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Book reviews


  • Book reviews - Historical non-fiction

    The following book reviews have been submitted by members of Family Tree Forum.

    Common People: The History of An English Family by Alison Light

    Family history is a massive phenomenon of our times but what are we after when we go in search of our ancestors? Beginning with her grandparents, Alison Light moves between the present and the past, in an extraordinary series of journeys over two centuries, across Britain and beyond.

    Epic in scope and deep in feeling, Common People is a family history but also a new kind of public history, following the lives of the migrants who travelled the country looking for work. Original and eloquent, it is a timely rethinking of who the English were - but ultimately it reflects on history itself, and on our constant need to know who went before us and what we owe them.
    (source: Amazon)

    Shot at Dawn LeiscestershireLass

    Sharpe's Rise - The Story of Sharpe's Pottery, Swadlincote

    This book is about Sharpe's Pottery from its formation in 1821 and how it flourished for 147 years. It includes elements of local, national and social history. Some interesting information about the Sharpe family, what the pottery manufactured and workers contracts. It includes the names of many local people, their occupations and rates of pay for items made which will be of interest to people whose ancestors worked in the Derbyshire Pottery Industry.

    Submitted by LeiscestershireLass

    From Tollgate to Tramshed - The History of London Road, Leicester c1860-1920 by Helen Boynton & Derek Seaton

    This book covers London Road, Leicester from The Tollgate at Victoria Park outwards to the Leicester Corporation tramshed (near Oadby). It includes photographs and descriptions of many of the 'large' houses along London Road together with information about some of the affluent people who lived in them.

    Submitted by LeiscestershireLass

    The Slums of Leicester edited by Ned Newitt

    This book is a complete contrast to From Tollgate to Tramshed. It includes photographs and descriptions of living conditions in Leicester streets that disappeared during the city's slum clearance programme between 1932-1972 when around 16,000 houses were demolished. This book also includes a range of Ordnance Survey maps of city areas as well as references from Tom Barclay's The Autobiography of a bottle-washer which give an insight into living and working conditions in Victorian Leicester.

    Submitted by LeiscestershireLass

    ISLINGTON by Gavin Smith (The History Press)

    This fascinating collection of nearly 200 old photographs of the Borough takes a nostalgic look back at some of the changes of the last hundred years. We see the old shops, street markets and theatres, including the music halls, and some of the people who lived and worked in the area. Dramatic changes in public transport can be seen, from horse-drawn bus and tramcar to the arrival of the Underground and the motorbus. Book includes early scenes of Holloway and Canonbury, Finsbury Park, the construction of the Highgate Archway and the new stand for Arsenal at Highbury in the 1930s.'

    It is well produced and I can recommend to anyone with ancestors in that area. Includes pictures of Arsenal team players and Crippen. There are pics of individuals such as Nell Smith, ticket collector/booking clerk for Gt Northern & City Railway at Highbury and Finsbury Pk Stations in the 1920s.
    ISNB 978-0-7524-4960-9 Pub: 2009 The History Press. Part of Britain in Old Photographs series.

    Submitted by Liz from Lancs

    Children of the Dark by Alan Gallop (Sutton Publishing Ltd 2003)

    Recommended for anyone with ancestors who worked in mining.
    It is about the Huskar Pit disaster in 1838 near Barnsley, Yorkshire when 26 child workers died in a flash flood underground. (I actually have a slight connection to one of the children). Not only does the book set the scene in a semi-fictionalised way about the life and conditions of the miners, but it also has lots of details about the inquest and investigation into the tragedy which illustrate the attitudes of the mine owners and others in authority at that time. As a result, in 1842, the labour laws were changed to exclude women and children from working underground.

    Submitted by Anne in Carlisle

    Black Diamonds The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty by Catherine Bailey

    Another one with a coal mining background and an astonishing family history story as well. A cracking read!
    It is about the Fitzwilliam family of Wentworth in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The title Earl Fitzwilliam goes back centuries but the book concentrates on the 19th and 20th centuries. The title lapsed (when the 10th Earl died) in 1979 after an extraordinary series of family events! The Fitzwilliams were owners of a huge estate, massive stately home and some coal mines. They were locally regarded as comparatively reasonable mine owners. The book has detailed descriptions of the lives of miners, both in the Fitzwilliam pits and in other (much worse) ones nearby. It also describes the miners strikes in the early 20C and the period leading up to Nationalisation.

    Submitted by Anne in Carlisle

    William Allen, Quaker Friend of Lindfield

    Submitted by Jill on the A272

    Steel Bonnets by George Macdonald Fraser

    This gives a good overview of the border reivers and will provide background information for anyone who has ancestors from the area north of Hadrian's Wall into Southern Scotland. The book was first recommended to me by OC.

    Submitted by Barbara Dodds

    1916 Rebellion Handbook - First published 1916 by Weekly Irish Times

    The edition I have - published 1998 by The Mourne River Press
    Anyone with Irish ancestry should read at least one of the books about The 1916 Uprising kathsgirl.48

    Her People and Where There's Life, by Kathleen Dayus.

    My copy is published 1985 by Virago. If you had poor relatives living in towns, applying for poor relief, etc. These 2 books are one woman's story. Born 1903 in Birmingham, married, widowed, sanctioned for working while on poor relief, put her children into Barnado's then worked to afford a home so she could get them back. Really helps you see the life as it was then for that 'class' of people.

    Lifting the Latch

    All Quiet on the Home Front by Richard Van Emden & Steve Humphries ISBN 0-7553-1189-2.

    An oral history of life in Britain during the First World War.

    The Long Furrow by Ashley Cooper

    History of farming in Essex

    The Crooked Scythe

    An anthology of oral history by George Ewart Evans.

    Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

    Social mores in a rural community, with some interviews with local people.

    Colonel's Lady and Camp-follower by Piers Compton

    It is the story of the women who went to the Crimean war, as soldiers wives and as tourists, believe it or not! An interesting read if you have an ancestor who was one of these women. Published in 1970 and out of print now I believe.

    The History of Myddle by Richard Gough around 1701.

    The actual history of this Shropshire parish isn't of particular interest to me, as none of my ancestors lived in that part of the country, but I'm fascinated by the author's view of the world (at least his small part of it).

    For example, he knew from memory (presumably) his direct male ancestral line, including wive's maiden names, parents' names, and parishes of origin, going back (if I recall correctly) six or seven generations. Moreover, he knew the genealogy of every pew holder in the parish, usually for at least three generations, depending on how long the family had lived in Myddle or one of the nearby parishes, along with anecdotes about their ancestor's characters. Obviously, if he were alive today, he would be a member of this forum! It goes to show, though, how important this kind of knowledge was considered to be, particularly when land tenure or other rights might depend on showing 'customary usage'.

    Gough was a young boy (e.g., 9 or 10) during the English Civil War, and while his first-hand reminiscences of that period are limited, he gives a good sense of how his parish had been affected at the time, and how it was still remembered by people of his generation. At one point he also provides an explanation of how traditional tithing in kind worked in practice - e.g., if a farmer had six or less new lambs (or calves, chickens, piglets, etc...), he wasn't expected to give any to the church, but to pay money instead; if he had between 7 and 9, one would go to the church, but the farmer would receive money back, essentially as change (the tithe being one-tenth).

    Although Gough was probably better educated and better off financially than many of his neighbours (I'm not sure if he would be considered lower gentry or one of the 'middling sorts'), he certainly was in touch with the common man, and once you get accustomed to his style, he is quite easy to read - a real link between our world and that of Stuart England.

    There are a number of modern editions, including a Penguin paperback.

    The Lost Villages of England by Leigh Driver.

    Publisher: New Holland Publishers Ltd 2006.
    Britain is full of deserted, abandoned and lost villages. There are over 3,000 in England alone. Many were deserted in medieval times, for reasons ranging from death by plague to the depletion of the area's natural resources, whilst others were deserted more recently for reasons of national security. Villages such as Tyneham in Dorset, and Imber in Wiltshire, were taken over by the military in wartime, yet were never returned to their original inhabitants. Today, the desolate remains of these once-populated villages are all that remain to tell the stories of the inhabitants that once lived and worked there.

    Author Leigh Driver examines the historical writings, documents and archaeological remains that bear witness to the past, and tells the story of the demise of each "lost" village. Illustrated with stunning contemporary colour photographs alongside old aerial views, maps, and historical documents, these "lost" villages are brought back to life in this book.

    Villages featured include: Martinsthorpe in Rutland. Cold Newton and Ingarsby in Leicestershire.

    Childhood BBC Shop
    I didn't hear all the series as it was on in the afternoons, but I was impressed with what I heard and have ordered the CDs for myself.

    To War with God: The Army Chaplain Who Lost His Faith by Peter Fiennes

    The book is based on the contents of a brown suitcase which had been handed down to Peter, and contained letters, photographs and a diary from his grandfather's time as a padre in WW1. Monty was attached to the 52nd Light Infantry, 2nd Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire, and arrived in France in September 1916 en route to The Somme. Peter tells the story of his accident prone and often sick grandfather, who was brought up by his religious maternal aunt after his mother died and his father returned to India to resume his good work (and acquire a second wife/mad step-mother). Monty studied theology at Cambridge, where he had a keen interest in sport. When he arrived in France, he was rather wet behind the ears and had even packed his pyjamas and brought his own bath! I don't think he had any idea what the reality of trench warfare was really like, but this was soon to change. He was to serve on the Western Front (including Passchendaele) until well after Armistice. He arrived back in England in April 1919 as a deeply scarred man who had lost his faith. He had witnessed the horrors of war, buried thousands of men, lost his own brother-in-law, sat with a man the night before he was due to executed for desertion, and earned himself the MC for his bravery.

    A well written and well researched book, bringing in the details of battles which were witnessed, regimental history and attitudes towards the padres at the time. A good read and thoroughly recommended.

    Submitted by Velma Dinkley

    The History and Traditions of Islington and The History and Traditions of St Pancras by Thomas Coull.

    Originally published in 1861, now republished by the British Lib. Available on Amazon.
    Gives detailed history of places, stories and people in the area. Has been reprinted in the original format so resembles the print seen on old newspapers. Recommend for anyone with ancestors in those areas of London.

    Submitted by Liz from Lancs

    A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver. Based on BBC series of same name. Paperback with colour pictures.

    Neil Oliver is a Scottish archaeologist, historian, writer and broadcaster. The History starts with the geological formation of Scotland through to the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in the 1990s.
    Interesting, easy to read style of writing - makes history, geology, archaeology very accessible. Can highly recommend.

    Submitted by Liz from Lancs

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