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Book Reviews, February 2010

by John Loosley

The Statesman from Sheepscombe; the schoolboy diary of Lord Carlingford transcribed and edited by Ron Paterson, 2009, pp152, Sheepscombe History Society.

Lord Carlingford at the age of 15 was sent over from Ireland, where the family seat was at Ravensdale County Louth, to a private school in Sheepscombe run by the vicar Rev Ostrehan. His diary, covering his stay in Sheepscombe from 1838 to 1841, is in the British Library and Sheepscombe History Society was told of its existence by Professor Barman of the University of British Columbia. The connection of Lord Carlingford and indeed the story of the school were not known to the Society and Ron Paterson spent many hours transcribing the diary. The result is a fascinating account of life in a small Gloucestershire village as seen through someone on the “upper steps of society” as he reminds the reader on many occasions. Lord Carlingford was something of a hypochondriac and bookworm and there are long accounts of the many books he was reading from contemporary novels to the classics together with his various illnesses. Of particular interest however are the descriptions of his visits to Cheltenham, Stroud and Painswick together with some of the inhabitants of Sheepscombe. Ron Paterson has provided copious notes on the many references in the text which may be unfamiliar to the reader thereby considerably increasing the enjoyment of those reading this diary. Following his 3 years in Sheepscombe Lord Carlingford followed his elder brother to Oxford University and then entered Parliament for Louth as a Liberal.

A History of Bishop’s Cleeve and Woodmancote by David Aldred, 2009, pp252, illustrated, ISBN 978-1-84868-727-1, Amberley Publishing, £15.99.

Bishop’s Cleeve has seen enormous development since the arrival of the Smith’s factory in 1936 and the major expansion since the 1950s. Before this period the community evolved remarkably slowly and the author has used all available evidence to establish who lived in Bishop’s Cleeve and Woodmancote and the pattern of life over 12,000 years. A considerable amount of archaeological excavation has taken place since the 1980s when there was a further major expansion linked to the new bypass. This has resulted in a mass of new evidence of early settlement, the results of which has been expertly interpreted by David Aldred to provide a fascinating story of life in this community in the periods up to the Domesday Book. A chapter is devoted to the analysis of the Domesday entry and again the author has used his experience to unravel the text. The Bishop of Worcester held the manor from the early ninth century to 1561 and many records exist from 1086 which have been the subject of detailed analysis by Professor Dyer and the author which, together with recent archaeological work, has thrown new light on the development of the community in that period. In the early modern era the amount of documentary evidence increases substantially and use of this wealth of material including the parish records shows a traditional farming community brought to a sudden halt by the enclosure of the medieval open fields in 1847. Again the author provides a “snapshot” of life, this time in 1851, taken from the census returns which then leads to the last 150 years and the changes which have defined the present day Bishop’s Cleeve and Woodmancote. I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating writing a parish or community history as a model of how much information can be extracted from the documentary sources, archaeological reports and the all important field work

In and Around Bishop’s Cleeve through Time by David Aldred and Tim Curr, 2009, pp96. Illustrated, ISBN 978-1-84868-809-4, Amberley Publishing, £12.99.

This new series, which shows historic photographs against modern colour photographs, already includes books on Minchinhampton and Amberley, Uley, Dursley and Cam, Tetbury, Stroud and Cirencester. David Aldred, with his long time friend Tim Curr, has collected old photographs of the area for many years and these are contrasted with modern photograph of the same subjects. The book not only covers Bishops Cleeve but also Woodmancote, Gotherington, Cleeve Hill and Southam and will appeal to those living in these communities and those exploring the area.

Where the River Bends: Ten decades of life in the Severnside Parish of Arlingham told through the stories and photographs of its people, 2009, pp384, illustrated, ISBN 978-0-9540656-2-1, Arlingham Church. £20.

This impressively produced book, the title of which comes from the horseshoe bend in the Severn where the village lies, is divided into 10 chapters, each covering a decade from 1900 to 2000. At the start of each chapter is a photograph and a list of significant world events during that decade. It is sad to see how often a war is featured from the Boer War through the First World War to recent conflicts. On a happy note there is a wonderful collection of photographs and stories including much associated with the River Severn such as the ferry and the frequent floods. As would be expected in a book on the life of a village there are numerous pictures of school children, farming life, transport, family groups and sporting events. Of note are the pictures of Arlingham School gardening class, Fretherne Foot Beagles and the Arlingham Drum and Fife Band. The editors and contributors have done an excellent job in finding these valuable photographs and researching the stories which capture the life in the village over 100 years.

A Cut above the Rest; A History of Lister Shearing 1909-2009 by David Evans and Alun Williams, 2009, pp190 illustrated, ISBN 978-1-84868-504-8, Amberley Publishing, £14.99.

Following the invention of the first mechanical shears for shearing sheep in Australia in the mid nineteenth century the engineering company of R.A. Lister of Dursley took up this idea in 1909. The development of Lister sheep shears in the 20th century has made a big impact throughout the world, particularly in New Zealand and Australia. The story tells of the development from a division within R.A. Lister to the management buyout of the company from Schroder Ventures in 1998 and the subsequent success of this enterprising company and its employees. Local historian David Evans and the Managing Director of the company since 2002, Alun Williams, have a deep knowledge of the history and the technical aspect of the products which is told in this comprehensive account of the company over the last 100 years.

Stroud Workhouse – A Danger to Sick People by Chas Townley, 2009, pp 60 illustrated, ISBN 978-0-9563313-0-4, Stroud History Publications, £5.99.

Chas Townley has been researching the history of Stroud in the 1930s and this account of the condition of the workhouse and the long period of indecision as to the replacement and subsequent closure of the building is told against the background of the newly appointed Stroud Guardians Committee by the Gloucestershire County Council in 1930 and the debate on the provision of a replacement hospital over the next 9 years. The book examines the conditions in the workhouse, then known as the Public Assistance Institution, from 1930 through to its closure in 1939. Many illustrations from that period show the sparse conditions provided for the inmates. In the author’s view the failure to build a replacement hospital, as originally proposed at Leonard Stanley, had major impact on the National Health Service provisions in the area when introduced in 1948.

Grovefield House near Cheltenham and Captain James Pritchit of the Warwickshire Militia by Phyllis White, 2009, pp 53 illustrated Cheltenham Local History Society.

Phyllis White died in 2006 and for over 40 years had been researching the history of Grovefield House in the Arle district of Cheltenham. Her husband Brain was determined that her research should be published and Sue Rowbotham, with the assistance of members of the Cheltenham Local History Society, has finally brought this work to publication. The story of the house starts with the arrival in Cheltenham of a captain James Pritchit of the Warwickshire Militia in 1819. He quickly established himself in the Cheltenham society and in 1821 at the age of 32 married Lucy Lechmere of a wealthy Herefordshire family. She brought a substantial marriage settlement and by 1827 they were building a substantial house at Arle which they named Grovefield House. As with many others at the time James Pritchit overstretched himself financially and was forced to put up the house for sale to clear some of his debts. The estate failed to sell and James Pritchit in 1832 found himself in Fleet Prison. The subsequent sale of the house and the history of later occupants of the estate known as Arle Court and now Manor by the Lake are related in this absorbing story.

A Chronology of Housing the Poor on Cheltenham compiled by Jill Waller, Heather Atkinson and Sue Rowbotham, 2009, pp 41 illustrated, Cheltenham Local History Society.

Each year the Cheltenham Local History Society publishes a Cheltenham chronology on the subject of the Annual Local History Afternoon. This year the theme was housing the poor and the authors have assemble a wealth of information on such topics as almshouses, charitable housing, asylums, orphanages, council housing and the union workhouse. This is the 7th in the series of chronologies which have brought together information from many sources to the delight of researchers into the history of Cheltenham. We hope that this important series will continue for many years.

Minchinhampton and Amberley through Time by Howard Beard, 2009, pp 96 illustrated, ISBN 978-1-84868-047-0, Amberley Publishing, £12.99.

Amberley Publishing, set up in 2008 by Alan Sutton, has embarked on an ambitious programme of publishing books of local interest and history (350 titles in 2009). The first book in their new ‘Through Time’ series was Howard Beard’s Stroud Through Time, published at the end of 2008, it showed historic photographs against modern colour photographs of the same scene with a short commentary. This provides a fascinating glimpse of the changes that have occurred over the last 100 years. This new book together with books on Uley, Dursley and Cam, Tetbury and Cirencester follow this formula.

The Bristol and Gloucestershire Lay Subsidy of 1523-1527 edited by M.A. Faraday, Gloucestershire Record Series Volume 23, 2009 pp548 ISBN 978-0-900197-73-4 Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society £30.00.

This new volume of the Record Series records the taxation levied under the Subsidy Act of 1523 which has long been recognised as providing important evidence of the social and economic condition of the country in the first half of Henry VIII’s reign. The original surviving manuscripts for Gloucestershire, kept in the National Archives, are difficult to understand due to their fragmentary and defective nature. The editor has skillfully put together the available relevant material for Bristol and Gloucestershire to provide an invaluable record of each taxpayer and their taxable wealth. As this record pre-dates the start of parish registers by some 15 years and can be compared with the military survey of 1522, it will be of considerable use to both family and local history researchers.