Book reviews, Summer/Autumn 2015

Barry Johnson
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society Occasional Pamphlet 2, 2015, pp.28.
ISSN 2083-6550. £2.50 Available from Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham

Barry Johnson, who was born in Hucknall and worked in his later years in Chesterfield, is well steeped in the social and economic history of coal mining. He has written a well-researched re-assessment of the butty system in Nottinghamshire. Butties were sub-contractors who received payment for the job, hiring others and paying them part of the fee for the job. Johnson draws on mining and union records, local and Labour movement newspapers, oral history as well as secondary sources, including the work of Alan Griffin. After surveying butty systems in other industries, Johnson examines in detail the Nottinghamshire experience from the end of the First World War to the General Strike. He shows the diminution of the system during the 191920 economic upturn, when labour was strong in the labour market, and the system’s return after the bitter 1921 coal dispute. As the author notes, an overfull labour market was necessary for butty systems to work. He agrees with Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s observation of the butty system that it was ‘a fraudulent attempt to achieve piece work exertion while paying only time wages’. Barry Johnson provides a fresh and detailed examination of the butty system and his pamphlet constitutes a valuable addition to Nottinghamshire’s coal mining history.

Chris Wrigley – University of Nottingham

Sara Woodall
Blackthorn Press 2014 ISBN 9781906259426. £24.95

In 2002 the house in Bedale, North Yorkshire, where Sara’s maternal grandparents had lived, was put up for sale and Sara was allowed to rummage through its contents to see what she could find. She was in luck. There in the chaos of her hoarding grandparents’ attic was a black trunk. “It held papers untouched for 200 years. which would transport me into a Georgian world worn leather folders, rolls tied up with faded pink ribbons, meticulous farm accounts, poems, a wine-stained ship’s journal dated 1830, old Quaker marriage documents, a 1767 Gretna Green marriage certificate, frail genealogical lists, maps of Leeds, letters, wills and a stud list of 76 horses.” A veritable family historian’s dream!

On top of them all was a sixteen page document entitled Memorandum of the pain in my Side. This, it transpired, was written by her great great grandfather, Edwin Eddison, and it is his life that much of this book recounts. The memorandum analyses in detail the possible causes, probably a fall on his side when playing football, its frequency of recurrence and the various cures, recommended by different physicians. On one occasion, after a fourteen mile walk on which he was almost sick with pain, he boarded the coach from Leeds, where he was at school, to Doncaster. 45 miles and two days journey by stagecoach and thence by gig, meant a bumpy ride home to Gateford. Once home, twelve leeches were applied followed by another twelve two days later, then seventeen and then another nineteen.

The Eddisons were Quakers from the start of the movement in the seventeenth century. The family had established itself in Gateford around 1720, having been in the cloth business in Leeds. At Gateford, as well as continuing in business, they were successful and innovative farmers, attracting the attention of Arthur Young. Edwin was one of the eight children of John Eddison, 1756-1812, and Ann Booth. She came from Annesley Woodhouse.

John died while his children were still young (he had married late), leaving Ann to bring up her large family on her own. Wisely she involved her husband’s brother, Benjamin, an able farmer, and her bachelor brother, who made a lot of money from the hosiery warehouse which he established in Nottingham. Happily there was enough money for the children to be well educated and they made the most of it. Edwin himself became a partner in a leading firm of Leeds attorneys. His standing with that firm led to him being appointed Town Clerk of Leeds where he was in charge of extravagant celebrations when Queen Victoria visited.

His brother, Booth Eddison, was a highly respected surgeon. He became President of the British Medical Association; and one of his grand-daughters married Sir Harold Bowden, son of the founder of Raleigh Cycles. His portrait, showing him in modest but fashionable clothes, contrasts with the old fashioned garb of the Quakers in the Meeting House on the front cover. Even having one’s portrait painted was “unQuakerish” and evidence of why the Eddisons were, if not “wet”, at least “damp” Quakers, in Sir Walter Scot’s description.

The possible connection with the inventor Thomas Alva Eddison is also explored, and even if the number of genes shared with a fourth cousin once removed is certainly limited, one has to admit there is a surprising likeness between Sara’s grandfather and Thomas. In view of this, it is appropriate that the book ends with a “Doomed Trip to America” followed by Edwin’s agonising death at home. In addition to the most useful family trees provided, the book is excellently illustrated with many family portraits and photographs, as well as pictures of their homes, of documents both hand-written and printed, contemporary cartoons and even the black trunk itself complete with black cat. These add a great deal of interest and value to the book; it would be ungenerous to wonder why three reproductions of Shireoaks Hall are needed and what a picture of Beau Brummel among several other celebrities is doing in a book on Quakers.

There is a useful index as well as a considerable bibliography, testimony to Ms Woodall’s wide reading for the book, which has enabled her to include much fascinating background which greatly enlivens the book. This allows the author to range widely on many topics: the birth of the railways, a great Quaker bank crash, Luddite riots, and the astonishing “cures” of 18th and 19th century doctors.

The book also includes the history of underwear, which is where Beau Brummel comes in. Another titbit is the story of W.H. Auden’s “marriage”, which would have delighted today’s tabloids – Auden’s father was a friend of Sara’s grandfather.

In may be said that Voices from a Trunk belongs to the Margaret Forster School of family history: the story of discovering the family’s history being almost as important as the history itself. Many will find this makes the book more readable, and only perhaps crabby historians could object! But it also means the text jumps around chronologically rather than being a continuous narrative; and it does so somewhat more than might seem necessary, even though continuity is of course difficult to achieve in a family history with its multitude of lines and lives.

But Ms Woodall does allow the participants to speak with their own voices, quoting widely from Edwin’s letters home from school, for example. And this story of a prosperous and successful family contains much to inform and entertain those interested in the history of the people of Nottinghamshire.

Christopher Granger and John Hamilton

Note: Christopher had begun this review but had been unable to finish it before his recent sad demise. He was particularly interested to do the review, as his family was descended from that of Edwin’s mother, the Booths, as the reference to James Granger in the text confirms.

Trevor Frecknall
Pen and Sword Military - ISBN 9781783831678 - £14.99

A title in Pen and Sword’s Your Towns and Cities in the Great War series, this is an excellent and all-embracing account of Newark and the experience of its people in the Great War. The book is written by former journalist Trevor Frecknall who has conducted thorough research to uncover many personal stories. It gives an astonishingly broad account of how the war affected the town, and of the families who waved off their sons and husbands with hope and pride, at least five hundred of whom never returned.

We have here first-hand accounts of the Newark soldiers’ experiences and of the reactions of the families’ to loss. From the first pages you are taken in by the accounts young soldiers sent home to their families, of the terrible shelling, of the destruction of Belgian villages, the homeless people, the atrocities committed by German troops. “I saw the Germans shoot women and children in Mons because they would not walk down the street in front of them as a shield,” wrote John W. Gibson.

There are stories of escapes against all odds, such as Sergeant Herbert Stephenson who “had bullets fly through his cap, tunic sleeve and saddle during service in Egypt”, fought against Bulgars and Turks and never got a scratch.

The last pages of the book are devoted to listing all those who didn’t come back; year by year losses, with ranks and regiments and where in Newark they had lived.

There is far too much superb information and too many poignant stories to give more than a flavour of the book in this review – it is definitely a book for anyone who is interested in the Great War, Newark or just humanity in general.

Highly recommended.

Barbara Cast