Book reviews, Winter 2011/12
Georgian Diary 1780: George Hodgkinson Junior; Apprentice Attorney of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, edited by Michael J Kirton
Southwell and District Local History Society, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9520503-6-0 £10.00 from the Society's Treasurer, see www.southwellhistorysociety.co.uk or from the Minster shop.
Most historians dream of unearthing an undiscovered cache of letters and diaries. It was Mike Kirton's good fortune to strike gold at the first attempt. Working in the Stenton Archives at the University of Reading library, Mike discovered four (hitherto unknown) volumes of diary by the Southwell attorney George Hodgkinson junior (1761-1822). The Hodgkinsons of Southwell are already familiar to Nottinghamshire historians from two previous books drawing upon material held at Nottinghamshire Archives: Georgian Southwell (1986) by the late Philip Lyth and Bob Hardstaff, which utilized the daybooks maintained by George's father (also an attorney and also named George) for the years 1770-71 and Bob Hardstaff's edition of George junior's diary for the year 1781 (published by Southwell and District Local History Society in 2000). Armed with his new discoveries and a wealth of information about the Southwell of Hodgkinson's day, Mike Kirton has now extended the story of the Hodgkinsons back a year by producing a splendid edition reproducing the entirety of the diary for the year 1780. Further work, offering a selection of material from the volumes for 1782-4, is in progress.
The diaries of attorneys do not always make for fascinating reading and like the Tallents of Newark a generation later, the frustratingly elliptical nature of some of the entries means that the allusions can be lost to readers lacking a detailed knowledge of the social and intellectual context of the community to which they relate. To offset this problem, the editor has (with the invaluable assistance of Canon Michael Austin, an expert on the ecclesiastical history of Nottinghamshire in the period) supplemented his text with a series of biographical appendices and introductory essays which help to locate the diaries (and the diarist) in their appropriate context. This helps the uninformed reader to understand what a sentence like 'Attended the Ecclesiastical Court, at which there was a good deal of business in the fornicatory way' really means! Whilst there is some degree of repetition within these essays both as to theme and content (a revised version of chapter 2 will, for example, be published in Transactions for 2011), Kirton has sensibly decided to produce an augmented text with rather more explanation as opposed to a plain diary transcript. One might quibble that the editor is sometimes keener to explain (at length) the importance of 'national' figures who make fleeting appearances in the diary - this was a year of continuing conflict in the American colonies, unrest in London and a general election - for whom the sources are rich and plentiful as opposed to those harder-to-reach local figures who appear far more regularly and whom one might reasonably expect to know more about. To take one less obscure example, a reader might like confirmation that the 'Mr. Burbage' mentioned on p162 as charging Hodgkinson senior for advertisements was the co-owner of The Nottingham Journal. The diarist's frequent references to articles in the Nottingham press might also have been checked against the (readily available) originals and referenced where appropriate rather than taken on trust. Occasionally, an allusion or personality has eluded the editor (Daniel as opposed to David Parker Cole on p140, Sir John Ingleby as opposed to Mr. Jugleby on p154, the popular card game 'commerce' as opposed to the diarist's 'commas' on p169, the word 'flattering' rather than 'flattening' on p171). This reader would also suggest that the diarist's frequent recourse to Jacob's Law Dictionary (e.g. p76) makes the editor's sudden deciphering of 'Jacs. La. Dict.' as 'Jackson's Latin Dictionary' (on p101) problematic.
However, these are few and generally minor issues to raise and ones which in no way detract from the importance of the editor's handling of the text: a matter of some importance given that the original diaries are not readily accessible in Nottingham. Hodgkinson himself emerges as an industrious young man of his type and social class not much given to introspection; a rare insight into young George's personal beliefs appears on Monday 31 July in commenting on some favourable international news: 'which happy event may be attributed (next to that overruling hand) to that judicious measure of blocking up Brest' - George was nothing if not practical in his thinking! Similarly, Geoffrey Tallents of Newark - who occupied an analogous position to George junior as an apprentice attorney working alongside his father during the early 1830s - appears a facsimile in terms of young Hodgkinson's pre-occupations of shooting, travelling, dining and socializing: 'Prepared the necessary preparations for the destruction of the feathered tribe tomorrow [Hodgkinson noted on Thursday 31 August] of which there are a very large breed this season'.
The Southwell and District Local History Society (of which Mike Kirton is currently the Chairman) is to be congratulated on continuing to produce volumes which combine original research with readability at an affordable price. If Hodkinson isn't likely to become a Nottinghamshire 'classic' in the sense of contemporary Nottingham diarist Abigail Gawthorn, this new volume will assure him a wide and appreciative following in years to come - and deservedly so.
Richard A. Gaunt.
Richard edited the diaries of Godfrey Tallents of Newark (Politics, Law and Society in Nottinghamshire) published by Nottinghamshire County Council in 2012.
Stone Age Nottinghamshire by David Budge and Chris Robinson.
Nottinghamshire County Council, 2011. ISBN: 978 0 902751 70 5
This is a slim volume which sets out a clear outline of the lithic period, describing the key features, be they geographic, climate, animal resources, peoples, materials and artifacts, cultures, etc. of the extremely long period in human development which we call the Stone Age. It lasted from a million years ago until about 2500BC: from the Ice Age Pleistocene to the Holocene, which we are still in (just about).
However, if you go by what's on the tin, you might be disappointed, for the county information is somewhat lacking: not surprisingly in that finds and sites from this period are fairly slight in Nottinghamshire.
The book therefore uses many examples from other parts of Britain and from Europe and there are not that many from Notts., and not even much text on those which seem to be quite significant. This may be because some of these have been discovered as a result of the major A46 roadworks and are, therefore, fairly recent.
Obviously the key feature which makes the Stone Age hang together is the use of stones for tools and weapons, art, ritual and decorative. We learn that flint being scarce in Notts., greater use was made of quartzite which was harder to work with but good for hand-axes and hammer stones: it was not so good for finely worked articles such as arrow heads, therefore we find imported stone or artifacts. The authors do set out very usefully how enormous the impact was on the land, its flora and fauna and its people, of the rising waters, the disappearance of the vast hunting grounds of Doggerland and the creation of an island Britain.
The book helps us to visualize the fragile life people were living during this period, in earliest times dealing with extreme cold and following the herds of animals now extinct or exiled which roamed freely over the vast plains which linked us to the rest of Europe: and then developing the skills to deal with the ever-changing environment following the end of the Ice Age. The authors, in setting out a clear development path, help us to explore the early human mind, seeing their forethought and planning in addressing new challenges, especially in their collecting of suitable stone for shaping into the tools they needed.
There is nothing in Notts. of the earliest Paleolithic sites - any finds are found mostly in river gravels into which they have been washed. The first actual sites of human activity in Notts. are from the Middle Paleolithic, 60,000 years ago, the best known being Cresswell Crags, used as a temporary base by these very mobile groups of people. From the upper Paleolithic comes the famous cave art, which is given good coverage. I would have liked to know more about the research mentioned which suggests repeated patterns were some form of communication. Reference is also made to a newly discovered UP site at Farndon.
The rising temperature with subsequent submerging land saw a major change in culture in the Mesolithic Period. Britain became an island, or rather islands, and for the first time became continuously occupied and its people, now fully modern humans, developed unique technologies. Traces of this period are mainly found in watery places, like the northern carrs and the Trent valley. By now, forest and wide floodplains were dominating the landscape. Evidence is cited which suggests a still mobile lifestyle, settling in winter camps in the lowland, making hunting equipment to be used in the summer uplands - so it is suggested that people based themselves in Notts. in winter and Derbyshire in summer. For example, thousands of flints were found at Misterton Carr which suggests a base camp where knapping took place but very few completed hunting tools have been found. A Middle Mesolithic site at Staythorpe is mentioned where a female human leg bone was found in a silted up river channel, the only piece of this period from Notts. and a rarity in Britain.
The Neolithic saw the greatest social transformation with the arrival of a more settled way of life, changing from hunters and gatherers to farmers. There were also new artifacts, including pottery. The evidence here is mostly in the form of pottery, worked bone and flint tools. Quite a lot of examples of finds from this period are mentioned in the book., for example, stone axes from Holme Pierrepont and Bulwell. The burnt mounds found at Girton and Gonalston are described and their usage explored. The two settlement sites in Notts. , at Stanton-on-the-Wolds and Langford, are described but houses have not been found. There are no extant long barrows, stone circles or other ritual sites in this county, but there is slight evidence of where long barrows may have been and there are a number of completely ploughed out henges. At East Stoke there was a large timber circle and other circular monuments have been found recently at Saxondale and Holme Pierrepont - there may even be a trace of a cursus at Newton.
For me, the most interesting site described in this book was found at Langford, where an old river channel had been blocked by a log jam in which were caught up a large number of human bones including thirteen skulls of men, women and children. The authors posit a suggestion that this may indicate that disposal of bodies was made in rivers, hence the lack of burials.
This is a good book for taking us through the Stone Age but I think more could have been made of sites and finds in Nottinghamshire and it would be great to have more information on recent sites -maybe there will be another volume on these.
The Winter King by Thomas Penn
Allen Lane, 2011. ISBN: 10:1846142024
Thomas Penn's book, The Winter King, covers the final decade of Henry VII's reign. The King does not come out of this book well. In fact, by the end, he seems a Stalin-like figure in his use of spies and enforcers, and the infamous Court of the Star Chamber.
What is highlighted is his greed which affected Henry's actions and appointments towards the end of his reign. He became the most solvent monarch in Europe through his systematic collection of taxes and bonds, which allowed him to bribe foreign powers to hand over rebels. He was cunning in the ways he paid for ceremonial events, such as getting the City of London to pay for the London celebrations of the marriage of his eldest son, Prince Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon.
There was paranoia, especially in his treatment of his leading nobles (for example, the Earl of Suffolk). The book covers the events of the various rebellions well, including the one around Lambert Simnel that is of interest to local historians because it culminated in the Battle of Stoke Field in East Stoke, Nottinghamshire. It also covers the illegal trade in alum, from which Henry profited so much and has apparently been ignored by historians of the Henrician accounts, Penn places the trade within its geo-political context.
The book only really becomes interesting when Prince Henry comes to court because the Prince was, even at a very tender age, so much more glamorous and exciting than his father. Henry VIII had all the colour and vivacity of his Yorkist ancestors, specially his maternal grandfather Edward IV, whose palace at Eltham was Henry's childhood home. Henry VII was a shrewd and hard man because of his years in exile, but he was never glamorous. Penn does, however, make the interesting point about how Henry VIII came to increasingly resemble his father in many ways as he aged.
The book's chronology is confusing because Penn writes about the 1500s and then refers back to events of the 1480s and 90s, unlike David Starkey in Virtuous Prince, which covers roughly the same period but is much more entertaining because of its narrative flow. Starkey is the better storyteller. But Penn's is still a worthwhile book to read, albeit hard work. It is not a page-turner and a great many names are included that are entirely forgettable within pages. Perhaps it is best to read Starkey's book first and then Penn's if interested in the period. Before reading either of those, Helen Castor's Blood and Roses provides background on the wars that lead to Bosworth, with the destruction of so many Lancastrian claimant, and Henry's tyrannical reign.
James is a Nottingham tour guide at the Galleries of Justice and the City of Caves. He has done around four thousand tour and is a member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides and the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. Whilst he claims not to be an expert on the Middle Ages he has read intensively on the period and has a great interest in that time of our history.
God's Biologist: a life of Alister Hardy by David Hay
Darton Longman and Todd, 2011 ISBN: 978-0-232-52847-3
Sir Alister Hardy was one of the twentieth century's greatest biologists and is credited with, amongst other achievements, the rescue of the UK fishing industry from collapse. This, it is a somewhat unusual book to be reviewed in the Thoroton Society's Newsletter. However, the interest for us is in the fact that Hardy was a Nottingham man. Indeed, one of the advisers to the author was our own Ken Brand. Alister's parents were Richard and Elizabeth Hardy. Richard's family had at one time kept the Maypole Hotel, an important coaching inn (long vanished) on Long Row. Richard trained as an architect under Richard C Sutton and became a prominent and wealthy architect in Nottingham. He married Elizabeth Clavering, a young widow, in London. They came to live in Nottingham where Alister, their third son, was born in 1896. Alister was baptized at All Saints' Church, Raleigh Street and was subsequently educated at Oundle and Oxford. Much of his early life was spent in and around Nottingham and the book contains a wealth of information about little-known areas, and characters, in the city. Alister studied zoology at Oxford and subsequently entered the Army during the Great War. He was an accomplished watercolourist and perhaps because of this skill he became involved in camouflage and the interpretation of aerial photographs taken of the enemy lines. After the war he returned to academic life and took part in the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic in 1925-27. He set up the Department of Zoology at the then new university of Hull, became heavily involved in the application of science to deep-sea fishing, and was eventually appointed as Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford.
Hardy had a strong interest in spiritual matters from boyhood, although he was at odds with the Anglican Church and at one time became a Unitarian. He considered that theology should be studied as a natural science, a view that was not popular amongst scientists either then or now. However, he was invited to give the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen in 1963-64. These lectures were set up under the will of Adam, Lord Gifford, for 'promoting, advancing and diffusing the study of Natural Theology'. Hardy tailored his lectures around an approach to religion from the perspective of evolutionary science. The success of Hardy's Gifford lectures led to the foundation of the Religious Experience Research Unit, based first at Oxford and now at the University of Wales at Lampeter. The original purpose of the unit was to test Hardy's hypothesis that what he called 'religious experience' was actually true and not an artifact of the human mind.
At this point, Hay's book becomes very interesting. In his last chapter he gives a convincing demolition, using science, of the atheism of such writers as Hobbes, Feuerbach and Max Webber. Even Richard Dawkins, one-time student under Hardy at Oxford, gets an airing.
Altogether this book is very unusual for a biography, but it is an enjoyable read, even if one disagrees with Hardy's views on spirituality.