studies of volunteer corps using the records in the pay lists. Here, a close study of the individuals who organised and led these units is placed alongside local social, political, and economic research that shows how far the two were intermeshed. Furthermore, the work demonstrates how pay lists and volunteer records can shed light on otherwise under-documented areas, both in the geographical sense and in terms of what the records cover. For example, the Etruria Volunteers’ pay lists provide a potential list of Wedgewood workmen and residents. Throughout these studies, further avenues for research are indicated; this is stimulating (for those who might relish taking up the challenge) and frustrating (to those who would like these points resolved). The transcribed pay lists provide an appendix to the book, which has been arranged by unit and then in alphabetical order of names. For family and local historians who have a name and want to explore an individual career, the presentation of this material is valuable, but there is scope for a more ambitious analysis of these men and their service, such as tracing length of service and turnover. However, this would have probably strained the limits of a book. In summary, Called to Arms is a useful study both of the volunteer units along the Cheshire-Staffordshire border and also of what can be done with the material to provide a different angle on late Georgian society.

Kevin Linch is associate professor in modern history at the University of Leeds. His research explores the complex relationship which Britain had with its army and other military forces during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, looking at both the grand scale (issues as national identity, the growth of the state, and the relationship between Britain's central and local administration) and the level of the individual, examining how the war affected the way they viewed themselves, each other, and the communities they lived in.

2. THE VILLAS OF EDGERTON Home to Huddersfield’s Victorian Elite by David Griffiths with photographs by Andrew Caveney  Show more → Show less ↓

(Huddersfield Civic Society 2017 164pp ISBN 9780 9956 3281 3) £12.95 from Huddersfield Civic Society 3, Booth Bank, Huddersfield HD7 5XA

The study of wealth in the nineteenth century perhaps only seriously began with the work of Rubinstein in the 1980s, simultaneously with further studies of industrial and commercial elites, their social and political positions and their culture.1 An important theme, often absent from these and similar studies, is the types of houses and environments that the industrial and commercial magnates of nineteenth-century Britain sought to establish for themselves.  While this has often been alluded to, it has rarely been dealt with in the detail it deserves. Yet such houses were the scene of social events, business pacts, and political manoeuvrings, and above all they were markers of success and social status.

It is therefore refreshing to read David Griffiths’s The Villas of Edgerton. This area, on the outskirts of Huddersfield, was the premier middle-class neighbourhood of that booming nineteenth-century textile town. While ostensibly it is a study of the growth of a middle-class suburb and its houses, Griffiths has much to say about the social context of its development.  The book has seven chapters dealing with subjects that range from the landscape before urban expansion, to the development of the suburb and its society. It also has informative concluding sections summarising developmental stages in the building of the houses, and a detailed walk around the district.

The chapter on the built character of Edgerton demonstrates (as do other sections) that Griffiths has a sound grasp of the styles and periods of the architecture described, something that a number of local histories approach rather shakily, lacking the confidence expressed here. There is also of a pioneering attempt to chart the growth of the architectural profession in Huddersfield. But this is more than an architectural history. The complexities of the land market and difficulties encountered in developing the suburb are analysed; the business and social networks of its inhabitants are highlighted; while a welcome theme is the gendering of the house and suburb—the families that lived there and the mostly female domestic staff employed there indicating a gender balance towards women rather than men. Servants are a further subject that is scrutinised, leading Griffiths to the conclusion that large numbers of servants, even in wealthy Victorian households, were more of an exception than a rule.

If I have a criticism of this study, it is that more might have been made of the planning of the houses and their comparative complexities or the absence of such—subtleties of privacy, gender and aspiration might all be expressed through plan. But this is perhaps a finicky criticism, for Griffiths presents us with a scholarly, well-written and reliable account of Edgerton’s growth in the nineteenth century.  It should also be pointed out that the pictures by Andrew Caveney, a professional photographer, provide clear illustrations of both houses and architectural detail. These, together with historic photographs of the district and its people, enhance both understanding of the subject and enjoyment of the book.

George Sheeran is honorary visiting post-doctoral fellow in the School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford. His present research is concerned with elite nineteenth-century families and the development of coastal resorts in Yorkshire.

1          William Rubinstein, Men of Property: the very wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution (1981); Anthony Howe, The Cotton Masters 1930-1860 (1984); R. H. Trainor,  Black Country Elites: the exercise of authority in an industrial area 1830-1900 (1993)