April 2019 Reviews


1. WARTIME NEW FOREST REVEALED by John Leete Show more → Show less ↓

(Bourchier Books 2017 xxvi+195pp ISBN 978-0-9934692-9-9) £14.99

The history of the New Forest in general is probably well known but John Leete is to be congratulated on breaking new ground with his fascinating study of the area during the Second World War. Its geographical location meant that it would have been in the forefront of any Nazi invasion while at the same time it played a large part in the build-up to the Allied invasion of Normandy. Leete deals with both of these situations in great detail, especially the former.

The book is clearly the result of an immense amount of research. He has used contemporary accounts, official papers and more recent interviews to build up his portrayal of the New Forest during this traumatic period. In addition to this the book is lavishly illustrated with both photographs and copies of official documents. Although there was a certain uniformity of experience for all areas during the war, one cannot read this book without coming to the conclusion that the author has got near to the unique nature of its impact on the New Forest.

Some parts of the book stood out for me. I was intrigued by the story of the Canadian Corps of Fire Fighters who worked in the New Forest and by the rather grim coverage of the Home Guard Auxiliary Units. Both were very well done. However, the best part is the extensive coverage of the built-up environment of the war, namely, the many defences erected in 1940, including the account of how they have been dealt with since the war and what survives. The excellent collection of illustrations almost makes it possible to see this development for oneself.

However, as enjoyable as this book is it is not without its drawbacks. The lack of an index is disappointing. The referencing, which focuses on internet sites and comments on visible remains, could have been improved. In particular the lack of references for the written materials used will make it difficult for anyone wanting to delve further into the subject. Sometimes the references are too vague; ‘records’ and ‘written records’ are not helpful terms. Although the author has attempted to set the area in a national context this has not been entirely successful. There are too many large tracts of undigested information inserted into the text, such as two-thirds of a page containing a sizeable chunk of Eden’s radio broadcast establishing the Home Guard. Facts should also be checked. Hitler did not come to power in 1932 and Roosevelt was elected President four times, not three (pp. 2-3).

Nevertheless, these criticisms do not detract from the book’s fine qualities, and apart from its notable contribution to the history of wartime Hampshire, it will doubtless provide an inspiration to anyone seeking to study both the wartime defences of their area and how they have fared since 1945.

Paul Rusiecki is a historian specialising in the history of Essex in the twentieth century. His work covers the whole spectrum of people's experiences—social, political, military, economic and religious. Among his publications are The impact of catastrophe: the people of Essex and the First World War (2008) and Under Fire: Essex and the Second World War (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2015).

2. THE ANCIENT AND FAMOUS WEYHILL FAIR by Anthony C. Raper Show more → Show less ↓

(Weydon Press, Andover 2017 207pp ISBN 978-1-5272-1153-7) £12

This is Tony Raper’s second book on the Weyhill Fair—a gathering described in the eighteenth century as ‘the greatest fair in the kingdom’.  It has twice as many pages as the first, which was published thirty years ago, and this allows more substantial treatment of many subjects in its 24 succinct chapters, as well as the inclusion of over 140 illustrations.

The chapters take the reader from the ‘Origins’ to the ‘Final Days of the Fair’ by way of the ten ‘specialist fairs’, matters of ownership and legal disputes, and stories of the people who gathered annually to make it all happen.  These embrace tales not just of those buying and selling livestock (principally sheep), hops, cheese, leather and agricultural items and having a good time at the ‘Pleasure Fair’, but also those from ‘the lower orders of Society’.  These included ‘persons of ill repute’ who were, inevitably, drawn like a magnet to Weyhill. ‘Policing the Fair’ takes us from the medieval Court of Pie Powder, via crimes of varying degree, to the ‘outrage’ of 1906, when two sergeants and a constable attempting to quell a disturbance were set upon while the crowd stood and watched.  While this incident has an all too topical resonance, the two main miscreants were arrested, tried and sentenced to six months prison with hard labour the following day—continuing the tradition of instant justice at the fair.

On the brighter side, the book describes the ‘horning of the colts’, an ancient initiation for apprentice shepherds, as well as the fair’s musical and literary links. These include the traditional ‘Horse Fair Song’, as much about dealers’ subterfuges as honest trading, and the reference in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. In addition, the fairground played a role in cinematic history.  In 1926 two silent movies were shot there, with the site in turn masquerading as a French restaurant and an ‘Eastern city’. 


The fair’s declining fortunes are charted, as are the vain attempts to keep sheep sales going into the mid-twentieth century. The author also relates the fate of the many parts of the fairground and the happy fact that some buildings survive in a revitalised Craft and Design Centre.

This is a remarkable collection of information about the fair and contains many additional notes and useful glossaries. The illustrations are mostly of good quality although the layout is sometimes a little eccentric. In truth, the book would have benefited from a stronger editorial hand. There is a lot of ‘white space’ and some of this could have been sacrificed in favour of larger font size. Spellings are erratic and punctuation, particularly the use of commas, is inconsistent.         

I should add that the cruciform trench within the Weyhill barrow (p.8) is the base of a medieval post mill (as at Milton Keynes and Butcombe, Somerset) and Hampshire Cultural Trust have radically revised their identification of the Heath portraits (p.29).  Also, a male burial found beneath one of the hop booths in 2002 has been C14 dated to AD 750 but what this means for the origins of the fair remains a mystery.

David Allen was Keeper of Archaeology for Hampshire Museums 1982–2018 and curator of Andover Museum from 1982 to 2006.

3. A TALE OF TWO MILLS Spindleston and Waren 1735 - 1914 by Jane Bowen and Karon Ives Show more → Show less ↓

(Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office and Belford and District Hidden History 2017 144pp ISBN 9780952673859) £8

Budle Bay, on the north-east coast of England, is the setting for this exploration of over two centuries of milling. While Spindleston and Waren Mills today look unremarkable, in the hands of such capable and thorough historians as Bowen and Ives they have an important and fascinating story to reveal. After acknowledgement of those who helped fund their extensive primary research, the authors trace the earliest roots of milling on the Waren Burn, noting passing references in the records of ancient land disputes. Especially helpful is their more general observations about the role of milling in the medieval economy, which help to place these scant records in context. Anglo-Scottish tensions play a significant part in this history, and these mills give poignant examples of how these affairs of state affected local matters. Being taxed by Edward I for his war chest and ransacked by invaders was only the start. The mills were twice confiscated by the Crown when their owners sided with the losing side in the conflicts, in the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries.

The second of these confiscations contributed directly to the writing of this volume. In 1716 the Derwentwater family joined the Jacobite cause, leading to their loss of the estate, which the Crown granted to the Greenwich Hospital. The Hospital ran its estates through a system of local agents or receivers, who kept a lively correspondence both with their tenants, and the board in London. This correspondence, along with a wealth of legal papers and other documents, has been meticulously preserved. This archive forms a uniquely source which has provided Bowen and Ives with material covering customs, technology, land-practices, contracts, economic developments in general, the varying fortunes of these two mills, and the cast of characters who lived and worked there. Tellingly, the mills seem to have thrived the most, not only when economic conditions were favourable, but when dynamic entrepreneurial partnerships between tenants and receivers were forged, in the 1780s and 1830s The extent to which the development and management of these mills is typical is, of course, a moot point. The existence of the Greenwich archive (1735-1872) suggests that this was an unusual landlord.

There are several other noteworthy features of this volume which commend it. The first is the seamless way in which the authors weave their local history into national trends. The arrival of steam power, and then railways, and the Corn Laws, all make their mark. Perhaps surprisingly the first effect of the railway was to deplete the water supply, as so much was extracted for watering locomotives! The effects of the ready supply of American corn, thanks to mechanical reaping, rail transport, steam ships and free trade, is well observed.

The extensive colour reproduction of original documents is a great asset to the book. Original maps, Smeaton's architectural plans, contracts, leases, and advertisements are provided. The technical drawings are especially useful for understanding the complexities of early industrial milling, which plays a significant role in the narrative. The appendices and glossary are helpful as is the extensive index.

Overall this is a highly commendable and readable piece of meticulous research, very well presented. While at times some of the detail included may be superfluous, it is nevertheless a story well worth telling, based on an exceptionally rich archive. It gives the reader access not only to a local record, but also to the wider social, technical, and economic history in which it is set. In that regard it is both exemplary writing and highly rewarding reading.

Gavin Matthews’ first degree was in history and politics, including British social and economic history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

4. MEN OF BERKHAMSTED: lest we forget by Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Service Show more → Show less ↓

(Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Service/Ludo Press 2017 190pp ISBN 978 1 9998555 1 2)

This volume is the companion to Berkhamsted in WW1, which has also been produced by the Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Service. It is devoted to the 237 men of that town who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War, and whose names are recorded on war memorials in seven places in the locality. This work sets out, in alphabetical order, the very extensive biographical details that have been uncovered from the research undertaken by the authors and it includes the names of the cemeteries in France and Belgium where most of these men have been interred.

This feature of the book will be of assistance to those surviving relatives who wish to make the journey to these places to pay their respects. Helpfully, the authors provide a timeline that will be of considerable benefit to the general reader who is perhaps not so familiar with the various battles, campaigns and the other events that occurred during the War, and this assists in putting them into context. Also provided is some useful information on the variety of resources that have been used to such good effect, which will benefit anyone gaining inspiration and perhaps wishing to follow up and carry out research into the service of their ancestors during the war.

5. CHIPPING BARNET WAR MEMORIAL: The Men on the Memorial – Who they were, where and when they fell in World War One by M.A. Noronha, J.G. Gale and D. Bird Show more → Show less ↓

(Barnet Museum & Local History Society 2015 86pp ISBN 978 1 910003 02 2); CHIPPING BARNET WAR MEMORIAL: The Men and Women on the Memorial – who they were, where and when they fell set in a timeline of world, national and local WW2 events by J.G. Gale and  M.A. Noronha (Barnet Museum & Local History Society 2017 162 pp ISBN 978 1 910003 03 9)

Chipping Barnet has a war memorial in the garden (formerly the graveyard) of the church of St John the Baptist in High Barnet, which was unveiled by Lord Byng of Vimy in April 1921.  Byng was Barnet-born, during his time as a general on the Western Front commanding the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge before going on to lead the Third Army in the Battle of Cambrai and thereafter during the successful Hundred Days Campaign of 1918.

The 275 men of the town who died during the First World War are listed on the memorial and the authors have carried out considerable research to supply extensive biographical details of these men.  Rather than listing these in alphabetical order, the details are set out chronologically according to the year of death, so there are chapters covering 1914 through to 1919/20.  Each is punctuated with information on the key events of that year. There were two men whose backgrounds make them noteworthy.  Francis Edward Crisp, second lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, who died on 5 January 1915 aged 41 years, was an artist and a Royal Academy gold medallist.  Oscar Horace Stanley Linkson, private in the Duke of Cambridge’s Own 17th (Sportsmen’s) Battalion, was a professional footballer who played for Barnet and then Manchester United.

The companion volume deals with the Second World War and follows a similar pattern in terms of the approach and organisation of material.  In total, 149 men and women who lost their lives in the Second World War are recorded on the memorial. It is notable that a number of civilians are listed, the majority of whom died in 1940 during air raids.  Among the dead of 1944 was a civilian victim of a V1 flying bomb, which presumably overshot its target in the City of London. This book illustrates the local trends in the fatalities of Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel, and is reflective of that nationally.  A significant number in 1941-4 were RAF bomber crews shot down during missions over Europe. The main losses of the Royal Navy occurred in 1941-3, during the Battle of the Atlantic.  For the British Army, there were geographical considerations, with the North African campaign of 1941-3, the Italian campaign of 1943-4, and the Far Eastern campaign of 1942-5 being discernible. One notable name is Albert Frederick Laver, corporal in the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment who was mentioned in despatches for his contribution to Operation Frankton in December 1942. This was an attack on German shipping in the French port of Bordeaux, carried out by Royal Marines using limpet mines, and immortalised in the 1955 film The ‘Cockleshell’ Heroes.

6. PUTNEY REMEMBERS THE MEN OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR: St Mary’s Roll of Honour by Maggie Jones, Sue Rolfe, Michael Bull and Dorian Gerhold Show more → Show less ↓

(Wandsworth Historical Society and Putney Society 2018 44pp ISBN 9780 9055121 39 0)

This volume pays tribute to the 343 Putney men who died during the First World War and are commemorated on the roll of honour in St Mary’s church, Putney.  It explains their stories and denotes their resting places in over a hundred cemeteries located across the world. A fund was set up for subscriptions in 1920, the completed memorial being unveiled in June 1921 by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson. As a former chief of the Imperial General Staff, ‘Wully’ Robertson was one of Britain’s foremost soldiers, yet had joined the 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers in 1877 aged just 17.  Promoted through the ranks by his own efforts, he remains unique as the only head of the army ever to rise from its lowest rank to its highest.

The majority of the work is devoted to pen portraits that set out the rank, regiment, battalion, medals awarded and where the men are buried.  Where known, details are provided of their families and occupations, and this offers the reader some sense of the social history of the area. Several men won the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but the most illustrious recipient for the town was Alan Arnett McLeod, a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.  He was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallant actions when his aeroplane was attacked by eight enemy aircraft, but he did not die in combat—as with so many in the year of the terrible pandemic, he succumbed to influenza aged only 19 years, on 6 November 1918, five days before the guns fell silent.

7. KEEPING THEIR BEACONS ALIGHT: The Potter Family of Barnsley and their service to our country by Jane Ainsworth Show more → Show less ↓

 (Helion & Co 2017 336pp ISBN 978 1 912390 36 6)

This interesting volume adopts a different style to that typically used by other works of social history concerned with the First World War. The chief focus is not directly on the locality (in this case the Yorkshire town of Barnsley) but on one family, the Potters, and some of the other local families who were connected to them. This network operated through either marriage or commerce since the Potters developed a successful business carrying out building work. This approach gives new perspective on how national events affected individuals and families.

In order to make the case that this family provided exemplary service to the country, the author makes good use of surviving letters, family photographs and a range of other primary sources to narrate the family’s story. The background from the late nineteenth century describes their transition from being bricklayers to masons and artisans, and then finally being in business themselves from 1907 as C.D. Potter & Sons, Builders. This allows the reader appreciate the social history of the town and to understand how some economic and social constraints were eventually overcome as the Potters became successful members of Barnsley Master Builders Association.

This book considers two of the four sons of the family—Francis, known as Frank, died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, aged 23 and Edwin (Eddie) on 17 July 1918 aged 19. The other sons, Harry and Alan, also served in the Army but were fortunate to survive the war. Prior to the war, Frank had moved to Birmingham to work in banking and when war broke out he enlisted with the 1/8th (Territorial Force) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.  During April 1915 he served on the western front and stated in a letter home that ‘We got some idea from the trenches of what our chaps have gone through during the winter and I am sure that the people at home haven’t the slightest idea of what they went through, and my admiration for them has gone up a lot’. Commissioned as second lieutenant in the 14th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment (2nd Barnsley Pals) in August 1915, he was sent to Egypt as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, before returning to France in late April 1916. Transferred to the 94th Brigade, he joined the Trench Mortar units (nicknamed the ‘suicide club’ since they were so often targeted by the enemy’s artillery) and received a fatal head wound when attempting to observe where his unit’s mortar shells were falling. Eddie enlisted in the army on 19 March 1917, aged 17, and on 1 April 1918 was posted to the 15th Battalion of the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment (the Sherwood Foresters), which was a part of 35th Division within General Hubert Gough’s 5th Army.  He died on 17 July 1918 when a shell fell on the dugout he was sharing with his comrades.

Paul Fantom graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2016 with a PhD in modern history and his thesis, ‘Community, patriotism and the working class in the First World War’, studied the home front in the Black Country town of Wednesbury. Having a long-standing interest in military and social history, he has published several articles on aspects of the First World War and is currently writing a book on the largely forgotten campaign of those units of the British Expeditionary Force remaining in France after the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, many of whom subsequently returned home via the further evacuations that were carried out.

8. A LOOK AT VILLAGE LIFE IN 1837 by Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group  Show more → Show less ↓

(Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group 2018) £5

The Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group has now supplemented some half a dozen heritage trails in the Kirby in Cleveland area of North Yorkshire and Cleveland with three more substantial illustrated surveys in A4 format, focusing upon the Great War, the year 1911 and, in their most recent publication under review, year 1837 in their three villages. Unfortunately, a typographical error at the outset inadvertently declares its purpose as providing ‘a glimpse of what life would have been like if you had lived in the first half of the eighteenth century’. However, the portrait of the young Queen Victoria on the cover confirms otherwise. There is a series of perceptive analyses of newspaper sources from early Victorian newspapers, together with a school accounts book from November 1832 to April 1843 and records of 48 payments for poor relief from contributions ranging from £13 from Robert Farrer, a landowner, down to ninepence, and encompassing a dozen contributors each paying sums of a shilling. For comparison purposes, their contributions are estimated at 1837-38 prices and those of 2018. There was a solitary contribution from the tithes, which are dealt with more fully in a later section examining tithe records from 1836-1845, illustrated with a section of the tithe map for Kirby and Dromonby. A footnote to the records of poor relief explains that at the end of 1838 the responsibility for the payments was taken away to the Stokesley Union which finished with a debt of £22 7s 6d, valued at around £16,000 in 2018. By the time of the 1841 census ‘only one person listed remained in Kirby and it is still unclear where they went’. Other sources considered are highway records, evidence of wages and prices, and census data from 1841, providing readers with an opportunity to understand some of the essential documents required for original local history research.

John A. Hargreaves is editor of the Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society and has edited the volume of the Wakefield court rolls for 1812-13. He is a retired teacher and currently a Visiting Research Fellow in History at the University of Huddersfield and an Associate of the Centre for Victorian Studies at Leeds Trinity University.