The books reviewed on-line for February 2014 are below:
(Centre for North-West Regional Studies, Lancaster University: Occasional Paper 59 2012 vii+110pp ISBN 978-1-86220-297-90) £14.95
Reviewed by John Sheail
The second half of the nineteenth century saw a major blossoming of study of natural history, both generally and more specifically in the southern Lake District, the contribution of three close friends and fellow-naturalists giving rise to the joking reference to the Three-Legged Society. Kendal Natural History Society in its current form was established at a meeting of 16 October 1885, with two of the three present, its purpose being to develop an understanding of the natural history of the area.
George Stabler and James M. Barnes, both of Levens, and Joseph A. Martindale of Staveley, were dedicated amateur naturalists who, individually and collectively, made significant contributions to natural history, especially of Westmorland and adjacent counties. Two were schoolmasters, and the other a retired customs officer. Each therefore had the income, status and free time to pursue his scientific studies with energy. One specialised in mosses and ferns, another in mosses and liverworts, and the other in lichens and vascular plants. Avid observers and collectors, they met regularly, and corresponded with the major taxonomic authorities. Together, they provide a fascinating study of the developing role and importance of the gifted and committed 'amateur' in the later Victorian period.
As the authors of this study write, their approach transcended the mere interest in the countryside, and frequently verged on the obsessive. Their detailed knowledge, coupled with their usually-rigorous scientific approach, often involving extensive collection of specimens in the field, provided both a more extensive and detailed understanding of natural history, and it may be said of local history. Most importantly, their researches have been recorded for posterity through their own publications, specimen collections, and manuscript data. While the failure of the Victoria History of the Counties of England to publish the relevant Westmorland volume, which was due to appear in 1903, was a grievous blow, the manuscript contributions of Martindale and Stabler have survived.
When such naturalists ranged beyond a mere listing of specimens, to explain the reasoning as to where, how and why they were to be found, and their significance, clues are afforded as to the character of such localities, and to the natural and man-induced processes at work. Others had come before. James Barnes, for example, edited the second edition of Linton's The Ferns of the English Lakes Country, but it was he who set about collecting and bringing into cultivation varieties of species taken predominantly from the limestone crags and woodlands of the southern Lake District and upland areas of Kentmere, Sleddale and Mardale. Joseph Martindale, in tracing the distribution of both the higher and lower plants of his adopted county, recognised the effect of the various drainage basins, and impacts of local geology and physiography.
Such naturalists were among the most acute observers of a locality. All manner of detail may be caught up in their observations, and yet there are pitifully few local historical studies drawing upon such expert guidance to the countryside, of the kind attempted in chapter 30 of the Agrarian History of England and Wales, Volume VII, 1880-1914 (pages 1618-1640). The authors' goal, in this instance, has been to bring the respective achievements of three such naturalists to wider notice. The funding bodies behind this attractively-produced publication are to be congratulated on the appearance of such insight into the material and intellectual worlds of these three local figures of the southern Lake District, providing a much-needed corrective to the impression so commonly obtained that any developments of artistic and scientific worth must necessarily have arisen within Oxbridge, London, or at least one of the major Victorian provincial centres.
John Sheail is a Research Fellow of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Natural Environment Research Council).
(Y Lolfa Cyf, 2012 258pp ISBN: 9781847714152) £12.95
Reviewed by Maggie Escott
This is one of several sound and well-written local studies, printed and marketed on behalf of their authors by the Talybont (Ceredigion) publishing company Y Lolfa (established 1967). The work of a retired lecturer who lived and taught locally for many years, it offers a wide-ranging overview and detailed accounts of the parish and village of St Nicholas, in the Vale of Glamorgan, from its megalithic origins at Tinkinswood c 4000 BC to the twentieth century, when it struggled to avoid incorporation into the suburban sprawl of the nearby city of Cardiff. This is not a coffee-table book-the quality of the illustrations and selected paper and page size precludes this-but it is a much needed and readily available update to Charles Shepherd's increasingly rare 1934 publication St. Nicholas A Historical Survey of a Glamorganshire Parish. As such, it is of interest to all who live in or have connections with the locality; and to others undertaking or considering publishing similar research. Indeed, the last mentioned group can profit from the volume's strengths and its weaknesses. For although accurate, informative and well written, this is a book that often reads more like a series of small local and family history projects rushed into print, than a carefully planned, compiled and indexed village history.
The text is presented as eleven thematic chapters prefaced by a brief introduction and sketch-map of the contemporary village and appended by 'traditional recipes'; the author's 'afterthought'; a list of sources; and acknowledgements. Chapter one provides a historical and historiographical account of the parish, including population statistics and details of key events that impacted on its history, such as the Civil War battle of St Fagans (1648). Communications (roads and lanes) within the parish are described and three chapters devoted to the major houses and farms of the parish and village. These record, where possible, architectural details together with information about the individuals and families who owned and occupied properties. Changes in local government and governance are also discussed. Chronological flow is, however, lost as the narrative jumps from source to source and between properties and families. Nevertheless, useful information is supplied about the church, chapel, post office and distinctive dwellings, such as the buttressed cottages of Smith's Row, dating from the 1620s, whose occupants dominate the book's later chapters. The account of the sixteenth century mansion of Dyffryn House, demolished and replaced in 1891 by its new owner the industrialist John Cory, also enlivens the book and serves as an introduction to the author's primary research into the planned 'model' village and new town of Glyn Cory.
Five of the next seven chapters are devoted to the genealogy and the family histories of local notables and villagers. Possibly invaluably, here Walklate incorporates oral history evidence contributed by residents of Smith's Row. The book thus becomes as innovative as its subjects, among whom we find the Wright family, designers of agricultural machinery. Interspersed among these chapters, those on the vestry and the lay subsidy returns and hearth tax returns provide detailed accounts of these sources long after their first use. This arrangement of subject matter is difficult to justify. So too is Walklate's decision to devote space to demographic data and transcriptions of parish records that are readily available on-line, while paying little heed to the folklore and traditions associated with St Nicholas's lanes and burial mounds, that interested Shepherd and of which few accounts remain. Neil Walklate's achievement is to ensure that the history of the buildings and families of St Nicholas survive and that reminiscences of the village as a cohesive self-contained community capable of sustaining a blacksmith, butcher, carpenter, grocer, innkeeper, policeman, postman, saddler, shoemaker, tailor and wheelwright, who lived and worked locally, are not lost.
Maggie Escott is an honorary research fellow of Swansea University and the History of Parliament, where she was a major contributor to The House of Commons, 1820-1832edited by D.R. Fisher and published in 2009, in which she wrote the survey chapters on Wales and the on the procedure and business of the House. Her other publications include chapters and articles on the parliamentary representation of Cardiganshire and Gwent and the abolition of the Welsh judicature.
THE HOME FRONT A guide for family historians by Stuart A. Raymond (Family History Partnership 2012 64pp ISBN 978 1 906280 37 6) £5.95;
TITLE DEEDS FOR FAMILY HISTORIANS byTim Wormleighton (Family History Partnership 2012 32pp ISBN 978 1 906280 35 2) £4.95;
ARCTIC ADVENTURER by Rob Ellis (Highgate Publications 2012 ISBN 978 1 902645 58 2) £9.95;
BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS by Robert J. Parker (Amberley 2013 128pp ISBN 978 1 4456 1021 4) £9.99;
EVACUEES Growing up in wartime Britain by Geoffrey Lee Williams (Amberley 2013 158pp ISBN 978 14456 1334 5) £9.99;
JEWISH LIVES Britain 1750-1950 by Melody Amsel-Arieli (Pen & Sword 2013 175pp ISBN 978 1 84884 411 7) £12.99;
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN JUBA PAGE KENNERLEY by Keith Bailey(Scotforth Books 128pp 2013 ISBN 978 1 904224 92 1) £12;
TRACING YOUR WEST COUNTRY ANCESTORS by Kirsty Gray (Pen & Sword 2013 179pp ISBN 978 1 84884 783 5) £14.99
Reviewed by Evelyn Lord
The eight books reviewed here have things in common. First, their size-five of them are only 21x14 cm, but that does not detract from their content. Three are written primarily for family historians but are also of interest to local historians, while others are about people and some contribute to our knowledge of local history and community. Title deeds for family historians is a description of the types of title deeds that exist, what they look like and what they contain and tell us. However, it does not give any help on handling them (which can sometimes very difficult when these are tightly rolled or folded) or, more importantly, how to read them, apart from books mentioned in further reading. This is a significant omission and anyone embarking upon using title deeds might well fare better elsewhere. The Home Front 1939-45 A guide for family historians is also a description of sources, but without examples. Most of the locations given for the documents are websites or national institutions, whereas local sources such as the minutes of parish invasion committees or county War Agricultural Executives Committees will probably be of more interest to local historians. Tracing your West Country ancestors starts by introducing the region, and its characteristics, but does not get down to the sources available until chapter 8. This seems like a structural and marketing mistake, as who is going to buy the book simply on suspicion that they might have West Country forebears? But it is a worthy and valuable book with references and a bibliography, which should encourage family historians to start or continue with their research. Jewish Lives 1750-1950 is part of the series 'How Your Ancestors Lived'. It contains the stories of 10 Jews who left places of persecution to come to Britain. The records used to research these lives are given in detail, and each life has a comprehensive bibliography, so this is a reference book as well as a series of biographies. It would have been useful to have had a conclusion which draws some of the lines together, to see if there was anything in common between the subjects, such as where they went on arrival and why.
Two complementary books about adventurers start the section on people. The life and times of Captain Juba Page Kennerley follows the exciting and interesting life of this Liverpudlian merchant sea captain (1842-1914). His adventures included blockade-running in the American Civil War, and voyages to Australasia. In breaks on shore he managed to marry three times, including one bigamous marriage, and produce at least ten children. Sadly he died a pauper in the City of Westminster Infirmary. Based on primary sources, many of which are reproduced in the book, this is an account of a colourful but flawed individual. Arctic Adventurer is the first-hand recollections of Rob Ellis's time on an Arctic trawler out of Hull, and his life on shore. This is a very personal memoir, with no holds barred, which illustrates the dangers of life at sea and the highs and lows of being on shore. Perhaps British Prime Ministers could also be called adventurers. Robert J. Parker gives a chronological account of their lives, starting with Sir Robert Walpole and ending with David Cameron. Evacuees growing up in wartime Britain is [yet] another book of wartime memories, based on the personal recollections of Geoffrey Lee Williams who describes the upheaval of evacuation from Blackheath at the beginning of the war, a return home, and re-evacuation. The varied nature of the books in this review is evidence that the printed word is alive and well, while prophesies of doom that the days of the book are ended are premature.
Evelyn Lord has been Reviews Editor of The Local Historian since 2005.
Victoria County History of Northamptonshire vol.7 CORBY AND GREAT OAKLEY edited by Mark Page and Matthew Bristow (Boydell/Institute of Historical Research 2013 xiv+248pp ISBN 978 1 90435 637 0) £95
Reviewed by Barrie Trinder
This unusual volume of the Victoria County History concerns Corby in northern Northamptonshire, a place that had a moment of national attention in November 2012 when a parliamentary by-election took place there, during which some members of the Westminster political village unashamedly declared that they did not know where it was. Corby is nevertheless a place whose history reveals much about the society in which we live. Most of the significant historical issues raised in this volume relate to the twentieth century, to the establishment of the Stewart & Lloyds steelworks in 1932-34, the growth of the communities where its workers lived, and the social and economic consequences of the cessation of steelmaking in 1980. The volume deals with the ancient parishes of Corby and Great Oakley, separately until the third quarter of the twentieth century and subsequently together, after the latter had effectively become part of the town that surrounded the Corby steelworks. Corby was the centre of an ancient hundred whose other parishes are to be treated in two further VCH volumes.
Historically Corby was an open parish. Its landlords were absentees and many of its inhabitants owed their livelihoods to the exercise of rights in Rockingham Forest. The community was, over many centuries, open to migrants. Its population in the mid-nineteenth century included many craftsmen, while its women, like several thousand others in Northamptonshire and neighbouring counties, were involved in pillow lace-making. Great Oakley's landowners, by contrast, were constantly present, and the growth of the village was always subject to their control. The open fields of that parish were inclosed by consent in 1784, while those in Corby were inclosed by Act of Parliament in 1831, after which Rockingham Forest was inclosed in 1837.
The construction of the Midland Railway's route from Kettering through Corby to Manton, planned as an alternative route between Nottingham and St Pancras for both passengers and coal, was important in many respects. Its construction revealed substantial deposits of ironstone that were readily accessible. The volume shows the significance of the line as the subject of one of the best accounts of the living conditions of those who built railways, D.W. Barrett's Life and Work among the Navvies, first published in 1880. It could also have stressed that the route was perhaps the first large scale railway construction project in Britain that employed steam excavators and high explosives, both having been pioneered in building the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts.
Iron-making in bloomery furnaces had ceased in the region by the end of the fifteenth century, but the display of specimens in the Great Exhibition revived interest in Northamptonshire iron ore. In 1881 the ironmaster Samuel Lloyd (1827-1918) began quarrying on lands of the Earls of Cardigan where the railway had revealed ironstone deposits. His company used mechanical excavators from 1895 and employed 250 people by 1906. From the 1850s some quarry operators in Northamptonshire had smelted the ore they extracted, and their example was followed by the Lloyds Ironstone Co which operated two furnaces alongside the railway at Corby from 1910-1911. A third was added by the Ministry of Munitions during the First World War. This expansion was matched by the growth of Corby's population. There were 186 houses in the village in 1851, 174 in 1871 and 406 in 1931.
In 1932 the tube-manufacturing company Stewart & Lloyds decided to concentrate many of their operations at Corby, to rebuild the three blast furnaces and add another, to construct a plant to make steel by the Bessemer process, and to establish tube mills that enabled the closure of mills in Scotland and the West Midlands. In the circumstances of the 1930s, when a substantial proportion of British iron was made with native ores, when coal could readily be supplied to Corby by rail, and when many of the markets for steel tubes were in southern England, this was a logical development. The new enterprise prospered and employed 4000 people by 1939. Production was increased during the Second World War, and methods of steelmaking were subsequently changed. Some steel was produced in electric furnaces from 1946 until 1980, and from 1948 some was made in two 100-ton open hearth furnaces. From the mid-1960s Bessemer and open hearth steelmaking ceased and were superseded by a Basic Oxygen plant whose installation gave cause for confidence in the future of the works. House-building proceeded rapidly in the post-war period, and numerous examples of the non-traditional, system-built dwellings of that period can still be seen. The growth of the community between 1950 and 1980 was shaped by a Development Corporation established under the New Towns Act of 1946.
The opening of the steelworks was followed by waves of immigration from many parts of Britain but above all from Scotland, and Corby became an island of Scottish culture in the depths of the English Midlands. The Church of Scotland established places of worship dedicated to St Andrew and St Ninian, supporters clubs were established for Celtic and Rangers, there were Highland gatherings, pipe and flute bands and Orange lodges. In the post-war period supermarkets made substantial sales of haggis and Irn Bru, and for a time in 2003 Asda displayed signs in Gaelic, although there were scarcely any Gaelic speakers in Corby. The Scots were not the only immigrants. In the 1930s skilled personnel were brought to the tube mills from Germany and the United States, and after 1945 many people from Eastern Europe settled in the area, some of whom were accommodated until 1957 in huts once used for prisoners of war. Evidence of more recent migration is provided by the establishment of Latvian, Serbian and Romanian Orthodox, Zimbabwean Pentecostal and Polish-speaking Roman Catholic congregations.
It was forecast in 1971 that steel-making at Corby would continue 'at least for the rest of the present decade', a statement which contained the germ of a threat to its future, but the announcement in 1980 that the blast furnaces and steel plant would close with the loss of 5600 jobs, leaving only the tube mills, using steel from Teesside, was nevertheless a profound shock to the community. The volume describes Corby's remarkable recovery very well. Before 1980 the unemployment rate in the area averaged 6.6 per cent, close to the national average. It rose to 27 per cent in the autumn of 1980, but by 1990 again approximated to the national average. The area enjoyed Assisted Area status within the European Union from 1979, and Enterprise Zones were designated from 1981. The industrial base was broadened, Corby became a borough in 1993, and regular passenger train services were restored in 2009. The proposals for a theme park called Wonderworld which would have occupied a thousand acres of land once used by the steelworks are well described. Promoted in 1982 and abandoned in 1993, the project was endorsed by a clutch of celebrities and promised no less than 28,000 jobs. The account would have been improved had Wonderworld been placed more firmly in the context of the 1980s when there were numerous proposals for job-creating theme parks. Given the fates of Britannia Park at Shipley and the Earth Centre at Conisbrough, which were built and quickly closed, it is perhaps fortunate for Corby that Wonderworld never materialised.
This volume matches the usual standards of production of the Victoria County History, with high quality maps and plans and an efficient index. Output figures from the steelworks are meticulously tabulated. The descriptions of technology, particularly of the complex Basic Oxygen process, are sound, but some explanation of the methods of tube-making which necessitated the importation of skilled workers from overseas would have been appropriate. The bibliography omits the standard work by Sir Frederick Scopes, The Development of Corby Works (Steward & Lloyds, 1968), which is quoted in the text, although it does list two of his articles. The foreword shows that this volume has been produced on a shoestring, with some research done under contract, some tasks undertaken at the VCH national office, and some done by volunteers. The most significant achievement of the volume is that it shows how this unusual twentieth-century community was shaped in part by its inheritance as an open community from the distant past. This is scholarship that matches the highest standards of the volumes produced by the long-serving county editors of past generations.
Barrie Trinder lives on the border of Northamptonshire and has written extensively on urban and industrial history. His Britain's Industrial Revolution: the Making of a Manufacturing People was published by Carnegie in 2013.
Victoria County History of Staffordshire vol.11 AUDLEY, KEELE AND TRENTHAMedited by Nigel Tringham (Boydell/Institute of Historical Research 2013.ISBN 978 904356 417) £90
Reviewed by Paul Anderton
You will; have seen the undulating country covered in the latest volume of the Victoria County History of Staffordshire when driving along the M6, passing or calling in at Keele Services. Six parishes wrap scarf-like around the north-west shoulders of the Newcastle under Lyme and Potteries conurbation, butting up against the borders of Cheshire and Shropshire. Four, lying contiguously (Audley, Betley with Balterley, Madeley and Keele), have been selected for the VCH 'red book' treatment and set alongside a fifth, the parish of Trentham, placed as a belt immediately south of the urbanised region. The excluded parishes of Biddulph, Wolstanton and Whitmore must wait their turn.
Underlying all is an A-shaped coalfield, faulted and outcropping along its western leg mainly in Audley and Madeley parishes, and in the south, between the legs, accessible only to deep mines in Trentham. The dominating topographical feature is a gap which cuts through the ridge that separates the Midland and Cheshire plains, exploited in the 1830s for the first main railway line and in the 1960s by the M6. For outsiders, the principal interest in the area lies in the notorious motorway and what are now the largest employers in the region, Keele University and the Trentham Estate, more commonly known as Trentham Gardens. Behind the latter lie centuries of ecclesiastical ownership followed by lengthy family histories, in one case climaxing in that 'Leviathan of wealth', the Duke of Sutherland. Only Trentham and Betley, with its adjunct Balterley, a Staffordshire township in a Cheshire parish, were relatively unmarked by extractive industrial activity even in the nineteenth century. Agriculture was the dominant force in the region's economy until the late eighteenth century. Cheese production, surprisingly not much mentioned here outside Madeley, is likely to have been the main commercial activity. Audley parish contrasted with its neighbours in having the only two castle sites, a marked splitting up of medieval estates among freeholders in the first part of the seventeenth century, early and substantial interests in coal and ironstone mining, and a late coalescence of properties into the hands of a three major landowners as industrial activity gathered pace in the early nineteenth century. Keele and Trentham were each the domains of one family post-monastic dissolution, and Betley came to have rival social leaders in the eighteenth century.
For the native local historians Dr Nigel Tringham's assemblage of historical information, excellently illustrated, with clear, highly informative maps and attractively styled text is manna from heaven. This volume is a scholarly tour de force, working within the well-known VCH formula, filleting all that has been published about the five parishes, with huge supplements of original work drawing on vast, rich collections of estate and public papers held at Keele University, the County Record Office, Stoke-on-Trent City Archives and the William Salt Library. This is not to underestimate searches done at Kew and other archive offices, but rather to highlight the immeasurable wealth of information held locally, and the importance of continuing to fund provincial archive services. Nigel Tringham rescues the Cradock family in Audley from obscurity using the Aqualate Papers, and he incorporates work by Dr Pamela Sambrook on the Sutherland Collection to give an entirely different dimension to the standard treatment of Trentham Hall as a ducal palace. Lengthy analyses of the social and economic facets of servants' quarters have not hitherto been outstanding features of VCH volumes. Church music and the role of psalm singers is another addition to the religious sections of the VCH rubric noticeable here. Dr Tringham even allows himself, just occasionally, to comment on a clergyman's location on the High Church-Low Church spectrum! All the usual descents of property rights and sequences of office holders (manors, estates, advowsons, farms, teaching posts, for example) are fluently and succinctly recited here in the expected detail. The historian's eye for a revealing anecdote is very evident - as when two early eighteenth century Audley miners threw picks for a wager and one killed a passer-by. The wishes of Sir John Offley in 1645 to be carried to his elaborate tomb in a befitting style, in a coach drawn by six horses accompanied by black gowned paupers, say much about the man's character. Dr Tringham doubts that his heir was moved to obey.
A feature of this volume is a change in tone from previous VCH histories. There is a stronger narrative resonance within the rigid subdivisions of topography, settlement, landholding, economy, social and religious history. True, the architectural accounts of churches are accompanied with meticulous plans, and building histories remain prominent. Social sections go further down the social scale, however; community activities are given attention and individuals worth naming, even if not given biographical treatment, show an awareness of a world outside the ranks of gentry and property holders. Ada Neild Chew of Audley would merit a few words more. Politics are still forbidden, nevertheless, despite vestries serving as arenas for power struggles. Interest in the poor ceases once Poor Law unions were established and local boards of various kinds are not seen as centres of authority liable to be challenged. The ancient parish is the focus, the built environment foregrounded and property rights traced and disentangled with skill.
Meticulous footnoting is of the greatest help to future scholars and a most pleasing feature is the way Dr Tringham has utilised the work of current historians researching locally, such as Sue Gregory, Graham Bebbington, Andrew Dobraszczyc, Mavis Smith, Philip Leese, alongside the contributors to the Audley Historian (edited by Ian Bailey). Colleagues at Keele, even those publishing privately, have numerous publications fully acknowledged. Indeed, it has been a marked characteristic of Staffordshire VCH volumes that they are firmly based upon the effective extraction of data from all the available literature, although Christopher Harrison's A Bibliography of the History of Staffordshiresurely deserves a mention.
In effect, those wishing to explore this stretch of country have a map of its past spread before them serving as a guide to an innumerable series of potential histories amplifying and elucidating the whys and wherefores behind the complex economic and social changes factually enumerated here. This was the country of the Sneyds, the Leveson-Gowers, the Fenton Fletcher Bougheys, Cradock, Heathcote, Offleys and Crewes, Tollets, all as landowners and power brokers. It was also the country of industrialised hamlet and village settlements, widely scattered; centred on coal and ironstone mines, forges, clay pits; an archipelago of semi-urban congregations in an agricultural sea of farms and small holdings. Medieval markets and fairs were started, but failed to inaugurate urban growth. The breakup and disappearance of the huge landed estates, the closure of the mines and iron works, the introduction of local authority housing and substantial concentrations of commercially built homes, the impact of the motor vehicle on social networks and family life, quite apart from the cultural changes wrought by the collapse of church going habits, the building of cinemas and the dissemination of television sets are all subjects of historical significance in this area as in many others. Indeed, the destruction of the ancient parish itself as an administrative unit requires explanation. Dr Tringham, in laying out the foundations, has set a standard of scholarship, displayed a comprehensive grasp of the width and depth of information available to local and family historians, and provided such a wealth of material on which other historians can now build that it is impossible to fully express admiration and gratitude.
Paul Anderton, a member of the North Staffordshire Historians' Guild, was formerly senior lecturer in history at North Staffordshire Polytechnic and associate lecturer at Keele University. He is the author of books on Leek, Staffordshire, and Whitchurch in Shropshire, and is currently working on Volunteer Infantry Corps 1803-14 in South Cheshire and North Staffordshire, and Boards of Guardians' correspondence in the Potteries.