Thursday, 9 July 2009

Money or Blood by David Hopker

Money or Blood by David Hopker
Privately published 1988 25pp

Subtitled 'The 1835 Riots in the Swale Villages' this pamphlet is one of those local booklets you can pick up in many villages outlining various incidents of historical interest in the area.

What sets this aside from most of those pamphlets is the detail that has gone into the research, and the plethora of names listed that were involved in the riots - an essential source of family background for anyone who has ancestors in the villages concerned.

Basically, this is the story of how rural labourers in the Swale area set out to challenge the new Poor Law amendments by making them unworkable - and how the powers that be sought to defeat them. Kicking off at Rodmersham village, the series of protests and riots made national news, and it could be argued that they played a not inconsiderable part in setting the minds of future reformers to take greater account of likely unrest from unpopular measures in the villages.

With some handy source extracts and photocopies of several documents from the time, this pamphlet is a very valuable account of a remarkable series of events that should be on the reading list of anyone with Kentish 'Ag Labs' in the 1840s!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A Cockney Camera by Gordon Winter

A Cockney Camera by Gordon Winter
Published by Penguin - first published 1971 as 'Past Positive' 128pp
ISBN 0140040110

Although called A Cockney Camera, this marvellous book really covers the whole of London, featuring photos and commentary on a range of subjects in late Victorian / early 20 th Century life in the capital.

Split neatly into sections covering such topics as Domestic Life, Rural Survivals, The Day's Work, The Church, Shops and Markets, The Pub, various types of transport, and leisure activities what is particularly pleasing is the way that unlike many photographic collections, Wilson annotates each picture with lengthy notes explaining the location, the date and most importantly for family historians - he names as many of the people in the photos as he can!

Each set of photos is accompanied by a commentary on the social life that is being considered, and whilst it is clear that Wilson certainly knows his Social History, he writes in an informal and engable fashion - his first sentence provides a suitable example: 'To enjoy life in London in the ninteenth century, the first and most important step was to choose the right parents.' To illustrate his underlying theme of the severe differentials between the wealthy and the poor, Wilson admits to focussing on the extremes in his selection of shots, many of which he has sourced from private collections.

With photographs illustrating early trades, various locations and buildings, social life in action, and some smashing portraits, this book will help anyone with Victorian ancestors from the metropolis garner a real feel of what their everyday life would have been like, and bring to vivid life the sights they would have been familiar with.

Although like many books I will be reviewing, this book is long out of print, it is easily available as a second hand item online, and whilst checking for its availability this morning, I noticed there is a companion volume called 'A Country Camera 1844-1914' which I've just ordered for £3.95 inc p&p! Hopefully a review of that item will be ready in a week or so's time.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside - Pamela Horn

Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside by Pamela Horn
Alan Sutton Publishing Limited.
First Published 1976 - reprint 1995 292pp
ISBN 0862994098

This is a thorough and very readable account of rural life in the 19th Century that will be of immense interest to those of us with those infamous 'Ag Lab' ancestors - which is most of us!

Opening with a background survey of the Rural Community, Horn draws on a number of reports and accounts on rural life compiled during the period in question, and includes sizeable quotes from the sources to provide a real flavour of the conditions and impressions of just what life was like in the rural areas. Informative chapters on Home Life and School follow, conjuring up images far removed from the cosy idylls of popular imagination, but not totally lacking in support and community. What comes across very clearly however is just how the sensibilities of the times differ so radically from our own, and how the routine of daily life was peppered with small rewards and entertainments - but always with the danger of near disaster just around the corner.

Other chapters include sections on working the land, cottage crafts and industries, and agricultural politics and the early unions - again giving very useful insights into the mind set of the rural population, the dangers and conditions they faced, and how they set about trying to improve their lot. Similarly, the issue of religion is discussed, and the differences in approach from both the Church of England and the dissenting groups in how they sought to keep their flocks from straying into each others hands - on the one hand trying to provide assurances through the traditional messages that faith would see people through the hard times, and on the other encouragement to better oneself through learning and organisation.

Holidays, sickness, poverty, old age and death take up the next few chapters, and give a good idea of how changing national political situations and initiatives actually played out in the front line of rural villages, with such schemes as the Poor Law Amendments of the 1830s provoking considerable outrage in many areas, and some of the last rural riots in history! Seeing how national campaigns and legislation actually impacted on the lives of real people is quite an enlightening process, and gives the reader a far greater appreciation of the changes that our ancestors lived through.

Finally, before a short summary, Horn details Crime and Punishment - oddly one of the most readable - for me - chapters in any social history! Much of this section details the slow growth of the new-fangled Police forces within rural areas, and how pretty darn easy it was for crims to get away with most things - especially as the chances of the death sentence receded quite sharply during the period in question. Poaching and punching seem to have been the pasttimes that brought legal action most often, although there seems to have remained quite a few of the opportunities for pilfering, adultering goods, and general trouble that the big towns are perhaps more generally associated with.

To summarise then, this is a very well researched book that details the development of rural England over 100 fairly turbulent years, and which sees a radical change in the role of the rural labourer and of villages in general. A decline of self-responsibility both as a community and as individuals towards a more outward looking mindset, with growing horizons, but also growing reliance on outsiders for everyday needs such as employment, goods, and institutional support.

There is a tendency for the examples and sources to focus on certain areas, such as Norfolk, Dorset and the Midlands and, from a genealogical perspective, a few more names included could have provided some real nuggets for a lucky few. That aside, however, this is a richly rewarding read, and with the copious notes, references and bibliography there are lots of signposts for the reseracher who wants to follow up on the many leads that this book will provoke.

A very highly recommended book.