Book reviews, Winter 2020

Clare Hartwell, Nikolaus Pevsner and Elizabeth Williams, The Buildings of England, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, Yale University Press, 2020

Clare Hartwell is to be congratulated on the production of the second revision of Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England volume on Nottinghamshire published by Yale University Press. This volume brings the county into line with its neighbouring counties some of whom have had this new and larger format for many years; Leicestershire and Rutland 1984 and Lincolnshire 1989. Comparisons of the three Nottinghamshire volumes in price - 3/6 - £12.50 - £45.00, page numbers 248 - 448 - 812 and weight 209g - 435g - 812g tell their own story of the massive increase in information provided by this new volume. (see photograph on the back cover of the Newsletter.)

The single most important improvement is the use and the superb quality of the colour photographs taken by Martine Hamilton Wright. Especially noteworthy are the almost aerial photographs of the Bishop’s Palace at Southwell and Bunny Hall. My only worry is that visitors to the county will be under the impression that the sun always shines in Nottinghamshire! This volume also boasts more plans and useful engravings and other topographical illustrations within the text. Clare’s experience of carrying out this revision could not have been more different than Pevsner’s. Whilst Clare was inundated with offers of assistance and new information by local historians and specialists, many of whom are members of the Thoroton Society, Pevsner on the other hand, with only one part-time researcher, carried out all the field work with no local assistance, enduring miserable weather, loneliness, rationing and an unreliable motor car (which he drove very badly) according to his biographer Susie Harries. It was a working method he was never to repeat. His resulting lack of enthusiasm for the county is reflected in the volume published in 1951 and particularly in the Introduction whose first paragraph can best be described as ‘damning with faint praise’. I am surprised to find that Clare has retained this unenthusiastic beginning, clearly marked as his by its parenthesis, without some further explanation. Personally, it is the statement that the county has ‘none of the most country houses’ which really rankles. Especially as he goes on to refer to Wollaton Hall in the text as ‘The most important house in Notts and one of the most important in England’, which of course it is. Decisions like this concerning when to retain Pevsner’s original wording must be difficult and can occasionally result in unfortunate losses. Take for example the description of St John’s Perlethorpe, the finest Victorian estate church in the county, after Clumber, where the section ‘the same story of the great Victorian nobleman who feels it his duty to build a goodly church for his tenants after having built a magnificent mansion for himself’ has been removed. It may not be precisely descriptive, but it is an unusual example of Pevsner in less formal mode, a rare thing in any of this series.

Perhaps the loss of such informal passages is an inevitable part of the transformation of the whole ‘Buildings of England’ series from a handy guidebook to the scholarly reference work that it has become. But it is not helped by the fact that this impressive church - ‘Anthony Salvin’s best church’ according to Jill Allibone - is given a short and lacklustre description which fails to do justice to this fine Victorian estate church, especially when it is contrasted with the sometimes hugely expanded descriptions of medieval churches found in this new volume. As well as the inclusion of much new information it is good to see some common errors have finally been recognized. In the entry for the Stable Block at Wollaton Hall, for example, the date ‘1794’ has at last been replaced with the correct date ‘1743’; a date which has always been clearly visible on the courtyard rainwater heads. Where Pevsner got hold of the date ‘1794’ I cannot imagine.

No review of a new Pevsner would be complete without pointing out at least one mistake. In the Introduction Clare has included Michelgrove (a demolished house in Sussex of 1536) as a precursor of Wollaton’s central hall plan, though it is now known that it was originally a courtyard house whose court was only infilled as the hall in 1769 (VCH, Sussex, 6, pt. 1). Occasionally there is a seeming reluctance to use a building’s common name, which is annoying. For instance, the assemblage of service buildings built for the 5th Duke of Portland at Welbeck Abbey is always referred to as ‘The New Works’, but not here. Similarly, the now demolished ‘Folly Castle’ at Newstead Abbey is referred to as ‘a spectacular Gothic castle’, which it was, but without referring to it by name. One further example of this can be found in the entry for ‘The Belvedere’, a demolished garden building at Clifton Hall simply referred to in passing as ‘The classical summerhouse’. This very substantial and nationally important structure designed by the Palladian architect, Lord Burlington, deserves a fuller entry, especially after the publication of Giles Worsley’s article Sir Robert Clifton’s Belvedere in the Georgian Group Journal as long ago as 2001. But these are mere quibbles which should not for one moment detract from Clare’s achievement.

Unlike Pevsner, she has, I suspect, found herself attempting to precis the often complex researches of other historians keen to be included or asking for a more detailed entry. As someone who was approached informally, many years ago, about the possibility of my taking on this task, one which I obviously did not take up, I can only wonder at the enormity of the undertaking and congratulate Clare on the colour-filled result.

An online launch of this volume took place through Yale University Press and Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham in September in which Clare Hartwell discussed her work in the county in conversation with David Stewart. A recording of this event is available on YouTube.

Pete Smith FSA

Richard A. Gaunt, ed., Church, Land and People: Essays presented to John Beckett (Thoroton Society Record Series, 50, 2020)

Professor John Beckett has been a member of the Thoroton Society since 1980 and chaired the Council from 1992-2020. Here he reflects on this volume of essays which was presented to him in the summer.

I have been aware of the concept of a festschrift throughout my academic life. The dictionary definition is ‘a collection of writings published in honour of a scholar’, and I have myself in the past contributed essays to similar volumes prepared for other scholars including my doctoral supervisor, Professor Geoffrey Holmes. Somehow it had never occurred to me that one day I might myself be the beneficiary of such a volume, but Richard Gaunt, whose doctoral work I supervised in the late 1990s, thought otherwise. Furthermore, he persuaded many other friends and colleagues to contribute, in strict secrecy, with the intention of publishing the volume in conjunction with my valedictory lecture, planned for 24 June 2020, but indefinitely delayed because of Covid19.

The range of contributions is considerable and reflects my own interests in the East Midlands since I arrived at the University of Nottingham as a junior lecturer in 1979. I think I am correct in saying that of the contributors to the book, only Professor Michael Turner of the University of Hull - where I had previously been employed - was already well known to me, although I had probably met Philip Riden at conferences, and Michael Jones I knew from my first day in post. I seem to recall that our first meeting was in the Hallward Library at the new books stand, and that Michael was carrying a large tin of paint. I subsequently met Stanley Chapman, David Marcombe, and Dorothy Johnston as work colleagues, Adrian Henstock via Nottinghamshire Archives, and everyone else through different aspects of my academic interests.

By publishing the book through the Thoroton Record Society, Richard Gaunt has focussed the authors primarily on Nottinghamshire, perhaps sliding occasionally into the East Midlands more generally. I did not come to Nottingham in 1979 expecting to develop local and regional interests of the sort emphasised by the book. Admittedly I had local interests, having been brought up and educated in the city before I went to Lancaster University and, subsequently, posts in Newcastle, Banbury, and Hull. I had also taught adults, through the WEA, and in continuing with this work when I had managed to find my way around the University, I developed a particular niche in the history of the East Midlands and joined the Thoroton Society. I met Maurice Barley, who turned out to be a neighbour, and who gave me considerable help in career development, as well as appointing me in 1984 as his Amstrad PC tutor! Some of the interests I built up were, unsurprisingly, related fairly specifically to Nottinghamshire. In the 1990s I played a significant role in the Thoroton Centenary celebrations (1997) - with vital support from the late Neville Hoskins - and at the same time I was editing the Centenary History of Nottingham (published in 1997). Contributors to that project, who also wrote for the festschrift, included Trevor Foulds, Martyn Bennett, David Marcombe, Adrian Henstock, Ken Brand, and Stanley Chapman.

Elsewhere in the county, I have greatly enjoyed working at Laxton and, in terms of the diocese of Southwell and Nottingham (more or less the county), with Chris Brooke on the Church History Project. Into this category as well should come my history of the University of Nottingham, published in 2016. My local history interests expanded beyond Nottinghamshire. I wrote a book on the East Midlands in a series edited by the late David Hey, and chaired the History of Lincolnshire Committee for thirty years. My work as chair of the Board of Midland History also brought me into contact with local history across the Midlands, and 200510 I was able to broaden my interests further as Director of the Victoria County History. During those years I was able, with the support of Philip Riden, to promote new VCH work in Nottinghamshire which should soon appear in print. I also published a book, Writing Local History, which was geared to discussing local history at a national level. Even further afield, during my time with the VCH I promoted two international conferences on local history with contributors from across the English-speaking world, and Japan. All this expanded the range of my interests, but there have always been new subjects to interest me, and new ideas to promote. The Church History Project is still live, as is some ongoing work on the lost churches and chapels of the county. A recent project on the First World War has left me with work to write up on the Chilwell explosion of 1918, the Sutton Bonington Prisoner of War camp 1916-19 and returning soldiers in 1918-19. Another local project, jointly with Paul Elliott, has led to a book, shortly to be published, on Nottingham’s green spaces.

I think of local history as eclectic. Many of my own contributions have been similar, moving from topic to topic rather than adopting the more rigid position of many academics in terms of space and period. Much the same can, I think, be said of the festschrift contributions, starting in the seventeenth century and moving forward to more recent times, and covering topics from the Civil War, through Robin Hood, the dukes of Newcastle, the village of Norwell, and so on to end with one of my earliest interests in land ownership, in this case the Nottinghamshire yeoman. The author of that chapter, Michael Turner, and I came face to face for the first time when we were interviewed for a lectureship in Hull in 1978. Michael was appointed to the post, but they found a temporary position for me, and that was where our collaboration started, with books, academic articles, and all sorts of other output. But it was also fun. When we met in Hull or Nottingham we would find something to laugh about. I have always enjoyed the humour linked to working with other people, including Ken Brand on the Centenary History project, when he insisted on referring to himself as Baldrick to my Blackadder, or Chris Brooke, who has a truly astonishing knowledge of Scotch whisky. Years ago, when Trevor Foulds was working with me on Laxton, we often found it necessary to sustain ourselves at a local curry house, and David Marcombe and I went on numerous weekend field trips during the halcyon days of the MA in Local and Regional History.

I also think of kindnesses, of help, and sometimes of support through difficult times or just support now long forgotten. I doubt very much if Sir Neil Cossons remembers an occasion when he was Director of the Science Museum. One evening he showed me, and my (then) small son Stephen, around the museum. Stephen did not forget it! I have also met with great kindness from the farmers of Laxton who encouraged my work and always invite me to Jury and Court days. I am a trustee of the Visitors’ Centre. And, finally, the kindness of Richard Gaunt in promoting this festschrift and keeping everyone to time, let alone succeeding me as chair of Thoroton Council! The festschrift reflects my academic interests through my career, and each chapter addresses a specific topic. In Nottinghamshire local history, whether through the Thoroton Society, or the Notts Local History Association, or the Saturday Morning seminar series, I have been privileged to meet a great many people who share my fascination with local history. Many of them have never written a single word, which I used to consider a terrible sin (based on a throwaway remark in one of W.G. Hoskins’ books) until I started to understand how they contributed by asking questions, offering to do some research, tracking down publications and so forth. I learnt, particularly during my VCH days, that many are committed to local history but prefer to support others who are the ‘writers’. There is, I believe, space for us all, which is why I became involved with the Thoroton Society in the first place, and why I have done what I can to promote research through the Thoroton Research Group, and the Geoffrey Bond research awards. There is no shortage of work to be done, as W.P.W. Phillimore outlined in his address to the inaugural meeting of the Thoroton Society in June 1897! In retirement I hope to be able to do something towards filling the gaps.

John Beckett

Church, Land and People - an appreciation.

For me, this festschrift for Professor John Beckett has been a high point of the Covid19 lockdown. Living now in the south-west of Wales, it was wonderful to receive this substantial volume of fascinating essays by some of the friends and acquaintances from my time in Nottinghamshire and my membership of the Thoroton Society.

Having first met John in the early 1980s, I was especially pleased by Richard Gaunt’s fascinating introduction that provided me with a more rounded understanding of John’s background and professional career. This, and the extensive bibliography of his publications (by Denise Amos and Andy Nicholson) reenforce for me not only the great breadth, depth and quality of John’s learning and output, but also the considerable number of regional and national organisations to which he has contributed. This, of course, has also benefited our Thoroton Society immeasurably during John’s years as a Council member and Chair. I think few county historical organisations are lucky enough to have had such a high-profile academic within their ranks.

What is also clear from this book is the great help and encouragement John has given to so many historians, both professional and amateur (including me), and this is where the thirteen essays presented here again show the range of John’s impact in furthering our understanding of Nottinghamshire’s history. It is impossible to describe here in detail the wealth of information available in these substantial articles, but I am impressed how many reflect more than one of the themes of church, land and people that make up the title of the festschrift.

The essays by Michael and Elizabeth Jones and by Chris Brooke deal most directly with the ‘church’ theme. The former focuses on the administration of the parish of Norwell between 1664 and 1725, using a rich body of sources, most notably the ‘Town Book’ that records the business conducted by the parish officers. The latter essay celebrates the Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project that was established in 2000 to document the 314 Anglican churches within the county. The information on the project’s website is shown to be of use not only for everyday historical, archaeological and architectural research but also for complex statistical analyses to tease out patterns and test hypotheses on causes and effects. Several other essays include religious and ecclesiastical themes, most notably in David Marcombe’s account of an 1800s portrait of the merchant Cranmer Kenrick, which explains his lineage from Archbishop Cranmer, and in Adrian Henstock’s perceptive comparison of social and economic change in Bingham and Ashbourne around the 1840s. Here the clergy as well as the major landowners in both towns were significant forces in religious and other issues that divided or unified local public opinion.

Three of these four essays also focus on the ‘people’ theme of this festschrift, along with other contributions from Martyn Bennett, David Crook, Trevor Foulds and Richard Gaunt. Bennett explains how personal rivalries and factions both within and between royalists and parliamentarians influenced the conduct of the Civil War in Nottinghamshire and the rest of the Midlands. Crook shows how the legacy of the Civil War in Nottingham influenced the characterisation of Robin Hood in the text of a play performed there on the day of the coronation of Charles II. Foulds documents the difficulties Henry, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, experienced in finding suitable marriages for his five daughters, while Gaunt deals with the other end of the social scale in describing the various fortunes of the early 19th century workers (and a government spy) involved in the Pentridge rebellion of 1817.

Architectural and landscape design, enclosure and road transport feature in the remaining five essays and explore the theme of ‘land’. Dorothy Johnston describes the first phases of the 3rd Duke of Portland’s development of Welbeck park between the 1760s and 1780s. Ken Brand explains the impact of the enclosure of Nottingham’s commonable fields between the 1830s and 1850s on its public, commercial and domestic buildings, while enclosure is dealt with in a more general way in Michael Turner’s examination of its effect on copyhold tenure. Finally, the essays by Philip Riden and Stanley Chapmen provide much fascinating evidence of communications and transport both within and beyond Nottinghamshire between 1600 and 1850.

This exemplary festschrift presents much new research on Nottinghamshire, and taken together provide a glimpse of the huge impact Professor Beckett has had on understanding the history of his home county.

Steph Mastoris

Norwell Parish & People, Norwell Heritage Booklets (ISSN 2040-2406)

Norwell Parish & People is the ninth volume in the Norwell Heritage Booklet Series, edited by Michael Jones, and based on research done by the Norwell Parish Heritage Group. Drawing on a number of sources including Norwell’s Town Book, which documents how village officers administered the parish between the 1660s and 1830s, this volume focuses on everyday life in Norwell. The volume begins with an overview of the old order, outlining the local and parish power structures present in the village, many of which had been in operation since the 13th century. As in all parishes across the country, the church was central to everyday life in Norwell, and in this volume, we learn of the role that the clergy and churchwardens played in the village. Ranging in focus from the prebendaries, some of whom became amongst the highest serving men in the country, to churchwardens and those who helped keep the church in good repair, this chapter shows how, at all levels, the church and the clergy were responsible for not only the spiritual life of parishioners, but also contributed much to economic life. For much of the period maintaining law and order was the responsibility of the parish.

Before the Rural Police Act of 1856 made the establishment of rural police compulsory, the parish constable was responsible for keeping the peace. The role was often an unpopular one, and duties could be onerous, however ‘with very few exceptions Norwell was not a place where law and order was a problem’. Similarly, providing for the poor and needy also fell to the parish, and as this volume details, support came from both official and unofficial sources including neighbours and charities, as well as overseers of the poor. Other chapters focus on the transport in and around the parish, in particular the maintenance of highways, byways, and waterways, as well as the challenges posed to the rural economy by pests and vermin. The volume concludes by outlining the changes to the system of parish system of organisation, showing how from the end of the 18th century, the old order, which had existed for centuries began to break down, replaced by an increasingly centralised system of government. This is a welcome addition to the Norwell Heritage Booklet Series, and provides an interesting insight into community life in one of Nottinghamshire’s small rural parishes.

Hannah Nicholson