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New Publications from Pen and Sword Reviews by Dr Phil Judkins

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.














Talk 'john goodwyn barmby'
Westgate chapel sunday 4 March

John Goodwyn Barmby was a mid nineteenth century political radical, who may have coined the term "Communist" to decribe the egalitarianism he encountered in Paris in 1840 among the followers of François-Noël (Gracchus) Babeuf. He would later attempt to set up a Communist Church, meaning a pantheistic commune of all living things, including our planet. Soon afterwards, he became a Unitarian minister. As a Unitarian, the greater part of his career would be spent in Wakefield, where he was minister of the Westgate Chapel from 1858 to 1879. Often seen as the first Interfaith minister, he continued to involve himself in politics and the campaign for women's suffrage. More about him here:-

John Goodwyn Barmby

Sunday 4th March, at Wakefield Westgate Chapel at 5.00pm, Paul Dawson will be giving a talk on this fascinating local character. His talk will include biography of Barmby, his changing faith, his politics and legacy to Wakefield and the larger world.

Free Guided walks by the civic society
Friday, 23rd February, 10.30, and 2pm

Guided Walk of Wood Street and Tour of Wakefield's Town and County Halls,

To coincide with Wakefield's annual Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb (23rd to 25th February), we are offering two tours; one of Wood Street and one of the city's Town and County Halls.

Both tours begin in the Society's office on the ground floor of Wakefield Town Hall in Wood Street with a short illustrated talk before commencing the tours.

Anyone coming on the Wood Street tour will receive a free copy of the Society's book Wood Street: The Heart of Wakefield, published in 2017.

The afternoon tour will include the principal public rooms of each building. Depending on weather conditions, there may be time to explore some of the area outside.

Please meet at the Town Hall in good time so that each talk and tour can start promptly at the advertised time – 10.30 am and 2.00 pm. The morning talk and tour will last around 90 minutes. The afternoon talk will take around two hours.

Booking essential: Civic Society Walks

Yorkshire in History Group

We are sorry to learn of the sudden death of Peter Elliott who ran this group; he was also a staunch member of our Society.

We will post any further information about the group when we receive it.


Fourth Monday of the month, 1.30pm - 3.00pm
Wakefield One

Programme: January – April 2018

22 January  -  Advice and Problem-solving
26 February  -  Heart of Wakefield
26 March  -  West Riding Quarter Sessions records
23 April  -  To be announced


Second Friday of the month 11.00am – 12.30pm
Currently meeting in Horbury Library

Programme: January – March 2018

12th January  -  Debt & Bankruptcy records
9th February  -  Advice & Problem-solving session
9th March  -  Education & School records

Historic England HERITAGE AT RISK in the Wakefield District 2017

Historic England (previously part of English Heritage) is the national body that looks after England's historic environment. This includes maintaining and improving the lists of heritage sites and monuments, providing expert advice, helping people protect and care for them and working to improve their condition. Registers of Heritage at Risk were first published in 1998 and in 2011 information on the condition of listed places of worship was added. The Register includes Grade I and II* listed buildings at risk including places of worship at risk outside London.

In the Wakefield District in the recently published Registers for 2017 there are 14 places listed as at risk, as against 16 listed five years ago in 2012. Bretton Hall, listed in 2012, is no longer regarded as at risk and has been removed from the Register. Pontefract Castle, also listed in 2012, is still on the Register, but is reaching the end of a programme of improvements. Of 6 churches listed as at risk in 2012, 5 have had work done and have been removed from the list. The sixth church, St Giles, Pontefract, has work underway which should remove that too from the Register.

However, in 2017 2 additional churches have joined the list; St John, Darrington, and All Saints, Featherstone. The number of non-church buildings has gone up from 3 in 2012 to 6 in 2017. The principal building listed now is the Wakefield Court House, where Wakefield Council is about to
make the building watertight and the Heart of Wakefield Project is working to raise its profile. However, its long term future will not be secured by making it watertight, as the building will still need to be refurbished inside and a future use found for it.

Serious problems remain at the underground Hermitage in Pontefract(flooding). Heath's 17th century Water Tower and the ruinous parts of All Saints, Pontefract have joined the Register because of poor stonework.

Sadly, there is no improvement in the condition of scheduled ancient monuments on the Register in the Wakefield District. All five local sites (Earthwork west of Ferrybridge threatened by ploughing; the site of Newland Preceptory threatened by tree growth; coal and ironstone workings on Sharlston Common threatened by vehicle erosion; site of post-medieval tannery at Felkirk threatened by vandalism; the prehistoric settlement known as South Kirkby Camp threatened by plant growth) have all been on the Register since at least 2012. None have any plans to secure their future.

queens of Industry at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mills

Celebrate the untold stories of women in industry during the 20th Century in this exciting new exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum.

Discover the working class 'queens' elected to represent some of Britain's greatest industries, from coal to cotton.

From the 1920s-80s, Queens of Industry flew the flag for their industry, county or even country. These young workers' lives were changed forever, with opportunities to star on screen, meet political figures like Joseph Stalin and simply become a female voice for their industry.

The exhibition is open until 29 Sept 2019.

Leeds Industrial Museum