Saturday, 22 August 2009

Vanishing England by P.H. Ditchfield & Fred Roe

Vanishing England by P.H. Ditchfield & Fred Roe
Originally Published 1910

Having previously read P.H. Ditchfield's 'Charm of an English Village' this book was a little disappointing from a Family History perspective, as it doesn't match the individual location coverage of the earlier volume. However, as a general summary of the state of all things 'English' that the author considered to be under threat in 1910 it is as comprehensive a survey as one could hope for. It is also quite illuminating that the concerns shared by so many today were already being expressed by our ancestors a century ago!

Opening with chapters on Walled Towns, the architecture of old streets and lanes, and Castles, Ditchfield shows what soon becomes a recurrent ability to illustrate his arguments with detailed and knowledgeable examples from the length and breadth of England. Whilst this richness of detail and knowledge is quite fascinating however, after a while the reading becomes something of a wish-list of places one feels one must visit - and always in the back of the mind is the sorrowful worry that his examples may have since vanished themselves in the intervening century.

The many chapters cover a wide variety of other topics, including Prehistoric Remains, Old Bridges, and Old Municipal Buildings; but the chapters most likely to be of interest to Family Historians include those on Vanishing or Vanished Churches, Old Inns, and the Disappearance of Old Documents - a chapter of particular interest and of some considerable sorrow as Ditchfield recalls tales of previous mishaps that saw the destruction of many a parish record!

Although written a century ago, Ditchfield's concerns and suggestions for future preservation remain as urgent and as vital today as they have ever done, and the frequent reminders that each generation is simply the guardian of the past entrusted to keep it safe for future generations is a sentiment that many of those who hold office ought to remember far more diligently - not least those currently responsible for Swale Borough Council's continued desecrations!

The book is illustrated richly throughout by Fred Roe's evocative line sketches which bring many of the examples to a touching life, and which provide a change of emphasis from the repeated whistlestop trips across the country.

This book is well worth picking up if you see it available, or it can be read for free on the Internet at Project Gutenburg:

Perhaps the easiest option for those who find the solid writing of earlier generations somewhat heavy going is to put the name of the village or area you are interested in the search engine and see if Ditchfield has any comments or tales to pass on.

But however you read or dip into this book, I would challenge you not to start seeing the urban landscape within your own town in a rather different light!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Boughton Pottery by L G Welland

Boughton Pottery by L G Welland
Published by The Faversham Society 1982
34pp £2.95

Browsing the extensive range of local studies available in Faversham's heritage centre, this report caught my eye for two reasons - I have ancestors from Boughton, and I have ancestors with the description 'Tile Maker' in the census returns. Sadly the tilemakers weren't from Boughton and my Boughton folk were Ag Labs, but it looked a good bet for some general background understanding anyway!

The report starts off with a general overview of the role of village potteries in Kent, before setting the scene locally in Boughton with an account of the Courtney riots near here in 1838. It is the suggestion that the inquiry into those riots -which led to to the Dunkirk area becoming a Parish with its own Church etc - may have also provided the impetus to support local industry to provide employment alternatives to simply poverty-line rural occupations.

Next we are treated to a genealogical detective trail as Welland describes how he traces the names of the potters in Boughton through various sources back to High Halsted and sets the possible scene for the move to Boughton. This part is a joy for any genealogist to follow, and a model example for any beginner to pick up and draw ideas from. It also carries a very sombre warning in the discovery that the family behind the Boughton Pottery still seemed to view the High Halsted Church as their family church - and returned there for mass baptiosms, weddings etc. A practice that could prove a bit of a nightmare for genealogists trying to locate their own families, and makes one hope it wasn't too common a phenomenon!

Finally, there is the techie bit - a thorough account of how the various sorts of pottery were made, how the pottery itself was laid out and the various occupations and buildings involved, and how different seasons saw different problems. Accompaning the text are several detailed drawings showing the various tiles, roofing tiles, and other items, plus some depictions of how the machines used would have looked.

The result is a thoughtful and very useful insight into a village industry, set within the context of the social situation in the years prior to the pottery being established, and within the family history of the people who set it up and in whose line the pottery remained for nearly 100 years - until an accident during World War Two saw its demise. A great motivation to others to flesh out their own trees and put some context to their own ancestral families!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Captain Swing in Sussex and Kent by Mike Matthews

Captain Swing in Sussex and Kent by Mike Matthews
The Hastings Press (2006). £7.99 pp118
ISBN 1904109136

A highly enjoyable book that covers a rural phenomena that has been largely overlooked, and oddly overshadowed by the more famous yet arguably less effective Luddite movement which the Swing Riots largely mirrored.

Basically, the Swing Rebellion of the early 1830s was a rural response to the introduction of the Threshing Machines which threatened rural labourers with unemployment and wage suppression. Taking the form of burnings and machine smashing, often accompanied by warning letters signed by the mysterious Captain Swing, this movement effectively delayed the mass import of threshing machines into the countryside by about two decades, and provoked national interest with The Times following proceedings closely, and sending reporters out into the fray.

This book documents their early beginnings in Kent, and follows their progress as they spread across the border into Sussex and finally touching Hampshire. Given the spread of these activities, and the direct impact the issue had on rural villages, it is likely that the majority of our Kentish and Sussex ag lab ancestors mentioned in the 1841 census would have been at least touched by the Swing activities, if not directly involved. Consequently, any understanding of what happened and its social impact offers us a rare insight into the daily lives and mind sets of that largely undocumented section of society.

Matthews has an engaging and very readable style which makes the document sources and newspaper extracts that he uses very accessible, and helps build a very vivid picture of the fears and desperations that both lead to the Swing Riots - and of those who were caught up in their consequences. The book contains a wealth of news articles, quotes and analysis, with many of the participants and their targets named - which is great for Family Historians! Even if ones own ancestors aren't directly named, there is a short bibliography and notes section which provides further avenues for research, and I would defy anyone with rural ancestors in these counties not to feel impelled to research their area a bit further after reading this book! So many of our ancestors will have been involved, and it is clear that the riots produced a considerable amount of paperwork. There will be many names on family trees that will be padded out by those resources!

A remarkable period that deserves to be better known within the annals of history. And a striking example of just how vulnerable the ruling elite were when the labouring classes united in their own defence. Highly recommended.