January 2018 Reviews


1. WIND, WATER AND STEAM: the story of Hertfordshire’s mills by Hugh Howes Show more → Show less ↓

(University of Hertfordshire Press 2016 255pp ISBN 978-1-909291-73-7) £14.99

There has been no comprehensive book on the mills of Hertfordshire, so this volume by Hugh Howes is particularly welcome and important. It is extremely well illustrated, with the records of over a hundred watermills and 71 windmills. Sadly, today they are nearly all gone, Little Hadham being the last mill to grind corn in the county (only ceasing work in 1929 when a sail blew off). Today, just two watermills are working and another four mills contain all their machinery but are not operational. Of the rest, very little remains.

The illustrations cover both historical mills as well as those still standing, from working ones at Redbournbury and Mill Green to ones now converted to other uses. Location maps are given for many of the mills, and 15 pages of colour images include several paintings from the nineteenth century of mills now gone. The book also brings us up to date with steam mills converted from traditional stone milling, and the introduction of roller milling as at Heygates mill in Tring. The historical chapters also cover the many mill-related industries other than corn milling that were also once part of the Hertfordshire scene; papermaking, silk and cotton mills and even gunpowder. There is an interesting account from a local man who remembered the moving of a fully workable post windmill in Hitchin around 1820. The mill was moved just 450 yards by 36 horses.                               

The book has a very detailed gazetteer and eight appendices, six taken from old issues of The Miller detailing mills of the time around 1900, when traditional milling with millstones was being taken over by roller mills. There is an extensive glossary, index and selected bibliography which all add to this impressive book. This should prove a valuable addition for all people with an interest in mills as well as a broader audience on the history of this fascinating subject of the county of Hertfordshire.

Mildred Cookson grew up surrounded by many windmills in the Fylde region of Lancashire and has helped repair one of them, as well as one in Buckinghamshire. She has also run a traditional post mill and has been a traditional water miller for 30 years, commercially running and maintaining a 400-year old example. She is a trustee of SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) and chairman of its Mills Section, and a trustee of the Mills Archive, with responsibility for its roller mill project.

2. THE CHILTERNS IN 1748: an account by Pehr Kalm, visitor from Finland translated and edited by Professor William Mead Show more → Show less ↓

(Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society 2nd edition 2017viii+168pp ISBN 9 780995717701) £6+£1.80 p&p from BAS, The Museum, Church Street, Aylesbury HP20 2QP  

The interest of the late Professor William Mead (1915-2014) in the life and work of Pehr Kalm (1716-1779), a pioneering Scandinavian botanist and agriculturalist, began in 1948 and endured for the rest of his life. Through Kalm’s diary, translated by Joseph Foster in the late nineteenth century, Professor Mead and others gained a fresh insight into many aspects of eighteenth-century rural life. In 1748, Kalm was on his way from Scandinavia to America in pursuit of botanical specimens when he broke his journey to visit England. Little Gaddesden, in the west of Hertfordshire had recently gained widespread fame as the home of William Ellis, resident farmer and author of Chiltern and Vale Farming (1733). Kalm’s mission was to spend time with Ellis and observe at first-hand innovative agrarian techniques used in the mainly enclosed upland terrain of the Chiltern and contrasting lower ground beneath the scarp where open field agriculture dominated. Kalm travelled around the small parish of Little Gaddesden, extending his observations to neighbouring Cheddington, Dagnall and Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire and Eaton Bray and Tottenhoe in Bedfordshire.

In 2003, seeking to promote Kalm’s account of his travels to a new generation, Professor Mead self-published an extract from his own translation of the diary completed several years previously. Entitled Pehr Kalm, A Finnish Visitor to the Chilterns in 1748 and published in hardback, the core of the book comprised Kalm’s record of his three-week stay in Little Gaddesden. The book received highly positive reviews and firmly re-established Pehr Kalm’s diary as a valuable source. As new readers were to discover, its strength lay not only in its rich subject matter but also in Kalm’s unique perspective of eighteenth-century rural society and agrarian innovation. He was a diligent investigator but, importantly, he was an outsider, engaged in collecting agrarian and topographical information that was different from and useful to his homeland.

This affordably priced new edition of Professor Mead’s book published in paperback by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society sports a new cover, replacing the original image of a botanical specimen with a fitting image of Little Gaddesden. Continuing the theme of revision and presumably to encourage new readership, the reworked title brings ‘The Chilterns’ to prominence, thus emphasising that this is a book about place. This is commendable but unfortunately it risks signposting that the book is about the region as a whole when it documents rural life and society in only a small part. The Chilterns is a range of hills stretching 60 miles from Goring in Oxfordshire to Hitchin in Hertfordshire and Kalm travelled no further than about ten miles to the west and north of Little Gaddesden.

Peter Marsden’s excellent textual improvements to Professor Mead’s book are the mainstay of this new edition. The first edition’s minor formatting errors have been corrected and lengthy sections of text divided into much more manageable paragraphs. Further useful improvements include two brief biographies of Pehr Kalm and William Mead and finding aids to help navigate the text. A glossary clarifies place names, explains Swedish measurements and defines unfamiliar agricultural terms used by Kalm. An expanded and reformatted contents page, an updated list of illustrations and a greatly improved and thoughtfully planned index complete the revision. The wide range of subjects selected by Kalm for inclusion in his diary is now easily accessible to local historians and those interested in specific rural themes. The identification of people mentioned in the diary is a very helpful addition to the new index but disappointingly does not apply to everyone listed.

The core of the new edition keeps faithfully to Professor Mead’s original design, which is in four parts. The first outlines Professor Mead’s highly personal journey discovering the world of Pehr Kalm. The second provides context for Kalm’s visit to Little Gaddesden and the author’s critical assessment of the diary. The third part comprises the diary itself, three weeks of Kalm’s observations made between 27 March and 15 April 1748. Kalm recorded daily weather indicating the day of the week by using astronomical signs but although the introduction refers to them, confusingly, they are omitted from the new edition. The final part of the book narrates the aftermath of Kalm’s visit to America and his legacy to botany and agriculture.

This well-crafted new edition will appeal to local historians interested in this part of the Chilterns and surrounding area and to those working in discrete aspects of English agrarian history. The range of agricultural, botanical, economic, landscape and societal subjects that engaged Kalm’s interest far outweigh the spatial and temporal limits of the diary.

Frances Kerner is an independent historical researcher. After completing the MSc in English Local History at the University of Oxford, she was graduated from Lancaster University. Her PhD thesis explored the survival and enclosure of common land in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns.

3. THE AGUE A history of indigenous malaria in Cumbria and the North by Ian D. Hodkinson Show more → Show less ↓

(Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society: Tract Series no.26 2016 74pp ISBN 978 1 873124 74 1) £8.50

Most of us are aware that malaria is endemic in Africa, Asia, South America and other tropical regions of the world, but what is less commonly known is that the United Kingdom also used to be renowned for this mosquito-transmitted infectious disease. In the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries the fenlands of Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, and the marshes of Kent and Essex, were well known centres for the disease. The warmer climate of these southern counties may seem tropical at times to us northerners, but who would have thought that this infamous infection of holiday destinations also used to wreak havoc in Cumbria and other parts of northern Britain?

Thanks to Ian Hodkinson's new book, we now have the opportunity to learn more about the region's history of malaria, or ‘ague’ as it was known locally. Professor Hodkinson is a well-respected entomologist, who has uncovered a passion for local history in his retirement; this is clear from his lucid descriptions of some of the old texts. While the catalogue of historical reports of ague in the various towns and rural areas of Cumbria is at times a little repetitive, the text really comes to life when he discusses the impacts of the disease on rural communities and explores the erroneous opinions of the time concerning the causes of ague and how it could best be treated.

Some of us will be aware that the term ‘malaria’ originally comes from the colloquial for ‘bad air’, in recognition of the fact that the disease was often associated with the noxious gases that emanate from marsh waters where mosquitoes live, but less well known will be the various other local explanations for how malaria is contracted. In Wasdale, for example, it was noted that the appearance of ague often coincided with the sporadic autumn sighting of a strange fish with a hooked lower jaw in the streams entering Wastwater. As Hodkinson observes, ‘This description suggests strongly that it was the ferox form of brown trout, although exactly how it dispensed ague is left to the imagination’. Other notable causes of ague proposed by Cumbrians in previous centuries included the consumption of potatoes and a ‘poor’ winter diet of salmon, salt beef and salt mutton.

Ian Hodkinson eloquently explains that malaria gradually disappeared from Cumbria and other parts of the United Kingdom due to a combination of factors. The main one was the wide-scale drainage of wetlands to improve land for agriculture, which had the serendipitous effect of also reducing the aquatic habitats where malarious mosquitoes breed. Another unintended consequence of such drainage is that wetland biodiversity declined, with populations of bird species such as lapwing being reduced to extremely low levels. This has prompted recent initiatives in the region to reinstate some of these wetland habitats in an attempt to conserve these species. The book ends by looking at the past and future impacts of climate change on ague, and speculates on what lessons might be learned from this historical analysis about the potential for malaria to return to the region once more.

Other than the repetitive nature of some of the earlier passages, as indicated previously, there is little to criticise in this book. The map showing the distribution of ague reports in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries would be more useful if it also included place-names and showed areas of swamp land. And some people may object to the referencing style, though it is consistent with standard scientific norms. It would also have been useful to have been given some guidance on how to correctly pronounce ‘ague’: is it agUE, as in ‘Montague’, or Ague, as in ‘plague’? Overall, this is a wonderful little book that will be of interest to local historians and global scientists like ourselves.

Professor Kenneth Wilson is an insect ecologist at Lancaster University and Dr Judith Smith is a molecular ecologist at the University of Central Lancashire. They live in north Lancashire near the border with Cumbria.