Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Crime and Criminals in Victorian Kent by Adrian Gray (Meresborough books ISBN 0905270967)

also Crime and Criminals in Victorian Essex by Adrian Gray.

This is a very easy to read, straightforward account of various forms of criminal occurences across the county in Victorian times. Opening with the rather expected sections on Murder and manslaughter, through theft and onto sex crimes, Gray then covers Politics and incendiarism (or arson as we call it), assault and smugglers, before rounding it off with short chapters on policing and the poor law.

Throughout the cases Gray recalls, he demonstrates a good awareness and understanding of the social contexts of the time, and tells the tales with a nice sense of humour. The cases themselves seem to largely come from press reports or court records, and appear to be pretty reliable, and are well presented giving the reader a good solid basis for understanding some of the motives - or lack of - that lead these folks down the path they ended up!

For family historians in general, these books provide the reader with a lot of social history in an accessible format, and can often provoke ideas about how further research into ones own ancestors might be pursued. For readers with ancestors in the Counties covered, both books contain a list of places mentioned and principle 'characters' discussed. For those fortunate enough to find family members discussed inside, it will be a massive bonus! But even for those with ancestors in the villages mentioned, in addition to the general social context gained by reading this book, you will be reading about events that might well have directly or indirectly impacted on your ancestors lives if even for a short period. Would the local riot have been the topic for discussion at your ancestors pub that week? Or would your ancestor have shopped at the butchers who killed one of his customers?

Fascinating reading, but both books follow a very, very similar format - right down to the phrases used - so perhaps getting both books might prove a little pointless unless one has ancestors in both counties!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

WEST COUNTRY WITCHCRAFT - by Roy and Ursula Radford

"West Country Witchcraft" by Roy and Ursula Radford (1998 Peninsula Press ISBN1872640397)

Although there are many of these 'local witches and legends' type books scattered around gift shops across the country, this one stands out from the rest, being written by people who really know their subject and have done some fairly good research into the evidence they provide.

Rather than skimpy sketches of dubious lore attributed to various spots, the Radfords open up with an explanation of what witchcraft actually is, and its links with the Celtic cultures. They then go on to give some accounts of 'witchcraft' across the 'west country' (which seems to stretch as far as Gloucester!) dating back to the 14th Century. Most of these accounts use court records to illuminate the story, whilst others are quite specific in dates and names, and it might be possible to check the later ones through existing records to verify the names involved. What one gets from these tales and records, however, is a very real sense of just how witchcraft, or the belief in witchcraft, had quite an impact on the everyday lives of our ancestors. And should any doubts remain, a visit to the Witchcraft Museum at Boscastle will show how the old beliefs could be practiced in very tangible ways indeed.

It is a useful reminder reading a book like this, to see the world of our ancestors through their eyes rather than our own, and to think about what thoughts and beliefs affected them in their lives and time to time, especially if such thoughts are not ones that would occur to us today.