Book Reviews by Dr Phil Judkins:
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.
Wakefield Socialist History Group
Class Conflict in the Countryside
Saturday 27th October 2018: 1pm to 4pm
Wakefield Labour Club (The Red Shed) Speakers: Martin Empson and Robin Stoke
Martin Empson's new book, ”Kill All the Gentlemen” argues that the modern English countryside has been shaped by centuries of, often brutal, class struggle. From 14th Century peasant revolts to 19th and 20th Century agricultural trades unionism there have been bitter contests over the use of land and the nature of labour. Martin will give an overview of how these struggles have helped to create the modern countryside.
Robin Stokes is the author of 'Hidden Heroes of Easter Week' and is currently doing research on enclosures and their consequences for rural workers and the countryside. He writes ' The labouring class of the 18th and 19th Centuries leave a long memory of conflict and struggle. I will use radical family history to show close links to the struggle of the working class in the past. Most of our ancestors, only a handful of generations ago, went through the privatisation of the villages…with drastic consequences. I will be using examples from my work on Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.'
Wakefield Socialist History Group: Convenor: Bob Mitchell, 26 Park Lodge La, Wakefield WF1 4NL
The jewel in the crown, loyalty and royalty in queen victoria's india
Lecture by by Miles Taylor Professor of Modern History at York since 2004.
Tuesday 13 November, 6.30-7.30 pm
Merchant Adventurers' Hall, Fossgate York.
Queen Victoria was not only Queen of the United Kingdom, for much of her long reign she was also titular head of the Raj. What did Queen Victoria mean to the people of India?
Using untapped government records, a variety of vernacular biographies and portraits, as well as the Queen's own correspondence in the Royal Archives, Miles Taylor has uncovered a deep well of Indian loyalty to the Queen. Neither unconditional nor orchestrated from above, Indian reverence for Queen Victoria can tell us a lot about how the British Raj held together, and how it eventually fell apart.
Free admission but booking required: The Jewel in the Crown
EXPLORING ROMAN YORK: LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
Saturday 17th November 2018 from 10am to 5pm
George Hudson Room, West Offices, Station Rise, York, YO1 6GA
The York Archaeological Forum presents the annual York Archaeological Conference
Tickets £15, Information and Booking: York Archaeological Conference
Volunteer at Brodsworth Hall
Do you have time on your hands? English Heritage are advertising for friendly, enthusiastic volunteers to sign up to be room stewards at Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster. You would need to confidently communicate with people of all ages and from all walks of life. And you'll need to have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to learn more about the history of Brodsworth Hall.
For further information contact: Volunteering at Brodsworth Hall
Re-opening of Calderdale Archives
The Calderdale search room will reopen on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 17 July 2018 as part of a 'pre-opening' ahead of the official opening in the following few weeks. Please look out for more information about the official opening and open day events.
Opening hours - from 17 July 2018;
- Tuesday - 9.30am – 5pm
- Thursday - 9.30am – 5pm
- Friday - Temporarily closed
Appointments are recommended. Please consult a member of Archive Staff or contact them on email@example.com or 0113 535 0151. Further information about their reopening and contact details can be found on our website Calderdale Archives
LOCAL & FAMILY HISTORY NETWORK
Fourth Monday of the month, 1.30pm - 3.00pm
Programme: May - November 2018
22 Oct - Favourite Websites
26 Nov - Family Photos
OSSETT AND HORBURY GROUP
Second Friday of the month 11.00am – 12.30pm
Currently meeting in Horbury Library
Programme: April - October 2018
12 October - 1921 census and the changing 1841-1911 censuses