January 2019 Reviews


1. ORE MINING IN THE LAKE DISTRICT by Alastair Cameron and Liz Withey Show more → Show less ↓

(Amberley 2017 96pp ISBN 978 1 4456 6465 1) £14.99 

Alastair Cameron is one of the leading Lake District mining historians, the author of a number of high quality and informative books on mining history. This book continues that tradition. Visitors to the Lake District who walk the high fells or meander around the valleys cannot fail to notice the extensive mining remains that are now part of the landscape. A wide variety of minerals have been extracted from the fells, ranging from the lead and copper ores to the much more obscure cobalt and titanium. Superficially, most of these remains of mining look very similar—a pile of waste rock left from the extractive process, and the ruins of the associated stone built buildings. There is usually nothing specific to suggest which mineral had been extracted. This book looks at 22 of the many hundreds of mining sites in the Lake District, showing the wide range of minerals extracted and the success or otherwise of some of the mining ventures in the area. 

Most of the sites chosen have been researched and worked on by the Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society. They encompass the large well known examples such as Coniston, Force Crag and Greenside and also some of the smaller less familiar locations such as Seathwaite copper mine in the Duddon Valley and Tongue Gill Iron mine at Grasmere. A national grid reference is provided for each site, and a succinct history of each, but only a limited description of the features that now remain. This means that it could be difficult for someone unfamiliar with the site to interpret the remains. The number of technical terms is low, but a short glossary would have been useful to explain some of them.

The book is let down by its photography. After 30 years of photographing mining sites myself I appreciate the difficulty of getting good pictures—many of the sites are obscured during the summer by vegetation and so most photography has to be done in the autumn and winter, but on the fellsides are large areas of bracken cover which in the winter gives an orange colour to the background, dominating the photograph. Many of the pictures are long distance views, so it can be difficult to pick out the actual mine sites (better captioning would have helped).  

As an introduction to the subject of mineral mining in the Lake District this book is a good basic guide to the range of sites, and hopefully it will encourage the reader to explore the sites and the history of mining in the area.

Graham Brooks has researched and written extensively on aspects of Cumbrian mining history.

2. BURNELL OF BROMSGROVE (1871-1959) Yorkshire Man: Bromsgrove Musician by John R. Arrand Show more → Show less ↓

(Brewin Books 2018 ISBN: 9781858585871) £7.50 

John R. Arrand’s Burnell of Bromsgrovetells the story of Isaiah Burnell, who was born into a Yorkshire family enjoying no social privileges and whose grandfather was illiterate. But Isaiah had one of life’s great natural gifts—practical musical ability. He received no training, yet because of his great musical talent he became master of music at Bromsgrove School in 1907 and musical director and conductor of the Bromsgrove Musical Club.  The strength of this book is the thorough detailing of Burnell’s musical compositions and performances, while setting the scene of his teaching career at Bromsgrove and giving a taste of the zeal with which he approached his role. Arrand clearly likes his subject. He reveals a man modest and kindly, able and keen to enthuse others in the pleasure of music-making and, when it came to performance, a musician of exacting standards.  Although the story is firmly set in Bromsgrove, Burnell’s talent and character makes this book something more than a history of a life spent in one town. Here was a gifted man of talent who is now, to quote Arrand, ‘forgotten’—yet in fact is not quite forgotten.  

The City of Birmingham Orchestra’s performance of one of Burnell’s works under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult in 1928, and the friendship which developed between Burnell and Sir Edward Elgar from 1923 until the latter’s death in 1934, reveal him to have been a composer of some significance. His output would be well worth reinvestigating. Arrand gives tantalising mention of scores long lost and he lists published and archived compositions not heard for decades.  He also gives the broad context to Burnell’s career at Bromsgrove School: sections on the school itself, on the founding and activities of the Bromsgrove Musical Club, and details of the correspondence exchanged between Burnell and Elgar. The book contains a good number of photographs and reproductions of letters and scores.

Of Burnell’s views on matters beyond the musical little is said but there are hints that, as a child born in 1871 to a winding machine engineer in a Yorkshire coalfield, his keenness for community music may have been informed by his background.  This is an aspect to Burnell which it might have been interesting to explore. I would love to have learned how he progressed from being a youth with forebears who could not read or write to become a member of the College of Organists at the age of 18, and then master of music and mathematics at Bromsgrove School at 37 but, because of a lack of archival material, this information is not given. Arrand’s book demonstrates how valuable it is to recall the achievements of someone fallen into the shade and apparently not, as Burnell said of himself, of the ‘first class’, yet ‘first class’ enough to be a significant and beneficial influence within his own sphere. It is this almost everyday example of a life quietly and well spent which is so heartening.

Catherine Howeis a songwriter and historian.  She is the writer of the 1970s song ‘Harry’ and author of books: Holyoake’s Journey of 1842; Halifax 1842; and soon to be published London Story 1848.  She and her colleague Deborah Lavin are presently researching the history of the Theatre Girls’ Club, Soho, London. 

3. WELSH PIRATES AND PRIVATEERS & THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF WILLIAM OWEN: smuggler, privateer and murderer by Terry Breverton Show more → Show less ↓

(Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2018 ISBN 9781845242817) £6.95;

(Gwasg Carreg Gwalch 2018 ISBN 9781845242831) £8.50 

Terry Breverton is a prolific author who specialises in Welsh history. In his introduction to Welsh Pirates and Privateers (a revised update of his own The Book of Welsh Pirates and Buccaneers, published in 2003) he is open about his agenda. After sideswipes at what he considers the anglocentric reputations of Edward I and Henry IV, he admits his books are ‘written from a Welsh perspective’, which is fair enough. Welsh Pirates and Privateersintroduces us to a cast of more than 50 picaresque Welsh characters. Some lesser known careers are covered in a sentence or two, while Sir Henry Morgan and John ‘Black Bart’ Roberts each merit a potted biography over several pages. Entries are arranged chronologically, beginning in the thirteenth century with William de Marisco, who made Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel his pirate base; and ending in the late-eighteenth century with artist and privateer William Williams, who lived for a time among the Rama Indians after being marooned on the Miskito Coast of what is now Nicaragua; subsequently wrote a ‘factional’ account The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, Seaman,widely regarded as the first American novel; and ended his days in a Bristol sailors’ almshouse in 1791. In between, in this ‘Who’s Who’ of Welsh pirates, we meet a motley crew of rogues and adventurers and hear of their deeds. 

Not all the people included are pirates. Sir John Perrot, an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, who served for several years as Vice-Admiral of Wales, is included for his complicity in piracy, one example among several in this book that demonstrate the extent to which the gentry (not to mention harbour officials) colluded with and protected pirates for their own profit. There are no references in the accepted sense, but good use is made of relevant quotes, including from Philip Gosse’s History of Piracy, Daniel Defoe’s writings on the topic, and the real characters fictionalised in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island are identified.The book is illustrated with black and white engravings, maps, and documents supplemented by modern colour photographs of sites and locations mentioned in the text.  

The smuggler and privateer William Owen produced his ‘confessions’ in his cell at Carmarthen Gaol, awaiting execution following his conviction for murder (he was hanged on Pensarn Hill, Carmarthen on 2 May 1747, aged around 30). The original has been lost, but a copy made in 1811 is in the National Library of Wales. However, The True Confessions of William Owenis far more than a modernised transcription with a commentary. The wider context is set, various contradictions in the story unpicked, and loose ends tied up in a satisfying narrative that is full of interest. An opening chapter on smuggling in the eighteenth century provides the background to the death cell ‘confessions’ which follow. These are written in the third person, and it remains unclear if Owen dictated or wrote the account himself (born into a farming family, he was well-educated and rejected the possibility of a clerical career in favour of going to sea).

The ‘Confessions’ record a candid history of extra-marital affairs, illegitimate children, visits to brothels, along with privateering and smuggling exploits. It was not the first time Owen had faced a charge of murder. He and two members of his crew had been tried and acquitted for the murder of customs officers in 1745. It is clear that the aim of ‘Confessions’ was self-vindication. The circumstances of the murder for which he was to be executed (the shooting of an accomplice, James Lilly in order to escape on Lilly’s horse as the pair fled from a hue and cry on their trail for burglary) are dealt with only cursorily. Recorded extracts take us through the trial, during which Owen demonstrates his eloquence in cross-questioning witnesses, implying Lilly had accidentally shot himself. 

A previously unpublished life of William Owen, written around 1860 by Reverend Henry J. Vincent of Newport Castle, is followed by a chapter in which the author compares the two accounts and undertakes his own research, pursuing Owen from the family farm (tracking down a birthplace and parentage in Wales for someone named ‘Owen’ presents obvious difficulties) to privateering  in the Caribbean and then engaged in smuggling, often under an alias, around the coast of North West England, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Much information is uncovered in customs records and contemporary newspapers. Inconsistencies are unravelled and facts authenticated before we are presented with some concluding footnotes which include a Time Line of Owen’s life. 

The book includes useful references but the greyscale illustrations are often too small to add more than marginal interest.      There is a great deal to enjoy in these books. Both are well written, full of historical information and entertaining anecdotal detail. 

Richard Stonelectures on a range of general history topics for organisations including The Historical Association; Missenden School of Creative Arts; and, Burton and South Derbyshire College. He is the author of several books on local history.

4. THE REBUILDING OF ST MATTHEW’S CHURCH, HAYFIELD 1917-1819 by John Crummett Show more → Show less ↓

(New Mills Local History Society 2017 33pp) £2.50

At the close of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, England experienced a substantial church building programme, significantly assisted by the work of the Church Building Commission and the Incorporated Church Building Society [ICBS]. This phenomenon is well recorded in M. H. Port’s invaluable Six Hundred New Churches: The Church Building Commission 1818-1856 (1961; revised and republished 2006) and Gill Hedley’s Free Seats for All(2018) which traces the developmental work of the ICBS. These two works give a national perspective but there was a third dimension to the massive church building programme, as illustrated by John Crummett’s pamphlet.

This dimension involved local fund-raising to pay for church building or replacement. Crummett reports on what happened at Hayfield in Derbyshire about two hundred years ago. The sources do not fully confirm or provide a precise date but we do know that a replacement church was constructed at Hayfield between 1817 and 1819. Hayfield had a chapel from medieval times, situated within the very extensive ecclesiastical parish of Glossop, and by 1805 it had its own minister. As with the church building programme identified by Port and by Hedley, a need was emerging for new churches in places where the population was growing quickly, and that was certainly the case in this corner of the parish of Glossop. Anybody interested in what happened in a context where funds were raised and spent locally in this era of expanding church provision will find John Crummett’s account a very useful guide to the processes required to obtain the necessary authority to rebuild or redevelop, and how funds were secured locally and from nearby congregations.

Trevor Jameshas been researching various aspects of church history since completing his doctoral research in 1977.

5. LOWDHAM GRANGE: BORSTAL! by Jeremy Lodge Show more → Show less ↓

(Jeremy Lodge Publishing 2017 ISBN 978-0-9956634-0-4) £8.99+£2.80 p&p from author 15 Satterley Close, Witham St Hughs South, Lincoln LN6 9QB

In the latter part of the nineteenth century arguments against the more punitive aspects of imprisonment in England and Wales were gaining ground. One outcome was the separation of young prisoners from the influences of hardened criminals in adult prisons. Experimental separate regimes for young prisoners were introduced into several prisons and in 1908 the sentence of borstal detention was made available to the courts. Borstal was a semi-indeterminate sentence for young offenders, later called ‘trainees’, who were thought likely to benefit from a regime of educational classes, trade training, physical activity and the emulation of role models, similar in ethos to the English public schools of the time. Gradually the sentence evolved into borstal training which emphasised the importance of the individual treatment and welfare of each trainee. In the period between the two world wars, and for while after, borstal training was the jewel in the crown of the Prison Service and attracted much international interest and imitation. By 1982 however it was thought anachronistic and its welfare approach out of step with the strictures of what has been described as new public managerialism;the sentence was abolished and replaced by youth custody.

 In this book Lodge takes the example of one borstal, Lowdham Grange, to illustrate the story of borstal training from its high point in the 1930s to its eventual demise. His sources include official documents, press reports, the memories of some trainees and staff and the recollections of local inhabitants. From this rich mixture he shows how politicians and senior prison officials, with a measure of courage that would be unthinkable today, devised a scheme whereby 40 trainees and nine staff marched for six days from the borstal at Feltham to a country estate in Nottinghamshire. There they camped and began building the first purpose built ‘open’ penal establishment in the world. In chronicling this project Lodge outlines the trades and skills staff taught to the trainees; significantly he also demonstrates the importance of the relationships that prison officers, teachers, matrons and free workmen developed with their charges. There was a clear message, from senior officials and the governor, encouraging staff to exercise leadership through personal example and trust was an important element in this relationship. Trainees had to promise to uphold the good name of the borstal and a letter to parents informed them how privileged their sons were to be sent to Lowdham Grange. The local community also had a role to play: trainees were sent out to work in the local villages and local people attended events held in the borstal. Lodge stresses the positive impact of community involvement, quoting one journalist who had suspicions about ‘teenage hoodlums being foisted upon old people whether they liked it or not’, only to be reassured that ‘if the boys don’t turn up the old people are on the phone asking where they are’.

Lowdham Grange. Borstal!does what any good local history book should do. It examines and analyses an historical phenomenon through the lens of a local event and expands our understanding of it by describing its impact on those involved. In this case, as well as commentary, the author allows the participants to speak for themselves: unsurprisingly they make it clear borstal did not have all the right answers. Absconding, bullying and other misbehaviour, unsatisfactory re-offending rates and the inconvenient location of the borstal get due attention. The oral history Lodge draws on however also records many positive aspects of the borstal’s regime. Its place in penal history is that its objective of addressing offending behaviour through education, self discipline and the acquisition of social skills in an environment without fences, walls or other physical security was copied in other establishments at home and abroad.

Peter J LeonardPGDip MSt MA is a retired senior civil servant who spent many years as a prison governor. 

6. THE STORY OF STATION ROAD, DIDCOT: A railway development in Didcot, Oxfordshire by Eugene Coyle Show more → Show less ↓

(Soha Housing 2018 ISBN 978-1-78926-207-0) price not stated 

This short history is sponsored by a contemporary community-based housing association in Didcot, which is responsible for the renovation and maintenance of Station Road, an urban housing development built by a the Great Western Railway Company for its workers. Eugene Coyle faithfully records the impact of the coming of the railway in 1844 on Didcot’s small rural community as an influx of first railway construction workers, then GWR employees, exerted great pressure on the local housing stock. Station Road, started only in 1904, after antagonisms with local landowners, was an exercise in paternalism by the company to provide a range of well-built, even luxurious, houses whose differing sizes reflected the rank and seniority of GWR personnel. It constituted the domestic element in the growth of a very important railway town, replete with GWR sidings and engine sheds and railway hotels. Until well into the twentieth century all Station Road houses were occupied by railwaymen.

While interesting in itself, especially for those living nowadays in Didcot, this brief history would have benefitted from a wider perspective. It would help to know more about contemporary working class housing, about other GWR housing projects (in Swindon, for example) and about other railway company initiatives for housing employees. Indeed, it would be good to contrast this with model communities created by paternalistic employers in other industries across the same period.

Andrew Reekes MA MRes is the author of a number of books about Birmingham and the Chamberlain family.