Book Reviews, March 2017
Chipping Campden History Society booklets
In the past few years, Chipping Campden History Society has produced a series of small booklets relating to aspects of life and buildings in the town. The booklets are all A5 in size, between 8 and 12 pages long and contain many pictures in full colour. The five titles are:
Campden House and the Almshouses
The Old Silk Mill
Chipping Campden High Street.
Campden House and the Almshouses gives details of the magnificent manor house built in 1612 for Sir Baptist Hicks (1551 – 1629) in the early 17th century. Sadly, the manor house was destroyed by fire during the Civil War, on the orders of Prince Rupert. Although the stones from the building were gradually removed, the gardens remained much as they were but gradually the site became buried. A Heritage Lottery funded excavation is under way.
The Almshouses were originally constructed with twelve ‘one up, one down’ dwellings at the same time as the manor house was built. They were endowed by Sir Baptist Hicks with £140 per annum to provide accommodation, a pension and other benefits for six poor men and six poor women from the town. This booklet gives details of the conditions by which the pensioners had to abide and the promises they made to gain admittance. Amazingly, eight portraits of some of the pensioners were made in the mid-nineteenth century and illustrations of some of these are included in the booklet.
The Old Silk Mill, a nationally significant building of its age dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, is situated in Sheep Street on the banks of the Cam. At the side is the Guild House, believed to have belonged to the mill owner. A map of the mill’s location in the town, pictures of the remaining buildings together with descriptions of the silk spinning process are provided. Census details and other records inform us that over 50 people, mainly women and girls, some as young as eight, worked there. The use of the mill once the silk spinning ceased is described: first as storage for a local builder and then as a base for the Guild of Handicraft until it collapsed financially. Thereafter, some of the craftsmen set up their own workshops in the building. Eventually, in the mid-20th century, part of the silk mill became the workshop of the world-famous Robert Welch design studio.
Cotswold Lions tells the story of the wool trade in Chipping Campden, which was one of the great centres of this trade in the Middle Ages. The booklet tells how the Romans introduced a variety of large, shaggy sheep to the area, so that they could make themselves warm cloaks to keep out the damp and chilly British weather. The breed, which became known as the Cotswold Lions, had longer than average strands in its fleece and its wool was in demand across Europe. Chipping Campden became a centre for the sale of wool and those selling the wool became wealthy.
Some of the profits were put into rebuilding the parish church, originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, later re-dedicated to St. James. It is now listed as a ‘wool church’ and many of the wool merchants are buried within. The booklet gives more information on the various families involved in the wool trade including one John Fereby who was Controller of the Great Custom in the fifteenth century and endowed a chantry and a grammar school in the town, the latter becoming the secondary school of today. A brief history of the wool trade is given and a vivid description of life on Market Day.
Campden Customs describes the Dover Games, the Scuttlebrook Wake and other events which enhanced life in the town. Traditionally called the ‘Cotswold Olympicks’, the Dover Games are held annually in a natural amphitheatre above Chipping Campden. In 1612, Robert Dover, a Cotswold lawyer, transformed a little local gathering by the addition of horse racing, hare coursing, wrestling, shin-kicking, tossing the hammer, and fencing with cudgels together with dancing, drinking and feasting. A wooden castle was the centrepiece of the events and Robert Dover presided over the proceedings from atop his white horse.
For at least two centuries, the Scuttlebrook Wake would be held on the day following the games. This added even more unusual competitions such as climbing a greasy pole, a smoking contest, jumping in sacks and a gorging contest. Fairground rides and amusements, a Scuttlebrook Queen and a fancy dress parade joined in the general merrymaking. Fetes, parades, maypole and morris dancing that were held over the years are all described in this booklet which brings back many memories of my local childhood.
Chipping Campden High Street describes the history of what was described by G.M.Trevelyan as ‘the most beautiful village street now left on the island’. This booklet tells the story of the main street of Chipping Campden from Roman times, through the town’s inclusion in the Domesday Book, to the acquisition of a Market Charter from Henry II, empowering Hugh de Gondeville to completely redesign the town. A small copy of a fascinating map of the burgage plots in the High Street at the time is given. These plots are still discernible from the air today.
This fifth booklet in the series describes the alleys and yards in the town and provides further details on Grevel House, the Old Grammar School, the Island Houses, the Market Hall, Bedfont House, Noel Arms, the Town Hall and much more, whilst discussing the development, decline and revival of the High Street. Although the appearance of the buildings may have changed over the years as fashions have come and gone, the overall layout is the same and Chipping Campden remains one of the most beautiful towns in Gloucestershire.
To purchase one of these booklets, plus the recently added Chipping Campden’s Treasures – Family Trail, visitthe history society’s website at: www.chippingcampdenhistory.org.uk
Prestbury: A Walk Through Time, by Roger Beacham. Published by Prestbury Local History Society, 2015. £2.00.
In 2015, Prestbury Local History Society produced an illustrated, 34-page, A5 booklet entitled Prestbury: A Walk Through Time, written by Roger Beacham. It begins with a brief history of the village from Saxon times so that those who use the booklet on their perambulation around Prestbury have some background knowledge to inform them.
A simple map of Prestbury is provided in the centre of the booklet showing the circular route, starting from The Burgage. There are 28 properties marked on the map, each accompanied by a number referred to within the text; seventeen of them are illustrated with black and white photographs or old prints. They range from thatched cottages to the Old Mansion, from the mill to the pubs. Interesting details of the families who lived or stayed in the various properties are given where known. Did you, for instance, know that Alfred Lord Tennyson was treated in a hydropathic institution at the property later renamed as Morningside?
Many other fascinating snippets of information are provided in the text and there is an index of all the personal names to be found in the booklet. The booklet is well presented and contains meticulous research. At £2 per copy, it is well worth purchasing to carry with you on your walk around the village. More details can be found on the history society’s website at: https://prestburyhistory.com/publications/
Prestbury Past and Present, by Michael Cole. Published by Prestbury Local History Society, 2016. £10.00.
It is hoped that this will be the first of many histories of the village of Prestbury giving deep insights into its heritage, relating the legacy of past centuries, something that has not been done in detail before.
The content of the book, based on talks given to the Prestbury History Society in recent years, is divided into four sections:
Masters, Servants and Tradesmen
The first section discusses the problems felt in Prestbury by occasional floods, leading to an explanation of the geology of the area, the local scenic landscape, the diversity of building materials, each of which helps to create the picturesque village we know and love today.
The history of ten lost buildings is given, from the Moated Manor House at one end of the village to Upper Mill and Hall Place at the other end. Despite the fact that no trace of the Moated Manor House remains, it is treated to four pages in this well-resourced book. John Leland, in his travels in 1540, described it as a ‘fair place’, ‘well motid’ and ‘with a Parke hard by’. Still in existence in 1643 when Roundheads sheltered there during the Civil War, the manor house was not mentioned in Atkyns’ Ancient and Present State of Glostershire, which was posthumously published in 1712.
The next section in the book concentrates on Prestbury in Victorian times, based upon the ages and occupations found in each national census, particularly those which were taken every decade from 1841 until the end of Victoria’s reign. The author compares the limited working life in Prestbury today, when most people leave the village to work, with the thriving activity there in the nineteenth century. In 1841, most men were agricultural labourers. Over the years, this occupation grew less and the labourers became gardeners instead, as market gardens developed in the neighbourhood. Working life for the women remained basically unchanged over the same period, with most being in domestic service.
The final section of the book takes a long step back in time and looks at prehistoric Prestbury, recording that the Prestbury area was inhabited by farming communities from mid or late Stone Age onwards. The author discusses the flint tools discovered in the area, accompanied by photographs of the artefacts. Also mentioned are the round barrows and Iron Age fort located in and just outside the parish.
This publication, denoted as Volume 1, is a black and white, 140 page, A5 book, with over 30 photographs and maps, a full index and a bibliography. Also included are several appendices containing transcripts of house sale documents and letters written to and by Mary Attwood of Cakebridge.
For anyone specifically interested in Prestbury or in the area in general, this small book is a source of interesting and useful information. We look forward to the production of Volume 2. At £10 a copy, the book can be purchased from the Prestbury Post Office or Library or at the local history meetings. Details of the publications and meetings can be found on: prestburyhistory.com/publications
Literary Tewkesbury, by David Elder. Published by Tewkesbury Historical Society, 2016. £19.50.
This latest publication by David Elder is a collection of literary quotations that give the reader an insight into the history of Tewkesbury. They are grouped under the titles of Place, People, Battle, Abbey, Work and Leisure. Each section is prefaced by a discussion that provides context to the quotations. The quotations are from a variety of eras, include poetry, fiction and non-fiction origins and are of varying length. The illustrations are of good quality and range from copies of paintings and drawings from previous times to recent photographs of the area.
The quotations discussed in the section, Place, provide an image of the river as a strong influence on the town, people, writers, poets and travellers. As the reader progresses through the book, the influence of sporting heroes, religion and local industries give depth to the history of Tewkesbury. This book has provided a different perspective on Tewkesbury for a reader with very little knowledge of its history. I enjoyed how the author had provided such a variety of quotations and it was encouraging to include poetry, which is often overlooked in adding to the local history of an area. The walk provided at the end of the book is an interesting option to encourage the reader to ‘leave’ the literary world and discover the ‘real’ Tewkesbury. An opportunity I look forward to in the near future.
Gotherington, Oxenton & Woolstone. Aspects of Community Life in the Great War, by David Griffiths, Caroline Meller and Jacqueline Waine. Published by Courtyard Books, Bishop’s Cleeve, 2016. £8.99.
This small book has 64 A5 pages with many black and white photographs to illustrate the text. It begins with a sketch map showing the area covered in the book and the background to the genesis of the book.
Unlike many recent publications, the book does not concentrate on the soldiers who fought in the war, although there is some mention of them in the main text and an appendix giving brief details of those who died, together with pictures where they exist; rather the book reflects everyday life in small villages a hundred years ago. There are chapters describing the busy scene in a normal Gloucestershire village and the state of farming in an increasingly industrial age, describing one life in particular, that of agricultural worker, Sidney Pitman.
War-time was a period when women were called upon to play a greater part in their local communities and the women of Gotherington, Oxenton and Woolstone were no different. Many of them stepped up to the mark, Mabel Malleson being one such person. She was chairwoman of the National Union of Women Workers, on the Board of Winchcombe Guardians and on the District Council. During the war, she joined several war-related organisations and also trained young women so that they could help out on local farms. As if that was not sufficient, Mabel was also a Suffragist, a topic which is also covered in the book in some detail from the local point of view.
The two small elementary schools, at Gotherington and Oxenton, are described, down to the wooden floors – the latter being ‘very shaky’! Each of them was governed by a headmistress. Since they were based in agricultural regions, the attendance officers were well in evidence, making sure the children did not take too much time off to help with the harvest. The problems of children suffering various ailments indicate the medical difficulties experienced by those who lived in the countryside.
A chapter devoted to law and order in the three villages demonstrates that much of the local crime involved animals, but crimes against humans are also included; one particular case refers to the ill-treatment of a child, beaten by his step-father, an army pensioner who blamed his irritability on his old injuries. Community policing, in the form of special constables, was in its infancy at a time when communities were expected to regulate themselves, with many police having signed up in the armed services.
Transport in the form of trains stopping at Gotherington railway station, opened a few years before the start of the war, brought new ways for local farmers to transport their produce to market and new jobs on the railway itself.
When war broke out, young men rushed to enlist at the Cheltenham recruiting office, most into the Gloucestershire Regiment. As the war continued, Gloucestershire saw an increase in Voluntary Aid Detachments to tend the injured and Refugee Centres to house those who had fled the hostilities in their own countries, particularly Belgians. Among the 38 refugees housed by Winchcombe Rural District Council was one family housed in Dixton. The difficulties of understanding the Flemish language was noted.
At this point, the book does concentrate on those who went off to fight the ‘war to end all wars’, recording some of the experiences of the soldiers and the effects that their absence caused to the families left behind. Descriptions of religious life in the two parish churches and the Gotherington chapel during the war demonstrate the need of people to come together, to work and pray together during times of conflict.
The book concludes that the greatest impression made during the research is that of the extent and strength of the relationships formed between people, sometimes complete strangers, to support, help and comfort each other during a time of great conflict. It makes an interesting and enjoyable read, particularly for those with an interest in the area. To purchase your copy, go to either the Gotherington Village Shop, Courtyard Books in Bishop’s Cleeve or the Amazon bookshop online.
The Stroud Valleys in the Great War, edited by Camilla Boon, with contributions from members of the Five Valleys Great War Researchers Group. Published by The History Press, Stroud, 2017. £12.99.
This welcome new addition to the library of books dealing with the local history of the Stroud area is meticulously researched, informative and often – perhaps surprisingly – quite amusing. It summarises the investigations of groups and individuals involved in studying the story of the First World War in Stroud, Rodborough, Minchinhampton, Woodchester, Stonehouse, Brimscombe, Chalford, France Lynch and Bussage. In addition, it is enhanced by introductory and concluding chapters from distinguished journalist Peter Evans, born locally and a former leader writer for The Times.
Some contributions to the book deal in detail with the history of individual combatants in the First World War, others record more about how the conflict affected local people. Fund-raising events, the work of volunteer groups and the use of women to fill employment gaps caused by the conscription of so many men, are just a few of the subjects covered.
Four chapters concern single topics: Paul Bennett’s VC, Minchinhampton Aerodrome, Woodchester Wayside Cross and the Cole brothers of Brimscombe. Other sections tell of the impact – and unintended consequences – the war had on parishes and individuals. Stories included describe Stroud’s intriguingly named ‘1917 Patriotic Economy Exhibition’, Rodborough’s unique ‘fruit evaporator’, Minchinhampton’s tragic double suicide, the mirror and Bible that saved the life of a Chalford soldier, a Woodchester hen that laid a 6 ounce egg with three yolks and how a Stonehouse soldier survived a torpedo attack.
All this, and a great deal more, makes The Stroud Valleys in the Great War a compulsive read for all those interested in how local communities endured and survived the ‘war to end wars’.