Book Reviews, February 2016
The Church Houses of Old Gloucestershire by Jill Martin, published as a CD in pdf format by Hawkesbury Local History Society, March 2013. 64pp. £6.50, from the Society including postage and packing.
The CD comprises a comprehensive gazetteer of all the County’s identifiable Church Houses, whether still existing as private homes, or only known from surviving records. It covers the whole of the historic (pre-1974) County of Gloucestershire, and details the documentary evidence for the existence of a Church House in no less than 137 parishes — so there will probably be something of interest here for every local history group or society in the County.
Church Houses were generally in use between the mid-15th and early 17th century as a venue for secular events and entertainments within the parish that were no longer deemed suitable to take place in the church or churchyard, as the traditional fund- raising ‘church ales’ had been. When they eventually went out of use, many were either left to decay, or converted to other uses, such as homes, poor houses or schools.
The CD is well illustrated with photographs of those buildings that the author believes are surviving Church Houses, including that at Hawkesbury itself, which features on the CD’s cover, and which has previously been claimed as part of a grange of Pershore Abbey. Other well known examples are the especially fine Church House at Standish and the so-called ‘Priest’s House’ at Elkstone.
This is certainly a valuable addition to the available information on the County’s historic buildings, often supplementing or adding to that found elsewhere, such as in the two ‘buildings of England volumes for Gloucestershire.
A History of Cheltenham in 100 Objects by Steven Blake, The History Press, 2013, £12.99 paperback, ISBN 9780752461199.
Having read and enjoyed this book, I can assure readers that the author has fulfilled his major aim of demonstrating the value of museum objects in helping us understand our past. I have not visited Cheltenham Museum for many years, but this book made me determined to go there again to check out the incredible variety of artefacts preserved and displayed in the collections.
Steven Blake worked at the Museum for over 30 years, eventually becoming Collections Manager. He has used his wide knowledge of its contents to select a fascinating range of objects to illustrate how Cheltenham has developed over the past three centuries.
What makes the book interesting and different are the many individual stories behind the objects he has selected. For example, Cheltenham physician Dr Edward Wilson’s christening mug is used to reveal that the Museum holds one of Britain’s most important Antarctic collections, stemming from Dr Wilson’s participation in Captain Scott’s fateful final expedition.
Much information can be gathered about the town’s shops and trades from paper bags and catalogues to metal signs and life-size models such as the Highlander which stood outside Fred Wright’s tobacco shop for many years. These objects have found their way to the Museum from donations, purchases and lucky rescues from rubbish tips!
Each of the 100 objects gives a snapshot of the time in which it was created and used. It is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into discovering the names and dates of people who influenced 18their creation. Plenty of detail is provided by the author to enable the reader to find out more.
The book’s design and reproduction is of high quality and the objects are beautifully presented. A street map of Cheltenham would have been useful for those who are not familiar with all the places mentioned.
As this book is by our GLHA Chairman, one would expect it to be reviewed kindly in this Newsletter! Nevertheless I have no hesitation in genuinely recommending it to all our members as a very good read and an encouragement to visit your local museum soon.
A Week’s Holiday in The Forest of Dean by John Bellows, replica of first edition (1881), with an introduction by Ian Standing, Holborn House, 2013, £10.00, paperback.
” A very pleasant spot is this for a pic-nic; and a note sent beforehand to the keeper’s wife will ensure the requisite supply of milk and other et cetera.” so John Bellows advises visitors walking to Danby Lodge near Yorkley in the first edition of his guide, A Week’s Holiday in The Forest of Dean. Bellows was the founder of the Gloucester publishing firm which carried his name. He was also a frequent visitor to and an ardent admirer of the Forest.
Using The Speech House as his base, Bellows describes his day trips across the Forest. As a good travel guide should, he provides the reader with historical detail about the Dean generally and the specific places they visit. And being a Victorian gentleman with a keen interest in his surroundings, he also provides lists, for example, of the less common butterflies one might see, and notes on the botany, natural history and geology of the Forest.
I loved the guide’s wealth of practical detail, which gives us a clear picture of holidaying in Victorian times. It just isn’t the same these days! For example, we learn that the morning post arrives at The Speech House at 7.30am, early enough for correspondence to be dealt with before setting out for the day. We learn what it costs to hire traps, train times from the numerous stations within the Forest, and the four different ways one can return from Littledean to The Speech House.
But while full of useful information this is not a dry tome by any means. On the contrary, Bellows writes with a gentle sense of humour, often at his own expense, but especially marked when dealing with the ” natives”. He finds the local people friendly, full of helpful information and always ready to tell the visitors stories such as their version of the origins of place names.
Bellows was spurred to write his comprehensive guide as the advent of the railways into the area made the journey to the Forest a practical one for the first time. The information he provides on train journeys within the Forest and to places such as Tintern Abbey and Raglan Castle makes the reader realise how much we have lost. It may be much easier to simply hop in the car, and we can always telephone to book a meal at Speech House, but I rather like the idea of being able to ” hand a card to the station master at Lydney, en route” if we want to ” find lunch laid ready…on arrival.”
The replica edition of ” A Week’s Holiday in The Forest of Dean” has an introduction on the life of Bellows and printing notes by Ian Standing, Forest Verderer and a Vice-President of the Forest of Dean Local History Society. To find out about local stockists or to order direct, go to holbornhouse.com.
Cottage Histories in Bledington, Gloucestershire by Michael Weller, published June 2013 by Bledington Local History Society, Occasional Publication No. 7, A4, paperback, 129 pages, 63 illustrations, £15 plus p&p.
Following on from his previous publication on the farms and farm holdings in the village of Bledington, Michael Weller has this time concentrated his research on the old cottages and the families who lived in them. In all, 86 pre-20th century cottages have been studied based mainly on documentary evidence such as old maps, deeds, wills, surveys and sales catalogues found locally at Gloucestershire Archives, at Oxford Record Office or the National Archives at Kew. Oral history has been gathered with the help of the local population and previous owners.
The book begins with a map showing numbered properties that existed in 1769 and then, working street by street around the village, it gives the history of each thoroughfare and of the selected cottages. Using a variety of maps, censuses, the Lloyd George survey, old photographs and family pictures, the village past is brought to life. In particular, the availability of local deeds and wills has allowed Michael Weller to describe the ownership of each property and how it has passed from one generation to another over the centuries.
Take Mary’s Cottage on the south side of Chapel Lane as an example. The author records how, in 1756, two cottages were bought by the University of Oxford from Barbara and Hannah, the daughters of Henry and Barbara Gardiner. One of the cottages was later sold to the Methodist Council and then, in the late 1880s, to Charles Fletcher who promptly sold off some of the land. In the 20 th century, the two cottages were rented by John and Elizabeth Hall and their daughter, Mary. John was the son of a local blacksmith and had worked on Stows Farm for over 60 years. It was their daughter, Mary, after whom the cottage is now named.
Whilst the book lacks an index to the highlighted names of the owners, occupiers and cottages mentioned within its text, this can only encourage historians to read the book more closely rather than pick out the relevant items. References to the documents used are given throughout. Certainly this publication is a very good example of a combination of both local and family history research – every village should have one!
Music in the Windows of St Mary’s Church, Fairford by John Read, 14 th occasional paper produced by Fairford History Society, £2.50.
The beautiful stained glass windows in St. Mary’s church are famous and are a source of much interest to visitors to the area; this occasional paper looks at a specific aspect of them – their musical content.
The text begins with a description of the Palm Sunday window, pointing out a boy holding a musical scroll, the notes on which have been transcribed from the 15 th century motet into modern notation. Other notations are discussed. Following this is a list of the musical angels portrayed in the windows on the south side of the church, some singing, some playing early musical instruments, all of the angels being in the highest parts of the windows – so take your binoculars with you when you go to study them.
The instruments depicted and described are necessarily early ones, including a rebec, strawm, triangle, gut-stringed psaltery, a six-stringed harp, portative organ and even some bagpipes! What an orchestra!
I have always been attracted to the glorious colours in stained glass windows but never realised quite how fascinating the content can be, even, in this case, to a non-musician. I must look more closely at stained glass windows in future!
Packed with detailed information and containing over thirty colour photographs of angels and singers, this 20 page A5 booklet is is available from the society. It deserves to be made widely available.
The Churches and Chapels of the Parish of Tidenham edited by Carol Clammer & Keith Underwood, Tidenham Historical Group, 2014, ISBN 9780992872205, £15 plus £3 p&p.
Published in 2014, this A5 size book contains 200 glossy pages, 16 of them in full colour. Each church or chapel is given its own individual chapter with its history, grid reference, maps, photographs, plans, drawings and a ‘tour’ describing the building and contents. Three appendices cover memorial plaques in Tutshill St Luke’s, a list of Tidenham clergy since 1339 and a glossary that is an education in itself.
The parish of Tidenham with Lancaut and Beachley forms a triangle bounded by R Wye and R Severn, and the parishes of Hewelsfield and Woolaston. The book opens with a map showing the places of worship in the area since 625AD and mentions those no longer in existence. Separate chapters discuss some wonderful stained glass windows and the two lead fonts from the area; one from Lancaut which is now in Gloucester Cathedral, and the other still in Tidenham church. For the family historians amongst us, many local families are mentioned throughout the book and there are many transcriptions of memorials including those drowned in river accidents, soldiers who died in India and the daughters of one Reverend Bridges, despite the fact that they died in Jamaica. Did you know there was a tiny island in the River Severn about half a mile south-west of Beachley, with a little chapel on it? St. Tecla’s Chapel on Chapel Rock is believed to have been there since before 1290, although no records have been found to prove the existence of a hermit’s cell there. Moving forward in time, the congregation of St Luke’s Church in Tutshill were unhappy with their Sunday services and sent a petition to the vicar which began:
” To the Vicar of Tidenham, we the undersigned while expressing our great satisfaction with the way you conduct the services in the parish church, nevertheless hope that you may meet our wishes in materially shortening the morning service in any way you may think fit.”
The effects of war on the local community are discussed with damage to Tidenham church occurring during the Civil War when there was a Parliamentary garrison there. More drastically and much more recently, Beachley villagers were given only 11 days’ notice before they were evicted from their homes so that the government could build a new shipyard. Those affected included the Curre family from Beachley Lodge, the school, four cottages near the pier and the Old Passage House pub. Eventually, 2 rows of cottages were built in the shadow of the first Severn Bridge. 6000 Royal Engineers moved into the area and, later, some German prisoners of war. Eventually, the Army Apprentices College appeared on the site.
The title of this book tells you exactly what you will find inside its covers but does not give any hint of the variety of information within it. It covers a wide range of aspects on the area, from disasters on the river, one during which 14 people were drowned and the only survivor was a dog, to the sale of 187 pairs of socks during an appeal for a new curate at Tidenham. Despite the fact that it does not have an index this book is very readable and interesting throughout. The book is available directly from the Tidenham Historical Group.
Inside the Wire: The Prisoner-of-War Camps and Hostels of Gloucestershire 1939 – 1948 by Ian M C Hollingsbee, published by The History Press, 2014, ISBN: 9780750958462, price £12.99
This A5 book has 180 pages containing black and white pictures, aerial photographs, maps, and personal accounts relating to the prisoner of war camps and hostels that existed in Gloucestershire during and after the Second World War. It is a fascinating insight into a forgotten aspect of World War Two, when many German and Italian prisoners were forced to spend their time in our county.
The book begins with a map showing the location of the camps and hostels in the county together with a list of abbreviations and a list of German ranks, followed by a table giving a reference number for each place, a grid reference to aid location, the name of the camp or hostel and, in many cases, a comment. The latter briefly states the original location if the camp no longer exists and what happened to it (e.g. ‘under Gloucester’s northern ring road’) and gives information on its current situation (e.g. ‘now an industrial area’).
Twelve chapters follow; an introduction to the topic discussing Churchill’s ‘unexpected guests’ followed by descriptions of each camp plus a compelling account of the time spent by Joachim Schulze, a German prisoner of war who passed much of the relevant time in the Newtown Hostel near Tewkesbury.
Lots of little stories as well as factual details of the camps are provided throughout, including details of medical and dental facilities, food preparation methods, descriptions of the work given to prisoners and the hours they were expected to work, their free time allowance, the sports they played, books available in the camp libraries, and the items they could buy in the camp shops.
I was particularly intrigued to read about the camp at Elmbridge Court Farm, just a few hundred yards from where I live, about which I knew nothing at all. With an aerial photograph of the site, a photograph of the camp taken from the farmhouse and the reminiscences of one who could recall the camp and its inmates, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of life in earlier and more difficult times. The Germans had quickly made the camp shipshape when they arrived but, when leaving, they wrecked it as they did not want their hard work to be used by the displaced persons who were to occupy it afterwards.
Giving copious notes and references at the end, Ian Hollingsbee has explored the role of the camps, their captives and their workers, together with the impact on the local community. This book draws on Ministry of Defence and US Army records and those of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is richly illustrated with original images and make for a very interesting read.
Stroud Subscription Rooms (1832 – 1950) by Marion Hearfield.
Having purchased Marion Hearfield’s earlier book on William Cowle, I was keen to see whether she could maintain her high standard of research with her latest product. I was not disappointed. This booklet tells the story of Stroud Subscription Rooms from its inception in 1832 until the end of World War Two. Although it had been mentioned in many earlier works, this is the first booklet dedicated to the Subscription Rooms alone. Many new but original documents have been located and used as background material. The whole booklet covers more than a dozen different aspects of the life of the building and comes with a useful index.
The Borough of Stroud was created by the Reform Act of 1832 and the gentry of the town decided that its new status should be marked with the erection of an impressive public building. Plans were drawn up and subscriptions of £50 were attracted towards the cost of a site and the new building. Included in the booklet are the names of all subscribers and a brief biography of each. The management committee struggled to raise enough money but, eventually, in 1834, the building was finished well enough to admit the public. Local dignitaries donated paintings to decorate the 9walls. A list of the tradesmen and suppliers, found in the bank book, covering the period from 1832 to 1874, is also given.
Over the years, a variety of events took place in the Subscription Rooms; political meetings, musical concerts, tea parties, circuses, exhibitions, balls, celebratory dinners, recitals, etc., just about every type of event you can think of. But despite its many uses, financing the Subscription Rooms was a problem; it often incurred an overdraft. To bring in income, the George Room was refitted as a Masonic Temple and part of the building later became a club. A billiard room was added and a public reading room was opened later with residents coming in daily to read the latest news from London.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a steward, Henry Twitchett, was appointed to take over the day-to-day running of the club. He was the person responsible for bringing London companies to Stroud to entertain the population. When World War One was declared, the Subscription Rooms became even more in demand as a variety of committees were formed and needed somewhere to meet. Fundraising events also took place there and demonstrations were given on how to cope with such aspects as food shortages. During WW2, the building was requisitioned by the Air Ministry and a useful inventory of the building and contents was made. The rooms were returned to the owners in1947 but were too expensive to run. By the end of the 1950s, they could not afford to pay for the necessary improvements so the whole building was sold to the Urban District Council.Using a variety of archives, Marion Hearfield has produced a fascinating booklet about a much loved public building. Published in 2015 by Stroud Local History Society, this A5 booklet consists of 48 pages and costs £5. To purchase a copy of the booklet, go to www.stroudlocalhistorysociety.org.uk
The New Regard – The Journal of the Forest of Dean Local History Society.
The Forest of Dean Local History Society was founded in 1948 and now has over 300 members world-wide. Since 1985, the society has produced an annual journal called The New Regard. Each publication is A4 in size, has approximately 70 to 80 pages, and is mainly black and white although it includes some colour when necessary. The journal is of a high quality, in both its production and in its content. In fact, the society website states that The New Regard “is recognised as one of the best of its kind, to the extent that four of the contributors have been shortlisted for the British Association of Local History Association award for a published article.”
On the whole, The New Regard contains an incredible range of articles, covering topics such as mines, quarries, forests, trees, rivers, roads, tramways, industries, archaeology, schools, churches, houses, families – I could continue. Just to give you a taster of what you can find in these pages, I list a few titles of past articles:
– Arthur Quinton Barton, chemist and optician, 1889-1956
– The Enigma of Crocket’s Holes, Newent
– The Civil War in the Forest of Dean, 1642-1646
– Bream Traders
– Memories of Parkend during World War II
– The Crown Prince of Siam at Westbury Court
– Cup Stones and Arrow Stones
– The Development of Horlick Malted Milk and Infant Food
– Earthworks in or near Hay Wood, Oxenhall
– The Woodside Infanticides
– Ironworking at Flaxley Abbey
– A Clean End to the Shift: Princess Royal Pithead Baths
– Highmeadow House
– The Union Pit Disaster: Bixlade 1902
If you are researching a particular topic and consider it may have some possible connection to the Forest of Dean area, I suggest you look at the online (and downloadable) index to the articles from all 29 editions which can be found at www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk/publications/new-regards
Occasionally, The New Regard is dedicated to just one topic, with all articles relating to that, as was the case with the 28th journal, entitled Cinderford through the Ages. Back in 1963, Ronald Beard produced an undergraduate project about the town and, fifty years later, he compared life there as it was in 2013 with his earlier findings. This particular edition contains 92 photographs, charts, maps showing coal seams, iron ore deposits, tram roads and rail networks, and tables such as birth and death rates, plus much more. The journal includes photographs of Cinderford taken by Ron in 1963 and corresponding ones taken 50 years later. The aspects covered in the articles include:
– The Site and Situation of Cinderford
= Industrial Development (covering the iron and coal industries, quarrying, forestry and wood industries, brickmaking, engineering and other industries
– The Growth of Settlement
– The Future
Looking at the contents lists of all 29 editions of The New Regard there isn’t one single journal which does not have at least one article which I would not happily sit down and read.
Memories of Choirs and Cloisters – Fifty Years of Music, originally by A. Herbert Brewer: edited by John Morehen, published by Stainer & Bell, 2015, price £14.99. ISBN 9780852499467.
The original version of Memories of Choirs and Cloisters was published in 1931 and contained the author’s recollections and anecdotes. In this year, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Three Choirs Festival, John Morehen has modernised the spellings, names and punctuation, and generally organised the text into a more coherent memoir.
The book consists of nearly two hundred A5 pages divided into over 20 chapters, ranging from Brewer’s early upbringing in Gloucester, through his various professional appointments around the country, followed by his return to his home town where he became so very involved in the musical life of the city.
Throughout the book there are fascinating anecdotes which bring Herbert Brewer’s experiences to life and give glimpses of his character. One early anecdote describes how, as a young chorister at St. Mark’s Church in Gloucester, Brewer enticed a stray cat into the vestry and then hid it in one of the organ pipes. To the amusement of the children in the congregation, the cat added some weird and wonderful noises as an accompaniment to the efforts of the organist, before climbing out of the pipe and escaping. Brewer was temporarily suspended for his part in the event but did not return to the choir. Later, he was accepted as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral where he progressed to being both soloist and head boy of the then College School.
After appointments in Oxford, Bristol, Coventry and Tonbridge, Brewer returned to Gloucester in 1896 as the organist at the Cathedral. His first big function was the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897. For his first Three Choirs Festival in the following year, Brewer determined that the chorus should be drawn from the three counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, a move that was deemed very successful.
The book is full of Brewer’s reminiscences of musicians, singers and composers, of places and events that he attended, most of them accompanied by stories which bring the whole to life. He even includes some political events, having been made the City High Sheriff in 1922. Copious notes are provided on most pages throughout the text, with the editor expanding on Brewer’s own memories, adding details where necessary to extend the original information and to enhance the text.
A comprehensive index is given at the end, together with an index listing the composers and their compositions that are mentioned. Memories of Choirs and Cloisters provides a fascinating insight into the life of one of our greatest cathedral organists and the people with whom he came into contact. I am sure the book will appeal to all with an interest in Gloucester’s musical history, as well as to those who, like me, lack musical knowledge but are interested in our city’s past.