Online reviews for this quarter appear below
DISCOVER MEDIEVAL SANDWICH: a guide to its history and buildings by Helen Clarke (Oxbow Books 2013 104pp ISBN 978-1-84217-476-0) £12.95
This book might be regarded as a guide book but, if so, it is a guide book par excellence. It is based on the academic ‘Sandwich Project’ and its main product, the book Sandwich: ‘the completest medieval towns in England’ by Helen Clarke, Sarah Pearson, Mavis Mate and Keith Parfitt, published in 2010. In this distillation there are 104 pages, numerous colour illustrations including many photographs, as well as timelines and helpful reconstruction maps.
This is a small-format, beautifully-illustrated softback book, which one could read by the fireside or while walking round the town on a sunny day—perhaps both would be best! It takes us from the origins of Sandwic in the seventh century through its glory days as England’s third most important medieval port to its decline in the late-sixteenth century when its haven silted. The chapters are clearly and beautifully written, and cover the town’s history though both its people and their buildings: not only merchant and churches, but also pirates, beer brewers, taverns and hospitals. This book, written by experts, is valuable both for the general reader and those interested in the urban history of the Middle Ages. There is a list of books on Sandwich which have been published since 2010, and on which this book is based, and also a good index.
Gill Draper is Events and Development Officer for the British Association for Local History and has published extensively on the medieval and early modern history of Kent.
THE LEEDS PALS by Stephen Wood (Amberley 2014 96pp 9781445619453) £14.99
With the arrival of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War there has been renewed interest, both popular and academic, in the conflict, and this has generated a wave of new literature. Much of this has rightly focused on the local impact of the global conflict via examinations of the regions, communities and individuals affected. Thereby the centenary has created opportunities to revisit well-worn aspects of the conflict. The ‘Pals Battalions’, as in Stephen Wood’s book, are one example. As part of Lord Kitchener’s call for 100,000 volunteers to bolster the Regular Army, ‘Pals’ units were formed in August and September 1914 in towns and cities across England, based on Lord Derby’s initiative to raise battalions by recruiting family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues together. These men would train together; serve together; fight together; and, as Wood shows, die together. His book spotlights ‘The Leeds Pals’, aiming to tell the story of the battalion and the men who formed it. He gives an overview of the recruitment of the pals, their training at Colsterdale, their initial deployment to Egypt, re-deployment to France, decimation at the Battle of the Somme, and post-war attempts to memorialise and commemorate their war experiences. Admirably, Wood attempts to contextualise these elements where appropriate. Some (albeit limited) flesh is given to the experiences of pals via a focus on ‘celebrity’ recruits, including Yorkshire cricketer Roy Kilner and footballer Evelyn Lintott, and via the illumination of three ‘extraordinary stories’, those of Jogendra Sen (the only Indian man to serve with the West Yorkshire Regiment), the Kerton Brothers (one of whom was killed while the other survived), and Horace Iles (an underage volunteer). Throughout, engaging snippets of information also entice the reader; such as the story of Morrison Flemming, a recruit who doctored his shoes to ensure he made the minimum height restriction necessary to enlist.
Yet, while these whet the appetite further detail will be craved. Indeed, the text is often superficial and would benefit from additional engagement with material drawn from pals’ letters, diaries and interviews. This would develop the book along the lines of Laurie Milner’s excellent Leeds Pals (Leo Cooper, 1991), from which Wood consistently draws. More ‘evidence from below’ is needed to tell the stories of the battalion. Analysis of the interesting broader themes intimated, such as the class composition of the battalion and racial prejudices displayed towards Jogendra Sen, together with a sharp writing style, is also lacking. That said, the visual material offered is excellent and provides superb insights: from the decorated recruiting tram that toured Leeds to the pals who toured the Somme battlefield after the war; from ‘The Leeds Pals’ variety troupe, ‘The Owls’, entertaining their comrades to the make-shift kitchen set up in the Egyptian desert to feed them. It is these snapshots that go the furthest in achieving Wood’s aim of telling, or perhaps that should be showing, the story of ‘The Leeds Pals’ in this timely revisiting of the topic.
Oliver Wilkinson is an Associate Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests centre on the social and cultural history of the First World War and he has published on British servicemen’s letters and on Prisoner of War (POW) camp magazines. He is currently preparing a monograph on the experiences of British POWs in Germany (1914-1919).
WEARMOUTH AND JARROW: Northumbrian monasteries in an historic landscape by Sam Turner, Sarah Semple and Alex Turner (University of Hertfordshire Press 2013 xviii+218pp ISBN 978-1-909291-13-3) £20
Wearmouth and Jarrow stand some eight miles apart, the former at the mouth of the River Wear and the latter three miles from the sea up the tidal estuary of the Tyne. They share a history: both were founded in the third quarter of the seventh century, both were the home of the Venerable Bede, and both rapidly rose to become major centres of Northumbrian and, indeed, early European Christianity. This study, funded by English Heritage, is part of the candidacy proposal for these sites to be awarded World Heritage Site status.
It takes a long perspective and describes not only the early history of the sites but goes as far as the post-industrial landscapes in which they stand and function today. The approach is interdisciplinary and examines the historic landscapes and siting of the monasteries and the materials from which they were built. The sources used are documentary and cartographic, supplemented by air photographic and survey work; geophysical prospection (which was not always as informative as hoped) together with geoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental approaches were all utilised. But neither excavation nor geochemical analysis formed a major part in this study. Laser scanning and ground penetrating radar were used to examine the fabric of the surviving buildings and their immediate surroundings. The whole work is well-illustrated with a range of maps, plans and photographs (many in colour).
One could ask why these two sites were chosen. There are others in the wider region which might equally have merited consideration: Ripon, Whithorn and those in the Tyne valley all come to mind. The extent to which the two sites are a pair is also questionable: while sharing a history, there is no direct overland route between them. There are geographical limits imposed on the study by the choice of places which make this more of a discussion of site and situation rather than an examination of the wider landscape. While the aim of the book is clear—it is a management plan and contextual study for the WHS application—it is not a study of Northumbrian monasticism in its totality nor is it a ‘how to’ handbook. Its character, while inevitable, is a shortcoming.
Jonathan Kissock is senior lecturer in history at the University of South Wales’s Caerleon campus. He has written widely on the evolution of the Welsh landscape in the medieval era.
WESTERDALE: the origins and development of a medieval settlement by Carol M. Wilson (North York Moors Association 2103 88pp ISBN 978-0-9565779-2-4) £12
This book is derived from research undertaken for a master’s degree in medieval studies and combines detailed archival and cartographic research (which included map regression analysis, although this term is not used by the author) and the techniques of landscape archaeology. It focuses on the parish and township of Westerdale, a southern branch of upper Eskdale in the North York Moors, a parish for which the evidence base has both impressive breadth and time depth. The narrative effectively begins with the granting of estates here to Rievaulx Abbey c.1180 and takes the reader through the medieval period, neatly linking documentary and archival sources with evidence on the ground. The author describes the polyfocal nature of settlement in the dale, discusses the signs that Westerdale itself was a planned medieval village, and traces the development of common fields both arable and pastoral.
Throughout the narrative analysis and discussion are to the fore, and the impressive number of high-quality maps and colour photographs aids that analysis as well as making this an attractive book. Discussion of the dale’s ends (outlying settlement foci) includes mention (and photographs) of sections of drystone walls which are suggested as possibly representing the ‘limit of the township of Westerdale’ and emphasising the ‘importance of boundaries’. However, more could have been made of this very important landscape element. It is quite correctly stated in the text that the walls contain ‘large standing stones’ but the nature of the walls shown photographically strongly indicates that these are early and, certainly in the Yorkshire Dales where this reviewer has studied drystone walls and suggested a typology, they display traits that would place their creation no later than the sixteenth century. Incidentally, the definition of ‘orthostats’ given in the glossary is flawed: they are not large stones left by the ice and incorporated into a wall but large and often thin slabs of stone deliberately set vertically into the ground, singly or in pairs, to form the face of a wall. The glossary also contains a glaring and rather unfortunate error: if the Neolithic period lasted from 8000 BC to 800 BC, what happened to the Bronze Age in the North York Moors?
Setting aside these small gripes, the author (and publishers) are to be congratulated on producing an attractive and well-illustrated book that deserves the back cover blurb’s use of the descriptors ‘lavishly illustrated’ and ‘meticulous’. At only £12 it is also attractively priced. It is a worthy addition to the still rather limited range of detailed local landscape studies conceived and produced by residents with a deep love of and interest in their own locality.
David Johnson is an independent researcher with special interests in early medieval and medieval landscapes and rural trades such as farming, lime burning, transport and droving, as well as in the archaeology of drystone walls. He is chairman of the Ingleborough Archaeology Group in the Yorkshire Dales. He fondly remembers staying at Westerdale Youth hostel in the 1970s.