August 2015 Reviews



THE REVEREND DR THOMAS SEDGWICK WHALLEY AND THE QUEEN OF BATH: a true story of Georgian England at the time of Jane Austen by Chris Stephens (Candy Jar Books 2014 438pp ISBN 9787-0-9928607-6-9) £9.99

Candy Jar Books is a newly-established independent publisher. The Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley is nicely but inexpensively produced in small paperback format, with 438 pages including six appendices, and an index of proper names; it has a pleasantly clear typeface but the illustrations are not to the same standard.

The book is a compendium of all the information which its diligent author has collected (over a ten-year period) that bears, however remotely, on the family or acquaintances of Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley. Some information is in the form of lists, family trees and extensive transcripts. The search for the story of this man of social pretensions began when the author found that the drystone wall which he was helping to restore around Dolebury Warren Wood, North Somerset, was part of a small estate belonging to Whalley.

The first chapter is a summary of social trends which might set the man in his period. Such topics as the industrial revolution, education, evangelicalism, Europe and beyond pose a number of historical questions. Chapter two introduces the reader to the parents of the subject: his father, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, died while his children were very young, and his mother was the daughter of a canon and chancellor of Wells cathedral who in her widowhood lived in Wells with her children and attained a remarkable age. With such a background, Thomas Sedgwick Whalley was likely to be bookish. He graduated from Cambridge, was ordained and was presented with a living in Lincolnshire and paid a curate to take care of it.

Marriage with a widow who was the lifetime owner of an estate, Langford Court, brought him modest wealth. After her death he inherited the estate, though not without moral doubts about breaking the entail. Probably on Langford Court land he built a cottage, Mendip Lodge, which he progressively enlarged until he could no longer afford to maintain it. A second marriage ended very quickly to the relief of both parties. Thereafter his life was spent staying in the houses of friends and relatives, and travelling. He moved about searching for company and also for better health, though he lived into his 83rd year. He wrote poetry, and tried his hand at writing plays (Mrs Siddons had to tell him that one of his efforts was absolutely impossible).

At each stage in his life, incidental information is presented concerning the people he or his friends and relations came across, and the lack of focus makes this a difficult read. The Jane Austen connection is tenuous, based on the conjunction of her time in Bath with Whalley’s, and their common acquaintances. The ‘Queen of Bath’, Frances Sage, is centre stage for only a short period. She was the daughter of Whalley’s favourite sister, and after her mother’s death she lived with him and his wife for a few years. Beautiful and accomplished, at the age of 19 she was a great flirt, and acquired a low reputation.  Her first husband divorced her, her second marriage was impoverished. Whalley continued to support her through thick and thin. A picture of contemporary society can be drawn from these and other events but it needs a keen genealogist or devoted local historian to find it.


Anthea Jones was head of history and director of studies at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. She is the author of Tewkesbury (1987), The Cotswolds (1994), A thousand years of the English Parish (2000), and Cheltenham: a new history (2010). She has been leading an ambitious project to transcribe and publish on-line the Gloucestershire material of the Lloyd George survey of land values, as was required by the Finance Act 1909-1910.

2. Tickhill Discover its past by Sarah Holland Show more → Show less ↓

TICKHILL Discover its past by Carol Hill with Tickhill and District Local History Society (Tickhill and District LHS 2014 xvi+332pp no ISBN) £20: on sale in the village and via the website of Tickhill and District Local History Society

Tickhill, approximately 8 miles from Doncaster, is a settlement that has received the continued interest of historians and local history groups. This publication draws upon the legacy of those previous works, yet also presents the newer research of the author and the local history society. The title is very apt, as the book provides a portal through which to uncover the history behind its modern veneer, and to make discoveries. It begins with a chronological overview of the origins and development of Tickhill, a framework which informs the rest of the book by providing a brief history of the settlement. The remaining thematic chapters follow a chronological structure, with the addition of case studies.

Although little survives today, Tickhill Castle is of the utmost importance in any study of Tickhill. It was crucial to the development of a medieval planned town, and the reader is left in no doubt about the intrinsic link between the development of the castle and of Tickhill itself. Subsequent chapters explore diverse themes including trade and commerce, farming, industry, housing, worship and education, public health and leisure. Particular strengths include the use of case studies, engaging illustrative material and links between historic and modern Tickhill. The latter is particularly evident through familiar trading names and their historic legacy; the study of domestic housing in order to chart Tickhill’s changing fortunes; and links between the present layout of the settlement and the medieval burgage plots.

Inevitably the scope of the book presents challenges. At times one senses that only the surface is being scratched or that the complexities of history are being oversimplified. While every chapter has its own bibliography, at times it would be nice to have clearly referenced links throughout in order to delve deeper into some of themes. Such quibbles do not detract from the book’s overall aim of engaging people with the history of Tickhill, and indeed from the fact that this book is the culmination of further research undertaken by the society but not published here.

This is a well-produced publication. It is lavishly illustrated but not at the detriment to the written content, and significantly the old photographs are largely previously unpublished. They really bring the stories of Tickhill alive. It is a very accessible publication, reflected in the way in which it has been written and the content. A strong sense of local community is present through the text and illustrations. It will inevitably be of particular interest to those with connections and a specific interest in Tickhill but may well be of interest to those further afield, serving as a case study of the evolution of a medieval planned town for a wider audience.


Sarah Holland is associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and tutor with the Workers’ Educational Association. Her research interests focus on the development of rural communities, knowledge networks, the relationship between town and country, and hiring fairs. She has also undertaken research into educational and cultural impact, and mental health and wellbeing. 

3. The Toll-houses of Staffordshire by Keith Lawrence Show more → Show less ↓

THE TOLL-HOUSES OF STAFFORDSHIRE by Tim Jenkinson and Patrick Taylor (Polystar Press 2014 148pp ISBN 978 1 907154 07 2) £9.95

This book is part of a series which started with a volume on Cornwall by Patrick Taylor in 2001, in conjunction with the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies. That set the pattern for the introductory chapters covering the history of the turnpike era and the layout of data regarding tollhouses. This format has now been used in similar books under the authorship of Patrick Taylor for Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, in combination with Tim Jenkinson for North Devon and South Devon as well as Staffordshire, and in conjunction with Janet Dowding for Somerset. They are not alone: a sudden flourishing of books on tollhouses included others by Robert Haynes and Ivor Slocombe covering Wiltshire, while Michael and Audrey Ward produced a book entitled The Toll House. One can search on-line for tollhouses in flickr and as well as Tim Jenkinson’s site supporting his recent publication there are now hundreds of pictures of toll houses; a website; and on Alan Rosevear’s site there are extensive lists of tollhouses, tollbridges and toll collectors as well as photographic collections including the ‘Images of England Project’. The data in the books is freely available on the web and the photographs are larger, in focus and in glorious colour ... so do the books add anything extra?

Publications of record have a long history derived from the antiquarian interest in the relics of the past. This book is simply that: a list of relics of the past. However, the effort involved in finding the sites of the gates and visiting and recording the remaining tollhouses is to be admired, and the tentative step towards an historic narrative with the introduction and the inclusion of some census findings is to be encouraged. However the inclusion of canal tollhouses does require an addition to the introduction, since their operation was quite differently to the turnpike gates. This book, like others in the series, will be of interest to the enquiring local and perhaps to the historian looking to frame research questions.

But remember that the tollhouse is not just a relic of the past. In Staffordshire tollgates usually had a home with a family that had to interact with the local populace, and we know of one tollhouse that was used as a school. Tollgates were not fixed, but were movable assets. Trusts might buy land and build a new house, while in Wales and elsewhere gates were the target of the rioting. At New Mills in Derbyshire local people celebrated the end of the local turnpike trust by tearing down the tollhouses and burning the gates. Emotions swirled around the tollhouses—but that is missing from an annotated list.


Keith Lawrence was a veterinary surgeon and has a PhD in Ecology. Local history, especially the turnpike road network, was a constant interest. After early retirement and a return to university, he obtained an MA in History at Keele and developed his research on turnpike toll collectors: he is particularly interested in the people of the turnpikes, both users and officials. His article on turnpike collectors in nineteenth-century census returns is published in the July 2015 issue of The Local Historian.

4. Luck to Levens by Margaret E Shepherd Show more → Show less ↓

LUCK TO LEVENS Glimpses of a Westmorland parish and its inhabitants through time by Stephen Read, Ian Hodkinson, Geoffrey Cook, Allan Steward and Gillian Wood (Levens Local History Group, Kendal 2014 180pp and loose map ISBN 978-0-9931122-0-1) £10 inc p&p: only available from

The parish of Levens, in South Westmorland (now Cumbria) was perhaps more familiar years ago, before the M6 opened, because of the crossing of the river Kent at Levens Bridge than for its constituent hamlets of Beathwaite Green, Cotes and Causeway End. The name Levens refers to its location on a headland between the rivers Gilpin and Kent before they merge and flow into Morecambe Bay.  In an area prone to flooding this was a necessary and well-chosen site.             The aim of the authors was to produce a book which would give an account of the history of the parish through the medium of photography with added text. Its scope ranges from prehistory, via the Domesday Book of 1086, to the present day. Not only are the photographs informative in themselves but the text describes, explains and gives detailed background information. The loose map enclosed with the book is marked with location references for the photographs. With a paperback published at a reasonable price it is perhaps too much to have expected that a ‘pocket’ could have been provided within the cover in which to keep the map safe, but that would have made its eventual loss less likely.

The chapters are arranged by theme such as highways and byways; Levens folk at work and play; fairs, fetes and fantasies; and working the land. Wherever a reference to the subject of the photograph appears elsewhere in the book a chapter number and page identifier is given. For example, on page 13 the text accompanying the picture of Lower Hutton Lane in about 1900 contains six references later in the book which have relevance.

This is an excellent and exemplary volume of local history told through photographs with accompanying text which, as well as setting the pictures in context, provides the reader with much more than the glimpses of the history of the parish which the title suggests. The Levens Local History Group is to be congratulated on producing such an interesting and rewarding book.


Margaret E. Shepherd is an emeritus fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She is 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).