January 2015 Reviews


1. Appleby Fire Brigade 1879-1909 (Clowes) by Margaret Shepherd Show more → Show less ↓

APPLEBY FIRE BRIGADE 1879-1909 Johnny Rigg and the first firemen of Appleby by Maggie Clowes       
(Hayloft Publishing 2014 56pp ISBN 978 1 90452499 1) £7.50

Maggie Clowes has based this small book on research by the late Graham Coles. The principal sources are the scrapbooks and family papers of the Whitehead and Heelis families, supplemented by information which the author has found in local newspapers. John Rigg, the central character in the book and a founder member of the fire brigade also served the community as a JP, county councillor and mayor of the borough of Appleby (Westmorland). He was involved in the creation of the brigade and served as its captain for 27 years.

From the beginning of the eighteenth century the government required every parish to provide itself with a means of fighting fires, usually informally using volunteers. After several fires in Appleby in the mid-century pressure grew to provide the ‘ancient borough of St Lawrence’ with a fire engine. The population of Appleby, even in 1881, was fewer than 1500 and only 2900 if the adjoining parish of Bongate was included. In 1879 Sir Henry Tufton, the lord of the manor, paid for a fire engine to serve the town and neighbouring outlying villages. Volunteers were recruited, helmets were bought in 1883, and by 1890 the volunteer brigade had a full uniform. The book reveals the continuing involvement of the Rigg family and describes a number of fire incidents to which the Appleby fire fighters were called. A fire station was opened in 1901 and in 1926 responsibility for the brigade was transferred from the borough to Westmorland County Council.

The book is well presented, with nineteen photographs and other illustrations. The text (32 pages) describes how a fully-equipped volunteer brigade was formed in the small county town of Westmorland. It will be of interest to local people and others interested in the history of Westmorland and the Appleby area in particular. It may also contribute to the more general history of fire fighting in the nineteenth century.


Margaret 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 (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2003) and Across the Oceans: emigration from Cumberland and Westmorland before 1914 (Bookcase, 2011).

2. Kirkby in Cleveland (KGBIG Local History Group) by Diana Dixon Show more → Show less ↓

KIRKBY IN CLEVELAND: a look at village life in the year 1911 (Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greenhow Local History Group 2012 2nd edn. 2013 xx+45pp) £5 from KGBIG Local History Group. c/o Jackie Cove-Smith, Kirby House, Hill Road, Kirkby in Cleveland, North Yorkshire TS9 7AN

Nine individuals from widely different social and economic backgrounds were chosen from the 1911 census returns to provide a snapshot of village life in this area of the North Riding 1911. At that time Kirkby in Cleveland, situated at the foot of the Cleveland Hills, was a predominantly agricultural community. In 1995 the parish council decided that Kirby should become Kirkby. Both forms of the name are used in this publication.

Each of the chosen individuals was researched by a member of the Local History Group using information from the census as a starting point. Three facsimile pages of the original enumerators’ books set the scene. The census details for each of the 56 dwellings and 246 individuals have been painstakingly transcribed and form a substantial part of the booklet. Particularly welcome is the final column of comments which adds additional information, fleshing out details on such matters as the number of children born later, details of the death and burial of individuals, or the number of rooms in a property. The second half of the booklet begins with a helpful summary analysis of the findings of the census. This makes interesting reading and gives details, for instance, of the seven railway workers who lived at the long defunct railway station as well as the fact that most of the population was involved in agriculture.

Where the book really scores is in its portrayal of the selected individuals. Selection was judicious and reflects old and young, including both those of independent means and representatives from a wide range of occupations. For instance, relying on extracts from the diary of a thirteen-year-old girl, we see how the well-to-do passed their time. In contrast, the story of a servant is less privileged and her story and that of her brother are followed up until the 1950s. Publicans, postmen and railway porters also feature.

In almost every case, the text is well supported with pictures (either of the individuals themselves or of their houses). A personal minor cavil is that superimposed text on pictures slightly reduces legibility, but this is a matter of taste. Nonetheless, a professional designer was employed to make this attractive little booklet. At £5 it represents excellent value for money. It is an excellent example of what can be achieved through enthusiasm for the subject and genuine cooperation, as a collaborative project by a relatively small local history group. It is both competently executed and beautifully produced. The result is a delightful snapshot of life in a small village before the First World War.


Diana Dixon is a member of the committee of the CILIP Local Studies Group and has a particular interest in the history of the British provincial newspaper. She also serves on the Publishing Committee of the British Association for Local History. She lectured at the College of Librarianship Aberystwyth and Loughborough University before becoming curator of Southwold Museum.

3. On Chester On (White) by Marion McLintock Show more → Show less ↓

ON CHESTER ON A history of Chester College and the University of Chester by Graeme J. White (University of Chester 2014 xiv+353pp ISBN 978-1-908258-19-9) £14.99 from University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester CH1 4BJ

This volume gives a detailed account of Chester College and the University of Chester from the time of the college’s initial foundation by the diocese of Chester in 1839, for male teachers of elementary education, to the attainment of teaching degree and research degree awarding powers by the University of Chester in 2005 and 2007 respectively.

Anyone who might be tempted to think that oscillating government policy about teacher training is a feature only of recent decades will receive a sharp corrective from this book. The story of the successive struggles from the outset for the college’s survival reveals how much energy and creativity was needed by successive principals to avoid closure before the college had barely set forth. Other difficulties included persistently tiny student numbers into the 1960s, problems about the supply of residential accommodation, and a near-fatal reluctance to accept female students in the mid-twentieth century. Add two world wars, the increasing secularisation of society just as higher education entered the period of its most rapid expansion, and the need to secure ever rising educational levels for the teaching profession, and the challenges facing the college and its sponsors quickly become apparent. Yet the successive stages of necessary development were navigated, with the Reverend John Martin Critchley, principal from 1869-1885, as the author’s particular hero, and the young university has quickly taken off in its first decade.

The author, himself a professional historian and member of staff of the college from 1977 onwards, writes with great skill about these complex negotiations, even if at times the abundance of detail threatens to obscure the main narrative. He usefully revisits the crisis of 1931-1933 when Ramsey Macdonald’s National Government cancelled plans to raise the school leaving age to 15 and left Chester exposed as a candidate for closure, and gives due credit to key players who averted this threat. He lucidly charts the critically important relationship between the college and the University of Liverpool and deftly picks his way through the complexities of the transition from college to university, while giving the student voice a strong presence throughout. Full footnotes follow each chapter, but while there is an index, it is far from inclusive, making the book difficult to use for reference purposes. A site plan would also have been a welcome addition.

The history of British tertiary and higher education is important and incomplete. Volumes such as On Chester On are valuable for all those associated with individual institutions, while contributing through the story of one particular trajectory to a fuller understanding of how and why higher education in the UK has reached its present position and how it might evolve in the future.


Marion McClintock is the Honorary Archivist of the University of Lancaster and the author of Shaping the future: a history of the University of Lancaster 1961-2011 (University of Lancaster in association with Carnegie Publishing, 2011)

4. A History of Dunster (Woodger) by Heather Falvey Show more → Show less ↓

A HISTORY OF DUNSTER: The castle and the village by Bev Woodger (Troubadour Publishing 2014 184pp ISBN 978-1-78306-444-1) £9.99+p&p from Troubadour Publishing, 9 Priory Business Park, Wistow Road, Kibworth LE8 0RX (http://www.troubador.co.uk/self_publishing) 

According to the back jacket, this book ‘explores the local history of Dunster Castle and Dunster village in Somerset’; alternatively, in his preface the author says it ‘is not intended as a guide book to Dunster or Dunster Castle but to give those who may be interested a deeper knowledge of both’. However, it is actually a genealogical history of the de Mohun and Luttrell families who owned the castle, with occasional details about the castle itself and some (literal) digressions regarding various other loosely related topics, such as ‘The Swan Legends’ and ‘The Green Howards’, while chapter 7 (‘Village Institutions’) does provide some rather sketchy information about village life. Chapter 8, ‘The Luttrell Family of Ireland and Warwickshire’, seeks to correct a spurious connection between Geoffrey Luttrell, the first baron of Irnham, and the Luttrell family found in Ireland. Unfortunately, the prose does not flow and (one assumes) the completed work was not proof-read since it is littered with misspellings and extraneous capitals, and is lacking numerous apostrophes. 


Heather Falvey teaches medieval and early modern local history for the Continuing Education departments of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  She is secretary of the Hertfordshire Record Society.  She has recently edited a volume of late eighteenth century recipes for that society and also co-edited a volume of fifteenth century wills from the York archdiocese for the Richard III Society.

5. Bounds Green (Pinching) by Neil Robson Show more → Show less ↓

BOUNDS GREEN An interesting corner of Haringey: a history and walk by Albert Pinching  (Hornsey Historical Society  2014  64pp  ISBN 978-0-905794-50-1) £8.99+£1.40 p&p from 136 Tottenham Lane, London N8 7EL

Just look at the place-names in the title, the sub-title, and the publisher’s details: Bounds Green, Haringey, and Hornsey. London’s administrative heritage is so complex that giving a precise definition to many of its ‘villages’ often becomes something of a trial. Here, for instance, Bounds Green nowadays spans two different London boroughs, Enfield and Haringey. Consequently, it is frequently hard to pinpoint suburbs as this—they easily fall out of the sights of the numerous local history groups in the capital. It is therefore understandable that the author suggests that Bounds Green ‘has thus far received very scant attention from historians’. He sets out to rectify that omission, and yet already has a challenge to overcome: how to delineate the boundaries of his subject since it has never been a civic entity in its own right.

Thereafter, he is on his way. The decision taken by him, and presumably, his colleagues, has been to create a two-part booklet, the first two-thirds being a history of the area, and the last portion taking the form of a self-guiding heritage walk. The historical account adopt, somewhat inevitably, a chronological approach, but this tactic works well for a locality which was predominantly woodland in the 1770s, the site of a brickworks for seventy years from the 1840s (a significant fact since the capital was so hungry for building materials throughout that period), the location of one of Charles Holden’s distinctive underground stations, and now the home to a popular golf course and large numbers of residents and commuters.

Many interesting details, then, and many endnotes too—almost a hundred in total—yet there is still the history walk to undertake, and this sense of an ‘appendix’ creates a different note, for the booklet is a hybrid, a sense reinforced by the fact that time and again points made in the first part are repeated in the second. It redeems itself, however, by its format—an A5 booklet that is easy to handle when walking round the streets—together with a splendid fold-out map at the back, and some generally appealing illustrations.  Edwardian postcards are always winners at times like these. But at £8.99 its price is a bit toppy (why do we persist with this ‘99p’ convention, by the way ... round pounds in future, please!)

Having said all this, the booklet breaks new ground in examining an under-appreciated London suburb from a historian’s perspective; it chimes well with the current enthusiasm for improving our health by stimulating us to undertake a bit of exercise; and it presents an attractive model that should encourage other societies to produce similar guides for their own areas right across the country. Will I be doing the walk, you ask?  I’m on my way as we speak.


Neil Robson is a retired HR executive who regularly writes and speaks on the history of south-west London.  He is a past chairman of the Wandsworth Historical Society, and has been the editor of the Wandsworth Historian since 2002.

6. Eleanor's Diary (ed Wright) by Greg Finch Show more → Show less ↓

ELEANOR’S DIARY: the life of a gentleman farmer’s daughter edited by Joan Wright (Wanney Books 2014 iv+168pp ISBN 978 0 9927324 1 7) £9 paperback, from wildsofwanney.co.uk; free p&p to UK addresses

Northumberland was not immune from the perceived imminent threat of invasion by France between 1803 and the autumn of 1805. Judging from the pages of twenty-year-old Eleanor Weatherley’s diary, however, such uncertainty was nothing compared to whether she could attend the next ball at the nearby coaching town of Belford, or the meaning of a sidelong glance from a beau. Eleanor was the elder daughter of an evidently prosperous widowed farmer at Outchester, not far from the bewitching North Northumberland coast. She was able to spend £50 on clothes alone in 1805—getting on for twice the average annual wage. Her’s was not an entirely idle life, for household responsibilities are occasionally glimpsed in her diary—mending her father’s and brother’s shirts, making dresses or baking ten days’ worth of bread for example. Overwhelmingly, though, this is an energetic young lady’s social calendar: visiting and being visited by her circle of friends in the district, many mentions of handsome young men, gambling and all-night dancing, hunting hares on the way home on winter days. At one point she candidly admits that ‘Patience is not in my catalogue of virtues’. Other than a description of being swept up in patriotic fervour at the news of Nelson’s death late in 1805, the outside world scarcely intrudes upon her somewhat self-absorbed life. However, lest this be dismissed as no more than a two year catalogue of a giggling girl’s irrelevant trivia, as ephemeral as a twitter feed, there are asides enough to stimulate curiosity into local customs of the time. Christmas 1804 is described simply as ‘quite alone – fine day’ while the following year the family went out to McDonalds (actually ‘The Blue Bell’ at Belford) to eat goose pie after church. On an extended summer visit to relations at Bowshield in the Scottish borders in 1804 she describes in a very matter-of-fact manner that a gentleman ran into her room to douse her with cold water, followed up by being put in a well and thoroughly soaked.

Eleanor’s diary has been edited well by Joan Wright, providing family and local district context in a useful introduction, and clarification of obscure dialect terms, but otherwise letting the text speak for itself. Originally coming across a typescript of the 1804 portion alone, the editor has clearly undertaken a great deal of fruitful research and was understandably delighted later to find the original diary, and to be able to add the entries for 1805. Joan, the Belford & District Local History Society and the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies deserve a great deal of credit for bringing this work to publication. It should appeal to those with an interest in North Northumberland and in rural middle-class society during the period of the Napoleonic Wars.


Dr Greg Finch is a self-employed business consultant and independent researcher into early modern social and economic history of the North-East of England and Devon. He is treasurer of the Hexham Local History Society and member of the Historic Environment Working Group of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.