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book reviews

All book reviews by Dr Phil Judkins.

NINETEENTH CENTURY CIRCUS POSTER ART Steve Ward (Self-published) ISBN 9781719886239

Steve Ward has recorded many aspects of the history of the origins and development of the circus in a series of well-written books, and here he describes with copious illustrations the little-known collection of circus posters in the Cryer Collection in Wakefield's Local Studies Library. The richness of the Cryer Collection in its extent - some fifteen volumes - and its wealth of insights into the life of Wakefield in John Cryer's lifetime (c1781 – 1864) are sadly little-known, even locally, despite the best efforts of our excellent Libraries staff to bring them into the light, and it should be a priority for public funding to see them properly preserved.
Mr Adams as Dick Turpin in Turpin's Ride to York, performed at Wakefield in Dec 1846 & Jan 1847.

It is most praiseworthy that Steve has begun a process of publishing at least selected aspects of the Cryer Collection, and he has both prefaced his study by an admirably brief but explicit history of the early circus to give the reader context, and then proceeded to enhance the value of the published posters by a series of short but revealing notes on each of the themes of the circus posters concerned – advertising, equestrian acts, leapers, jugglers and feats of strength, rope walking and dancing, clowns, animals and dramatic spectaculars. The posters are well-chosen to illustrate the themes, and are as well-reproduced as the chosen paper will allow; it might have been of advantage to consider art paper though self-publishing economics may not allow this step.
Steve's descriptions and the posters themselves form a very good introduction to both the Cryer Collection and to the history of the early circus, particularly in Wakefield, and well deserve to be read by all those interested in either topic. £9.00 on Amazon.

Four stars – good introduction to the subject and to an excellent local collection which deserves to be much better known.

A PARISH AT WAR edited by Hilary Haigh (Rickaro Books, £9.95) ISBN 9780954643997

This reviewer has previously commented on the challenge facing those who write about the First World War from the perspective of a particular community, for so often the result is a worthy encyclopaedia of facts about those who died in battle with little context to explain the world from which they came, or aspects of that conflict which present the reader with new and thought-provoking perspectives. It is a delight, therefore, to congratulate our member Hilary Haigh on an excellent piece of editing which draws together a series of very well-written articles which admirably cover Sitlington and the Great War, from a description of the parish in 1914 through accounts of the Belgian refugees who came there, of conscientious objectors, and of the activities of both Middlestown and Netherton Schools during the conflict. The Western Front yields excellent descriptions of the YMCA Women's Auxiliary (and its war dead), of the little-known story of those men fighting as part of the Royal Naval Division interned in Holland, and of the harrowing and lengthy trials faced by those wounded or gassed needing medical evacuation. Against this background, the accounts of the lives of those who perished become much more vivid and real, and this is heightened by extracts from personal letters home and from local reminiscences. Detailed research on the war memorials and Kempe stained glass windows is an area not often presented, and it is very welcome to find it here. There are illuminating stories on almost every page – the impact of the war on local businesses, the loss of horses, local housing, food shortages, monies raised by school-children, the death of one teacher and crippling injuries suffered by a second, the letters of Sgt Moxon who died in 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, the death in France in an air raid of YMCA worker Betty Stephenson, the ability of those interned in Holland to return to England for 4 weeks on parole (!), the horrific suffering of those gassed by phosgene or mustard gases, and many more. Cost: £9.95.

Five stars – a most readable book resulting from an excellent project; many congratulations!


Phil JudkinsWAKEFIELD IN 50 BUILDINGS
by P Thornborrow and P Gwilliam, (Amberley, £14.99) ISBN 9781445659060

To guard against accusations of bias, I should state immediately that Peter Thornborrow is of course one of our own members, and our President and I are both mentioned in Peter's Foreword – but fortunately no bias was needed, and none has entered, my recommendation that this is a first-class read and reference!

There has for many years been a necessity for a properly-referenced book to fit between our member Shirley Levon's introductory booklet on Wakefield's buildings, and the excellent – but now 40 years old – series of newspaper articles by the late Kate Taylor, published first in the 'Express' as part of European Architectural Heritage Year 1975, and then as two books, where the reproduction of the articles by photocopying is, alas, of the standard of its era.

Peter's book has been worth the wait! Peter's treatment of his subject follows a timeline, with each building excellently illustrated by co-author Paul Gwilliam's photographs and appropriate contemporary and historic plans and images; the buildings themselves are then each described in meticulous, but highly readable, detail with appropriate narrative to paint the background of the builder, architect, owner or significant personality associated with the property. The amount of such detail is just right – it does not overshadow the property itself and does not tire the reader with an excess of worthy but ultimately tedious facts. There are occasions where 'Homer has nodded' – on page 73 Westgate Station is captioned, but the photograph is of Kirkgate – and the odd typo – page 90 David Chipperfield Architects (two 'p's, not one) designed the Hepworth; but these are trivia against the worth of the book.

Five stars – An excellently written and illustrated book whether for easy reading or for deeper reference.

BESIDE THE SEASIDE by John Heywood (Pen & Sword £15.99) ISBN 9781526704641

John Heywood is known to us from his Silent Witnesses, the military dead of Horbury in the First World War, and here he turns his pen to the rather less grim story of Yorkshire's seaside towns from Marske down to Withernsea. Rather than a recital of the histories of each resort town by town, he has chosen a thematic account, from resorts' origins as spas (pre-1867, spelled as 'spaws'!) through chapters on, for example, bathing machines and costumes, the journeys there and back, board and lodging, piers, and seaside entertainments, to an upbeat appraisal of their recent 'renaissance'.

John has a good eye for accurate detail which more broad-brush treatments miss – to quote but one, the arrival of the railways did not lead to the then-feared "working-class rush to the coast", as for some years fares remained high in relation to wages; while from very early years, the cost of board and lodging was not trivial - in 1803, 35/- per person per week in a private house (servants and horses half-price) or 6 to 10 guineas a week to rent a house. Trains arrived in 1845 (Scarborough), 1846 (Bridlington) 1847 (Whitby) but 'Trips' really take off, John reminds us, after the 1871 Bank Holiday Act gave us Easter and Whit Mondays, Boxing Day and the first Monday in August.
He describes the changing pleasures awaiting us at the seaside – from formal balls and concerts, to the homely Punch and Judy and ice-cream, with minstrel and Pierrot shows attracting audiences of hundreds before the First World War. That War, of course, came directly to Yorkshire resorts with the bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool (with a second shelling of Scarborough by a submarine in 1917, John's keen eye notes), while a generation later, the coastal holiday camps, which had sprung up interwar, became camps for servicemen and women. If John reads this, I am curious why many of his illustrations are from the US Library of Congress, not a regularly-quoted source for the Yorkshire Coast, but I would certainly recommend this as a good holiday read whether your preference is Filey or Florida!

4 stars – An easily digestible and well-produced book with many keenly-observed facts and insights.

SOME OTHER AND WIDER DESTINY by Elaine Merckx & Neil Rigby (Pen & Sword, £29.95) ISBN 9781912174010

There are some books it is an absolute pleasure to review, and our member Elaine Merckx and her colleague Neil Rigby have certainly written one with this magisterial account of the part played by Wakefield Grammar School Foundation pupils in the Great War. 

So often, such accounts tend to be a dutiful encyclopaedia of names and short histories in neat alphabetical order, factually accurate but shorn of any real context of the services rendered or the individual nature of the person whose life, and sadly too frequently whose death, is recorded. This work is at the other end of the scale from such a dry, sterile, account, and puts real personalities, with domestic lives, families, careers and professions before us, told against an easy-to-follow account of the war into which their military deeds are set. 

Alongside the poignancy of the first two volunteers, both assistant masters, being cheered off by the whole school to a war from which neither would return, this reader found the accounts contributed by the Wakefield Girls High School pupils of particular interest – not least Kathleen O'Connor, caught up in the almost unknown 1915 Sikh Mutiny in Singapore, the tales of the flax-pullers at Ousefleet, or the examination paper and timetable of Jessie Abson in 1918. Highly illuminating also are the details – the change of name of the Zschiedrich family to Dixon, or finding a former master as a 'Bimbashi' (a higher-grade Major) in the Egyptian Army. I should have liked a little more detail on some items – few boys joined the Navy, so more detail on the Cadmus at Jutland on which one ex-pupil served would have been of interest – but these are matters of triviality; this book displays excellent research, a most readable style, and highly informative Appendices, and deserves to be a great success. 

5 stars – thoroughly researched and interesting history, excellently written and produced.

WAKEFIELD IN THE GREAT WAR Tim Lynch (Pen & Sword, 12.99), ISBN 9781473847415

A volume in the Pen & Sword series on Your Towns and Cities in the Great War, this book on Wakefield’s contribution follows author Tim Lynch’s Great War Britain – Sheffield from the History Press, and was a work in preparation by our own Kate Taylor before her sad death; Tim handsomely acknowledges his use of her papers in the preparation of this book on Wakefield. A challenge to all historians working on one volume of a series of books with a powerful central theme, such as in this case the Great War, is to find out the information which will allow a fresh and local treatment of the facts, rather than a repetition of the national story – by now, thanks to radio and TV as well as books, a well-trodden path. This is perhaps the more difficult when the author has already published on the same theme as it relates to a nearby city. Fortunately, Tim Lynch has an eye for the little-known and interesting facts which can create a very readable work, and this he has produced, with stories of the local volunteers, hospitals, war industries, which make for a most interesting book. There are, inevitably, areas which with a little work might have made it even better – as just two examples, many of the photos early in the book are not credited and one wonders if they are even local; and much of the detail of Lofthouse Part Internment Centre comes from Paul Cohen-Portheim’s book Time Stood Still, referenced in the text but not credited in the brief bibliography, and so misses the best story, of the interned prisoner who escaped home to Austria, was there conscripted, and appealed to the British Ambassador to be allowed to come back to Lofthouse. Many copies of this book will doubtless be purchased as Christmas presents; I would recommend it as a good read, and I recommend even more Tim’s most interesting talk on the subject! 

4 stars -  very readable history, illuminated with lesser-known and intriguing stories. 

SOUTH YORKSHIRE MINING VILLAGES Melvyn Jones (Pen & Sword, £14.99) ISBN 9781473880771

Professor Jones has produced a robustly-researched book drawing on a number of his published papers to produce this well-written account of a neglected subject; as he comments, there are many books on mining disasters, but few on the developments of the village communities themselves. A landscape historian of long standing, Prof Jones makes excellent use of historic maps in describing the development of each village, and of census information in analysing the places from which the new inhabitants of these rapidly-expanding communities originated – sometimes quite surprisingly distant locations, for although most migration was internal to the UK (again an under-researched subject) some was international, indeed inter-continental. This reviewer can offer the footnote that the Welsh community around Trelew in the Chubut Province of central Patagonia (!) has recently been given prominence by an interesting hour’s documentary presented by the BBC’s Huw Edwards, and Prof Jones identifies other most interesting sources. Well-illustrated both with maps and photographs (but please, Pen & Sword, ensure authors date the photos in future), I would have only one, probably unavoidable, quibble with this work – in pursuit of making it academically robust, Prof Jones has rightly applied the same analytical process to each village he has described, and though his text is both accessible and absorbing, those who read the whole work, rather than use it for reference, may find that, by the twentieth such description, there is something of a feeling of déjà vu. However, this is a minor point - this book is both a good read in itself and a useful permanent research tool for the shelf, where it could so easily have been a turgid recitation of names, dates, company restructurings and the minutiae of personalities.

4 stars – A sound and easy-to-read work on a neglected subject of considerable interest. 

NURSES OF PASSCHENDAELE  Christine E Hallett (Pen & Sword, pbk, £12.99). 


An absolute joy of a book both to read and to review, written by an acknowledged expert in her field and written to be readable! Professor Hallett sets the story of the nurses of the First World War in the contexts both of the history of the military conflict and the history of the development of nursing practice, against the background of the changes in medical methods which changed so markedly to meet the new demands imposed by modern warfare – specifically, the ghastly wounds imposed by shrapnel, the infections acquired in years of trench warfare, and the deadly new effects of poison gas, which could have the same crippling and deadly effects on nurses as easily as on soldiers. The scale of casualties appals the modern reader, as it should, and sharpens our appreciation of the resourcefulness and heroism of the nurses faced with the multiple challenges of handling many hundreds of badly-wounded soldiers while themselves grossly inadequate in numbers and in many cases with only modest skills, while under shell-fire, poison gas, and aerial bombing.  

Professor Hallett, who will be one of our lecturers this winter, marshals a superb array of original sources with wisdom and sensitivity, from the well-known such as Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm, the “Angels of Pervyse” (where she finds new material to write and new observations to make) to the less well known such as our own Wakefield nurses, Nellie Spindler of Aberford Road, the centenary of whose death falls on 21 August this year, and Minnie Wood. This book is well worth buying for the stories of the nurses themselves, but is especially so for setting those stories against a background which is so often lacking in such works, and in doing so in such a way that the general reader can appreciate the magnitude of the nurses’ achievement as well as their sacrifice. 

5-star rating. Thoroughly recommended. 

WOMEN IN THE GREAT WAR  Stephen Wynn and Tanya Wynn (Pen & Sword, pbk, £12.99)

Stephen and Tanya Wynn’s book seeks to cover the sweep of women’s experience in the First World War, which is a challenging canvas to cover. They have relied almost exclusively upon websites to do so, and, as both family and general historians know, websites have the attraction of ease of access and the danger of simply being the equivalent of “I heard this tale down the pub”. Websites also suffer the defect of differing levels of interest in those who fill them with content – hence, there is much in this book on nurses, some 80 of 140 pages, although much in the form of lists; by contrast, munitions workers receive just one-tenth of that, at 8 pages, and the 25,000 women of the Women’s Land Army receive just half-a-page. There is a place waiting for a balanced introduction to the width of new experiences in war service which women undertook in the Great War, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, this book sadly does not fill that need. Another 60 pages based on structured archival research could have made this book more balanced, and still only of the same length and price as Prof Hallett’s book reviewed above; what a pity this was not done!

3-star rating. Readable, but alas, of variable quality and depth.


 

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