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Book Reviews - Social History

cover for Fleet Street

A Fleet Street in Every Town: The Provincial Press in England, 1855-1900 by Andrew Hobbs

Published by: Open Book Publishers
Price: hardback £34.95; Paperback £23.95; Kindle £5.99 - see Open Book Publishers website for other cheaper options

This is not a family history book, if there is such a thing. In narrow terms this is an academic work about local newspapers of Preston, Lancashire, but the book is so much more. Andrew Hobbs has given a survey of the social history of Preston through newspapers and placed his detailed work in the national context. The implied readership of newspapers like the Preston Guardian and Preston Herald are described through literacy, editorials, articles, adverts pricing of the papers. This and much more can be applied to any town to give a view of Victorian society and your ancestors. Where newspapers were read give more detail about the social structure of a town with pubs, beer-houses, clubs, reading rooms and institutes playing an important role.

The chapters presenting the working week of an editor also shows the social and business structure where every village had a correspondent who sent reports and how information was circulated around the country. This information is useful to anybody wanting to get the best out of the British Newspaper Archive. While the use of reading rooms and public houses gives yet another aspect to the social structure of a town or village. Sections on who read what, and a sense of place continue the investigation, the methods can be used in any local history research or village study.

The book is illustrated and uses graphs and tables to support the discussion and research. The footnotes and references allow further research by the reader. Although little is required after reading Andrew Hobbs' work. More aimed at the academic researcher, it has much to offer any historian of the Victorian period and has given me a much better understanding of how local newspapers played a large part in society and informed our ancestors. I recommend this book to anybody with more than a passing interest in local history research.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, Bucks FHS

March 2019

cover for Criminal Children

Criminal Children, Researching Juvenile Offenders 1820 – 1920 by Emma Watkins and Barry Godfrey

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-52673-808-0
Price £14.99

This book will be of interest to anyone researching crime and punishment in the period as well as life in Australia at the end of the transportation period

It is split into 6 sections starting with a short introduction explaining the aims of the book.

Part 2 investigates the concept of Criminal Children and the many ways that phrase can be defined. It discusses how boys and girls were treated differently and how the definition changed over the years.

Part 3 tells how the State dealt with wayward children and the many varying options open to the Courts. These ranged from Execution (rarely used) through Transportation (until 1853 to Van Diemen’s Land quite common) to the use of reformatories Industrial Schools and Borstal in the subsequent period.

Part 4 deals with research tools and gives a good guide to the various sources of information.
More information about websites and the addresses would be helpful

Part 5 is the greater part of the book and the most interesting. It tells the life stories of 26 children. Each one is from a different times period and a different punishment. Most fell into the description of criminal children because of abject poverty.

The book is well illustrated and has a useful bibliography but the list of websites is restricted. The list of books is much more extensive. There is a comprehensive index.

Reviewed by John Treby

January 2019

cover for Lady of the house

Lady of the House by Charlotte Furness

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 781526 702746
Price £12.99 (£10.39 from P&S at time of writing)

Charlotte Furness tells the stories of three aristocratic ladies and their families to illustrate their roles as ladies of the house. This is accomplished well after a hesitant start where editorial choices are discussed. Furness provides a view of late Georgian society where the upper classes have roles in both London and county, and the opportunities for marriage fit into the social season. The case of Lady Harriet Gower is interesting in illustrating the diplomatic roles and the patronage involved.

Furness really gets into her stride with the chapter on producing a family to extend the dynasty and provide continuity of ownership of many manors and estates. The letters and research in both public and private archives show the social pressures within families for the newly wed woman to succeed. At the same time usurping of another as the new wife takes over running an unfamiliar house is also discussed. Both Elizabeth Manners, Duchess of Rutland and Mary Isham provide illustrations of both roles as new wives and handing on to the next generation. Through estate papers and journals their work can be seen both in running estates and remodelling ancestral homes where history and architecture go hand in hand.

Death and mourning inevitably play a role in any family and contribute to the stories of these ladies. Here Charlotte Furness uses newspapers and letters to understand the families. Although she may have been frustrated by the lack of surviving records.

I recommend this book to anybody who wishes to know more about the role of women in late Georgian and early Victorian society. It makes a good start for further study. Also great background reading for those visiting Belvoir Castle & Lamport Hall.

Reviewed by Tony Sargent, Secretary, Bucks FHS

August 2018

cover for the Oldest House in London

The Oldest House in London by Fiona Rule

Published by the History Press, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud GL5 2QG
ISBN: 978 0 7509 6837 9
Price £20

To write a book about the Oldest House in London first needs a definition of what should constitute the Oldest House. The author’s definition is ‘it must be in the City of London and have been built as a home and still be a home today’. The result is 41-42 Cloth Fair.

First occupied by William Chapman in 1614, the ground floor was rapidly converted into an alehouse called the Eagle and Child. The use of the ground floor changed several times.

Each of the books 14 chapters deals with the occupancy of a different owner or owners and tells of the national and local events and social conditions and discusses the effect these have on the owners of 41-42.

The story of this house is a fascinating read and takes the reader through such diverse events as the Civil War, the plague and Great fire of London, Bartholomew Fair,   the Rise of Methodism, (John Wesley was an occupier), the Gordon Riots and both World Wars.

It tells of the perils which threatened to destroy the house and how despite all odds the house still survives and how the current owner regards himself as a caretaker of the property.

There are some interesting photographs of the house and surroundings with some early maps.

The author provides a route for a walk around the area of Cloth Fair which encompasses many of the sites mentioned in the text.

An excellent book for those interested in London’s history but also for those interested in Britain’s social history.

Reviewed by John Treby

April 2018

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Records of Holton Park Girls’ Grammar School (1948-1972)
Edited by Marilyn Yurdan

Published by: Oxfordshire Record Society Vol 71 (2017)
ISBN: 978-0-902509-87-0
Price - see their website

School records are a great source of information that provide so much social history and this collection is a fine example. The detail given in the headteacher’s reports over the life of the school gives depth and quality to the situation of a grammar school. Changes in education lead to the creation of the school as the fee paying Thame Girls’ Grammar School closed. Further changes lead to the amalgamation with Shotover School to form Wheatley Park School with the advent of the comprehensive system and the raising of the leaving age to sixteen

The attitude of parents held lead to many daughters leaving before completion of courses and this became a constant theme as staff worked to show opportunities education gave. Other struggles like inadequate facilities, school buses, and lack of cleaning staff shows the concerns of the headteachers and present a full view of the life in schools.

Many readers will recognise parts of the daily routine but this is not a romantic look at the past. The editor allows the headteachers express themselves through their reports. A school is a reflection of the headteacher’s personality and this is seen throughout the book. As these records report on living people, some work has been done to hide identities, this has been done with care and does not detract from the information. A wonderful record of a school that fills the gap between the pupils and the aims of the education system in Oxfordshire. I recommend this book to anybody interested in secondary education in this period as this type of record do not usually survive.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, Buckinghamshire Family History Society

March 2018

cover for Victorian Policing

Victorian Policing by Gaynor Haliday

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781526706126
Price £12.99 (£10.50 from P&S at time of writing)

Gaynor Haliday lives near Holmfirth in Yorkshire and became interested in the history of Victorian policing when researching the life of her great, great grandfather, a police constable in Bradford.

The story begins with a brief description of policing in the middle ages when watchmen were employed to patrol the streets. Progress in law enforcement was haphazard and slow until the 19th century.

Increasing industrialisation led to the rapid growth of towns and cities and there was a corresponding increase in crime rates. Local authorities began to realise that a more formal and efficient approach was needed.  Training, discipline and pay provided by local councils were practically non-existent for the ‘bobby on the beat.’

For the patrolling policeman drunken behaviour was a constant problem and intervention would often lead to serious injury. 

Particular attention is given to the difference between urban and rural criminal felonies. There may be plenty of problems in the towns but poaching on private land could be just as dangerous for the local bobby because animal theft was not only carried out by armed individuals but also armed gangs.

Much of the research is taken from local newspapers, Minutes of Borough Watch meetings,
Police records and registers which are located in local archives or police museums.

Gaynor’s research is methodical and often in great detail. There are moments of humour when the author quotes from a citation written when her ancestor, PC Bottomley claimed he had whispered to a drunk man in the street,’ If tha’ don’t go home to thi’ wife and bairns a s’al ‘av to run thee in.’

A long list of street offences that a local bobby had to bear in mind included ‘Wanton discharge of firearms’ and ‘ kite flying or making slides on ice and snow.’

A policeman’s lot could be often brutal and dangerous in Victorian Britain and I was left wondering

 how this might compare with modern policing.

Reviewed by Ron Pullan, Wakefield & District Family History Society

January 2018

cover for Tracing History through Title Deeds

Tracing History through Title Deeds by Dr N Alcock

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 52670 345 3
Price £14.99 (£11.99 from P&S at time of writing)

This is an excellent book for newcomers or those who have researched title deeds before. They are by far the most numerous surviving records but least known or used. One single deed might supply clues to family relationships to be found nowhere else. 

As Dr Alcock says in his introduction this paperback is a direct successor to his previous book ‘Old Title Deeds’.   He refers to the development of the use by researchers of computers, laptops and tablets and the enhanced availability of online catalogues, since his previous book was published.

That book has been my ‘bible’ when it came to trying to understand and interpret title deeds. This new book will supersede it! It seeks to answer three questions in 199 pages –with an additional 18 page index. Why use deeds and what do they contain? Where are they located? How can their ‘evidence be extracted’. The latter chapter goes into detail by using examples –photographic and transcriptions – explaining the various types of deeds used by lawyers over the centuries, their wording and form. It demystifies much of the format and terminology enabling the reader to understand what was previously incomprehensible. 

The 4 appendices are very useful especially the flowcharts on pages 165-167 to enable one to appreciate what type of document is being researched.  If I have any criticism it is that these flowcharts, which are immensely useful, together with some of the examples, are printed in very small font and I found it very hard to read them without a magnifying glass!

So if you ever wondered what a quitclaim looked like or where to find a final concord and what it signified or what an indenture was this book will explain and more besides!  Highly recommended!

Reviewed by David Lambert

January 2018

cover for Penny Lane

Penny Lane and All That - Memories of Liverpool by Ann Carlton

Published by and available from: Y Lolfa
ISBN: 9781784613693
Price £9.99 + p&p

Ann Carlton was born in Liverpool around the end of World War II, a city that is something of a cultural hotchpotch. Many of its inhabitants can trace their roots back to Ireland, whilst the author’s family had Welsh origins, with large numbers of Welsh people having headed to the city to find work. Liverpool also had significant Chinese and African populations, a diverse mix creating a true multicultural city.

Ms Carlton’s family lived in the city’s Penny Lane neighbourhood, an area that achieved fame because of the Beatles. She had a comfortable, middle class upbringing, with her father earning his living as town clerk of Liverpool, before becoming the first chief executive of Merseyside County Council. The author herself wrote an undergraduate study of the city’s housing department, which highlighted from her personal experiences of the poverty and disadvantage to be found in the squalid city slums. The text attributes these difficulties as one of the reasons for Liverpudlians being passionate about their city.

The sense of humour of many “Scousers” is admired. And the drastic outcomes of the city’s extensive slum clearance programme are recorded. Ms Carlton also deals in the minutiae too - her childhood stays in hospital, the garters of her woollen socks, her mother’s chip pan and her attendance at primary school are all elucidated. 

This social history comprises of 191 pages and is presented in a soft cover. The author’s words are illustrated by the use of facsimile documents and monochrome photographs. The text is not indexed and a bibliography of further reading has not been included. Both of these would have been useful additions to what is otherwise a most engaging and interesting volume that I am happy to commend.

Reviewed by Paul Gaskell, Hon General Secretary, Oxfordshire Record Society

January 2018

cover for Childrens Homes

Children’s Homes – A history of institutional care for Britain’s young by Peter Higginbotham

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781526701350
Price £14.99 (£12.00 from P&S at time of writing)

This book is easy to read, with the majority of the book giving, as the title suggests, a history of child care in Britain from the early days of Christ’s Hospital, London in the 16th century, to the role of today’s Local Authorities.

Reading the book, I was amazed at not only the number of children’s homes over the years, but also the variety of their governing bodies and sponsors. It seems that there was never enough space for children needing care, whatever the number of homes or institutions. Many of which only catered for children over a certain age (around 5 years in most cases). It did leave me wondering what happened to the majority of babies and infants.

I was particularly pleased to have the differences between Industrial Schools, Certified Schools, Approved Schools and Ragged Schools explained. Plus, their merges and transformation over the years to other types of institutions, mainly depending on the various Acts of Parliament and Government Reports. It is important to understand the politics involved in Education, Poor Law and child care over the years, to understand the various institutions and how they changed over time. All is explained in the book.

The chapters of the book are split into different types of children’s homes, whether they were schools (and which type); Charities such as Barnardo’s; or religious organisations. Each chapter then points out the organisations’ principals and lists their main homes - when they were set up, how many children they catered for and what they were named at various times (many changed the names of the homes / schools at regular intervals). All this information is pertinent in finding that one particular home and what may have happened to its residents. What happened to children when they left the homes is also touched upon, especially the emigration schemes to Canada and Australia.

Actual day to day life in the various homes is mentioned in a couple of chapters towards the end of the book, and occasionally when various individual homes are described. Records for the various organisations that may elaborate on this may be available for further research, and there is a chapter devoted to this subject. As there is on child emigration to Canada and Australia, which was used extensively in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There is a great deal of variety of information in the book, and in essence, for someone looking or suspecting that an ancestor was brought up in a Children’s Home, the book combined with Mr. Higginbotham’s complimentary websites www.childrenshome.org.uk and www.workhouses.org.uk is a must read.

Reviewed by Sue Steel

November 2017

cover for Radley College

Wood’s Radley College Diary (1855-1861)
Edited by Mark Spurrell

ISBN: 978-0-9022500-83-2
Price: £25.00
Oxfordshire Record Society Volume 70 - Published 2016 - 488 pages
To purchase contact the Secretary of Oxfordshire Record Society through their website

This book tells the story of Radley, a minor public college on the outskirts of Abingdon. In two parts consisting of an introduction placing the latter diary section in context and introducing the characters. Revd William Sewell, founder and warden of Radley and fellow of Exeter College, Oxford also played a part in the failings of Radley through financial mismanagement. Radley was re-founded by R J Hubbard, Governor of the Bank of England,who became Lord Addington. This is seen through the diary of Revd William Wood who became a fellow and sub-warden at Radley and a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

The introduction is a product of thorough research, telling the stories of the main protagonists and the events. The methodology of editing and presenting the diary is explained followed by the context of Radley College.

The diaries give an insight of the public school system and day to day life in Radley College. There is a mixture of domestic activity and the problems of disciplining pupils. Here the diaries come into their own, given not only the events but also the emotions and thoughts of Revd Wood. News from the outside world play a role in school life where Crimean war victories and other events are celebrated with holidays. The excessive amount of holidays cause tensions among the Fellows and add to the poor management of Radley.

Revd Wood dines regularly at various Oxford Colleges providing one view of the Gown side of Oxford life. Oxford College events show a system where to be a fellow at University being ordained was a necessity. Movement of the High Church in the Church of England grew out of the thinking of these people and differences on theological grounds are mentioned.

Oxfordshire Record Society, like other record societies throughout England, published records to present them to a wider audience. Without these diaries there would be a gap in any research concerning Radley. Like any diary, there is the minutia of everyday life where walking the five miles to Oxford was not unusual. In this sense anybody wanting a view of life in the Victorian period will find much in this book. Others with an interest about Radley, Church of England and the University will gain much from this book. I recommend this book to all those with an interest in the subjects covered. For family historians wishing to understand more about aspects of the counties of the families they are researching, county record societies provide an underused resource. When I read the first sentence of the forward by the Honorary General Editor Mr William White, ‘Strictly speaking, this is none of our business.’ The book touched my inquisitive nature would be an enjoyable read. It has not disappointed me in any way.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, member of Buckinghamshire FHS

March 2017

cover for Mary Green

Mary Green, Bespoke Tailoress by Mary Cunningham

Published by: Ruddington Framework Knitters Museum, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-872044-07-1
Price £3.99

This is a scholarly account of one woman’s life in the textile world in Bolton in the late 19th century and early 20th. As the author says; ‘one ordinary individual ‘s unrecognised actions and attitudes are commemorated’. It is not simply a description of a millgirl’s life but a serious attempt to track one woman’s efforts to expand her skills, educate herself and broaden her horizons. The author traces Mary’s life and the influences upon it in an attractive, well illustrated pamphlet. The main text occupies twenty-eight pages with a brief postscript. Notes and bibliography fill the remaining pages.

Mary’s life is convincingly and sympathetically sketched and the illustrations vividly support the narrative. The background is fully drawn and, overall, an interesting picture of the textile community in the North West emerges. For genealogists with connections with that area and industry it could offer useful background and possible fields of research.

This is an academic study buttressed fully by references and sources. It tells a good story but the prose can be somewhat clogged and convoluted; ‘Faith was accompanied by reasoned, considered thought, flexibility paramount rather than conformity to hierarchically imposed dogma’. But it’s worth persisting to follow Mary’s journey and achievements.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

January 2017

cover for Remember Then

Remember Then by Janet Few

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906280-53-6
Price £12.95

The hefty bright green book is attractive with its collage of old photos of children from a by-gone period in the 20th century – giving picture credits at the rear of the book. Paper is white and clear and reading is easy (despite a few grammar and printing errors). The ten chapters are well titled and it is easy to refer to a particular section. The book contains a chronological timeline of major events happening worldwide for this period which had some effect on changes occurring in the UK. I would advise the reader to go through the very useful pages at the rear of each chapter regarding the questions that each volunteer (who are also named at the back of the book) was posed by the author and particularly the “Chapter Footnotes” which give a research explanation by the author on certain words/phrases used. For example: I didn’t know that a “crock with isinglass” (last line of page 94) was relating to preserving eggs but the footnote explained. The book contains two sections on general advertisement photographs and group photos.

The volunteers are recalling their respective experiences on how their life panned out during the period 1946 – 1969. I was born in 1949 and am familiar with many descriptions given.

As mentioned in the summary by the author, the time period remembered by her volunteers was a huge changing time in so many aspects from relationships, surroundings, attitudes and the behaviour from many differing sectors of life. Expectations on a daily life were uplifted in ways for an easier workload, some openness allowing women to have an opinion and their say in matters. Perhaps the book should have included reflections from male volunteers too which would in my opinion give a broader outlook on living from both genders. However, for younger folk reading this book it would give a very good insight on growing up during this time to compare it with times more recent.

Reviewed by Valerie Ann Taylor, member of Malvern Family History Society

July 2016

cover for Victorians in Camera

Victorians in Camera. The world of 19th Century Studio Photography by Robert Pols.

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781473823341
Price £12.99

The author, Robert Pols, details the social history of Victorian portrait photography. He describes the process of being photographed from the customer's point of view giving the reader an insight into the choices available.

With licensing and limitations of the early photographic processes affecting the spread of studios across the country, only larger towns supported a studio. Pols discusses the construction of studios and suppliers of photographic equipment as well as the sales techniques used by the photographers and their employment of women for the sensibilities of the female client.

The photographer's manipulation of the scene enhances what can be inferred from the image. Setting, dress and positioning of the sitter(s) all contribute towards presenting the ideal result. The considerations of the sitter are fully discussed and the book is illustrated throughout.

For collectors of Victorian photographs, this book makes an interesting read. Family historians with collections of images will gain from understanding the processes and reasoning behind the production of photographs. The book shows how the quality of the photograph can give insights to the life of the sitter and a town.

A very enjoyable and informative book.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant, member of Buckinghamshire FHS

July 2016

cover for Cholera

Cholera, The Victorian Plague by Amanda J Thomas

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78346 350 3
Price £19.99

This book is a very readable account of the story of the cholera epidemics of the Victorian age. It talks about the spread of the disease, where it came from and the way it was transmitted.

There are some scientific details but these are easily picked up as the reader progresses through the book.

Treatments were primitive and ineffective. Brandy and laudanum although prescribed were never going to cure the disease but the patient was probably unware of his illness!!

Although the book is concentrated on cholera in London and gives us lots of detail about how the authorities tried to provide cleaner air and water and in many cases failed, it does include other cities, Liverpool and Bristol in particular. The Bristol physician Dr William Budd was one of the pioneers proposing clean water.

When the cholera pandemic of 1881 started in the Baltic region, and ports were concerned about the disease arriving on ships, Cardiff and Barry built an isolation hospital on Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel. The hospital only ever treated seven potential cholera patients before it was finally closed in 1934.

Although this hospital is are not discussed, this book gives the reasons why that hospital was thought necessary and why in the end it had such little use.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s efforts to provide London with a proper sewage system are described in some detail and provide a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the authorities of the time.

The notes and bibliography are extensive and give the reader much scope for further research.

For social historians this is an interesting account of public health in the 1800s.

For family historians there are many names especially amongst the great and the good.

A word of warning however, some passages should not be read just before lunch!  

Reviewed by John Treby Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS

June 2016

cover for Family First

Family First – Tracing Relationships in the Past
by Ruth Alexandra Symes

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 47383 388 3
Price £19.99 (£15.99 from P&S at time of writing)

This is certainly an interesting book that will grab and hold the reader’s attention from the onset.  Ruth Alexandra Symes looks at and discusses many aspects of the many relationships that structured and stereotyped family life in Victorian and Edwardian England.  Symes provides a comprehensive and well explained introduction to the structure of her book which is split into seven chapters organised around particular roles within the family: husbands and fathers; wives and mothers; infants; sons and daughters; adult siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins; and grandparents and great-grandparents.  The last chapter looks further into the families interaction within social circles through various friendships, club associations and neighbourliness.  The topic of the book has been well researched and a great deal of thought has gone into the presentation and aim of it.  The reader will be focused on those resources and issues which interest and engage them from family photographs to censuses, certificates and other written genealogical records.  The author looked at the social side of what constituted ‘a family’ not often obvious just from vital records.  By understanding why and how our ancestors conformed to a particular ideal of what was then understood to mean ‘a father’ or ‘a mother’ or ‘a brother’ etc, the book shows how each role was significant within family living.  But the author takes this further, looking at the social and economic developments that arose from the Great War and the Second World War, the emancipation of women and the continual transforming and reshaping of the structure of families during that period and the effects of the rise of the Welfare State.  It is without doubt based extensively on the social evidence of families from the photographs that have survived from that time and remain within private family collections.  Symes looks at the factors that influenced the size of our ancestor’s families, how poorer families often had up to 15 children while more well off families had 2 to 4 children (this often highlighted the social divide between the classes) where those well off could afford private or home education, whilst those on the poverty line had to rely on older children to assisting with bringing home a wage.  The increase in single parent families or blended families and the decrease in children being born in subsequent generations - are also discussed.  As a genealogist, this book provides an alternative approach to writing an historical account of our ancestors by analysing the social backgrounds to families that is not obviously found from vital records.  The author looks at the power of photographs in creating Victorian ideals of family roles, and this provides a good theme throughout the book where photographs have provided images and visual evidence of our ancestors experiences.  Symes shows through the use of these photographs (collectively placed in the centre of the book which covers all seven chapters) that Edwardian photographs often showed couples standing apart, yet the father stood predominantly behind the wife usually with a protective arm around or near children or the wives.  Any touching in that era therefore indicated ‘possession or belonging to’ rather than anything romantic or sexual attraction.  The author has certainly researched well the many factors that might have influenced the size of a family and whether the order in which children were born mattered and how families coped with multiple births, stillbirths, abortions and infanticides and how these were recorded or not recorded within vital records.  As a guide to understanding how roles within families worked between 1800 and 1950 and the changes that took place, this book is excellent.  As a social history of the period, it is again excellent.  This is certainly a book that the reader will consult many times during their journey to understanding all they can about their Victorian and Edwardian ancestors in England.

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird, PGDip, FSA Scot of Dunedin Links Genealogy (Edinburgh)

January 2016

cover for The Justice Women

The Justice Women, The female presence in the criminal justice system 1800-1970 by Stephen Wade

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 47384 365 3
Price £12.99 (£10.00 from P&S at time of writing)

Who were Edith Smith and Ivy Williams? Both were pioneers in their chosen professions and this book recording the rise of women in the Justice System tells us they were the first woman police officer and the first woman barrister.

The Justice System is defined by the author as the Courts, lawyers and legal executives, police, prisons, High Sheriffs, Lords Lieutenant and coroners.

There were virtually no roles for women in this field until the Great War. This means that for a large part of the period of the title there is limited information available to the author so this becomes a book showing how the rise of women in this field mirrors the rise of women in society.

This is well researched but as it covers a very narrow subject, it results in a book for a limited market. It would have benefitted from better editing. The lack of material has resulted in sections of padding and the topic could easily be an add-on chapter to other books about the rise of women in public life and would have been more effective that way.

There is a bibliography and a good index.

It is a book which is of more interest to social historians than to genealogists.

Reviewed by John Treby Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS

December 2015

cover for The Inheritor's Powder

The Inheritor's Powder by Sandra Hempel

Published by: Pheonix, an imprint of Orion Books
ISBN: 978-1-7802-2222-6 paperback
Price £8.99

The in depth research for this book has turned it away from a macabre look at murder by poison to an interesting study of Georgian and Victorian law surrounding unlawful death. By following one case from newspaper reports and branching out to tell the history of poisons an interesting story is told. Other cases are used to illustrate the progress of the law and medical science in the field of pharmacology and how the coroner system evolved. The book presents arguments by defence lawyers that lead to more effective ways to prove the existence of poison and consequent changes of scientific practice. The inquest of the main case is reported in detail and through the testimony of the witnesses the scene is illustrated.

For those who are unsure about their relatives dying in suspicious circumstances, the cases discussed will complete a picture of what is involved. The descriptions can be a touch graphic and detailed, but they are essential to the social history. Proof is given that the legal system was on trial as it tried to cope with the new scientific thinking concerning poisons. This comprehensive guide is worth the read and a great addition to the bookshelves of anybody interested in crime or the Victorian Period.

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant of Buckinghamshire FHS

December 2015

cover for What's In A Name

What’s In A Name? by Ian Murray Tough

Published by: Austin Macauley
Price £7.99

In What’s In A Name? Elgin-based author Ian Murray Tough examines the roots of etymology, with particular focus on surnames and their socio-geographical context.

 “A name is not only important in its own right, but it is the conduit of many subjects of history, science, inspirations and oblique associations”. Ian goes on to say that “the book itself is aimed at those who have not as yet experienced exploring Family History, and in the event encourage them to do so. I hope that those devotees in Family History Societies will also find some elements of interest in the book”.

The theme of the book is to explore the diverse nature of names, and their place in family history research. There are three chapters of special interest to the Family History researcher; Family Research, Genealogy and Surnames, but sections on Dialect and on the early British languages also make informative reading. In addition there are other chapters which discuss the relationships between names and other symbols and logos which are in general use, and with the wider world in general.

This book will be of interest to any reader with an interest in the wider concepts and names and symbols.

Reviewed byBruce B Bishop FSA Scot, ASGRA

December 2015

cover for Great Victorian Discoveries

Great Victorian Discoveries by Caroline Rochford

Published by: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 9781445645421

Caroline Rochford's book is well researched, and covers a wide range of discoveries made by those living in the 19th Century. She has included discoveries made internationally, as well as those made by British Victorians. Some of the discoveries have accompanying illustrations. The subjects are set out under 10 categories ranging from Bewildering Phenomena to Time and Space. A very nice touch is how discoveries and various hypotheses made in the 19th Century have been taken through time to a proven or disproven conclusion, often in the 20th Century. So, you can read about the age of the earth, the four legged bird, or inoculating for disease; the subjects are diverse.

This book is amusing and great for dipping into to read about whatever takes your fancy. The subjects are well indexed.

However, there is a huge problem for the family historian. There are no name or place indexes. The book is full of the names of those who made the discoveries or carried out further research in connection with the discoveries. In my opinion, this leaves the book as a useful reference book of a general nature. It adds substance to the great age of 19th Century industrialisation and exploration.

Add the name and place indexes to future editions and the book will become a useful tool for the family historian.

Reviewed by Richard M Brown, member of East Surrey FHS & Lincolnshire FHS

August 2015

cover for Shepherd's Huts

Shepherds’ huts and Living vans by David Morris

Published by:Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 4456 2136 4
Price £16.99

In the 18th century, shepherd’s huts were a common sight in rural areas but now have virtually disappeared with modern farming methods. 

These huts on wheels were basic shelters with little comfort, designed to be located in the open fields allowing the shepherd to be near his sheep at crucial times especially lambing. There was a bed and there may have been a stove for heating.

This well-illustrated book gives a short history of these huts from the earliest recorded in 1462, through their heyday to their decline and the decaying gems in the corners of fields awaiting rescue. It tells us of the many and varied types, which existed not only in southern Britain but also in Europe

The book talks also of the more mobile and better equipped showman’s and road mender’s vans.

Mr Morris goes on to talk of restoration techniques and the warns of the dangers of overlooking the interesting notes such as flock numbers and weather conditions which can be found written on the walls of the hut.

Space is given to the modern reproductions now being built and the many uses to which these are being put.

Overall this is an interesting coffee table book.

Reviewed by John Treby Member of Devon FHS, Gloucestershire FHS and East of London FHS.

June 2015

cover for In The Family Way

In the Family Way: Illegitimacy between the Great War and the Swinging Sixties by Jane Robinson

Published by: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670922062
Price £18.99

I’m just old enough to remember the stigma of illegitimacy prior to the permissive 1960s. It’s a shock to realise that at the time it seemed so natural to view unmarried pregnant women (and single mothers) with repugnance, but now the wheel has turned full circle and the collective shame is ours.

In her book Jane Robinson analyses and discusses the concept of illegitimacy from roughly the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act (which enabled the State to categorise many unmarried mothers as ‘moral imbeciles’ and banish them to specific institutions like charitable hospitals, Magdalene and lunatic asylums and other dark sanctuaries) until its repeal in 1959. Of course the stigma and prejudice surrounding unmarried mothers existed earlier but In the Family Way is a collection of case studies and interviews with over one hundred women old enough to remember the difficulties of having a baby out of wedlock in this period.

Chapter One is a dazzling romp through history, drama, films and literature which discusses how our society dealt with fatherless children and unmarried mothers. There are examples from history like the African explorer Stanley who was illegitimate and from fiction like many of the characters out of Dickens. Other chapters discuss the meaning of illegitimacy (Chapter Two) and child migration and attitudes to single parents.

On the whole Jane Robinson has produced an important social history through personal stories that need to be heard but will soon be forgotten. It’s a fairly thick book of 317 pages (which perhaps accounts for the rather steep price) and thirteen chapters. There is a comprehensive bibliography and an index. There are also twenty-seven illustrations.

This is not dry-as-dust history but real people talking about their own experiences interwoven with the culture and politics of the day backed up by serious academic studies. I highly recommend this book very much indeed.

Reviewed by David Gilligan, North Cheshire FHS

May 2015

cover for The Family Bible

The Family Bible: A Priceless Heirloom Its history and Evolvement with Inscriptions of Family History Events
by Rena King

Published by: The Family History Partnership
ISBN: 978-1-906-280-39-0
Price £6.50 + p&p

Rena King rightly claims in her book that family bibles are priceless heirlooms and points out an inscribed family bible is a matchless source of social and historic detail (p.5). Not many people would disagree but for those that might she offers hundreds of brilliantly chosen examples.

Of course, inheriting a family bible containing birth, marriage and death inscriptions would be extremely fortunate since most seem to mysteriously disappear over time. But Rena King has managed to collect and index over 2300 inscriptions over many years and the result is a fascinating medley of inscriptions and family details which, for example, includes the exact birth-time and weights of family children; some inscriptions describe accidents (Thomas Brown who lost an eye on 31st 1900) and the curious inscription in Fred Paine’s bible which noted his book ‘contained 3,386,489 letters and 173,692 words’ (p.23).

Rena King not only reports on the inscriptions she has collected from family bibles but also offers a brief history of its development and use within the family. She also reminds us that most post seventeenth century bibles are worth very little (but family bibles are, of course, priceless to their owners). What adds value to post seventeenth century bibles (and books) are the inscriptions.

Family historians can glean much from an inscribed family bible and local historians can discover even more from an inscribed dusty old bible found in a second-hand bookshop or in a car-boot sale. I can confirm this by recounting that I came across an 1826 Collingwood bible on a car-boot sale last year. It, too, had an inscription signed by one Edward Pease as well as copious marginalia in the same hand. After some interesting research I discovered this Edward Pease was the main promoter of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and is often referred to as the "Father of the Railways". The discovery triggered a spate of research into the history of Edward Pease and early railway history that proved to be very satisfying indeed.

The author deserves full credit for collecting, indexing and writing-up these precious inscriptions. It might just remind us (if we needed reminding) that inscribed books and especially bibles can sometimes whisper and connect to us across the wide gulf of time. I highly recommend this book very much indeed.

Reviewed by David Gilligan, North Cheshire FHS

May 2015

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Life in the Victorian Asylum by Mark Stevens

The World of Ninteenth Century Mental Health Care

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781781593738
Price £19.99

In 166 pages the author explains the system adopted by our Victorian ancestors for treatment and care of the mentally ill.

As the author says “the hero of a tale entitled Life in a Victorian Asylum has to be the institution rather than the people within it …..”

He puts the reader in the position of a patient and explaining in the modern style of a ‘Handbook’ what happened from the moment of diagnosis and admission through the daily life in the asylum to eventual departure either cured or through death. The various roles of attendants and other members of staff are detailed as well as the layout of the institution and its deliberate siting in the countryside to give patients open air and the ability to work on the asylum’s farm which provided freshly grown food.

Until recently the great asylums were places of fear and stigma for those. Mark’s book explains how surprisingly caring the system was. The large rather austere buildings were places of kindness and help unlike those other Victorian institutions, the workhouses whose role was the relief of the poor.

We are fortunate that the Commissioners in Lunacy kept such detailed records of those in their charge and that many have survived. Records have survived of patients, include descriptions and even photographs as well as their medical records and treatment, which included employment where possible. The records are closed usually for 75 years.

Case studies are included towards the end of the book and a very helpful bibliography demonstrates the sources that can be followed up.

If you have ancestors who were admitted to a lunatic asylum in the middle to the end of the 19th century this book is will open your eyes! It is highly recommended. It will give you a great sense of what it must have been like and how well looked after the unfortunate patient was. It was better to be in an asylum than a workhouse the author suggests.

Reviewed by David Lambert - FHS of Cheshire, Metcalfe FHS

May 2015

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The Secret World of the Victorian Lodging House
by Joseph O'Neill

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781781593936
Price £19.99 (£15.99 from P&S at time of writing)
Also available in ePub and Kindle formats

Joseph O'Neill's book, The Secret World of the Victorian Lodging House, covers a fascinating topic. The author has researched his subject well and each chapter covers an aspect of life in these houses with the subject matter introduced in a brief anecdote.

The book serves well as a social history and will go a long way in fleshing out the lives of ancestors who endured a migratory existence, or lodged in a lodging house, or lived in a workhouse.  The book has a very good subject index and bibliography.  However, I was disappointed to find that the names of folk written about were not fully indexed. There are a number of drawings and photographs in the centre of the book which give a nice perspective to aspects of the conditions and hardships endured by the poor and working classes. I do wish the illustrations were indexed - however that is a personal niggle.  Another downside was that the proofreader let a handful of errors slip through. Then, there is a section describing the Metropolitan Association for improving Dwellings etc which needs to be rejigged to remove confusion in the naming of buildings.

The various downsides should not overly detract from an otherwise excellent book. The subjects covered range from urban life to rural life, epidemics, types of occupier and lodging house keeper.  The squalor - looking at the lowest villainous lodgers and dregs of society - certainly features.  Joseph O'Neill has succeeded in bringing to life the world surrounding lodging houses and workhouses. Many of the stories and anecdotes from the Victorian era sadly ring true of aspects of life at the end of the 20th Century.

This book gives a good springing point for research into facets of life of the poorer classes in the 19th Century.

Reviewed by Richard M Brown, member of  East Surrey FHS & Lincolnshire FHS

February 2015

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A history of Adoption in England and Wales 1850 to 1961
by Gill Rossini

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78159 395 0
Price £19.99 (£15.99 from P&S at time of writing)

Adoption is a very emotive subject and this book seeks to tell us how adoption developed from the haphazard conditions of the nineteenth century to what we know today.

The book starts with the background and describes what adoption is and tells of the situation under to Poor Laws prior to 1850. The illegitimate child was socially stigmatised and the mother was regarded as morally unsound. Unwanted children were often abandoned.

The author then goes on to describe how children were treated during the next 70 years. There are stories of displaced children, the ‘Street Arabs’ who had no one to care for them.

She talks of how society disapproved of the fallen woman and the  solutions to unwanted pregnancy; marriage to the father or any man who would have her, abortion (very uncertain and dangerous), give the child to another family member to bring up, find a baby minder or sell the baby.

It was the latter two options which gave rise to the ‘Baby Farmer’. These were usually women who for a payment would take the baby and look after it. This arrangement gave rise to the many harrowing stories related in the book. Many baby farmers simply took the mother’s money and then either killed or so neglected the child that it died. Two of the most notorious were Margaret Waters and Amelia Dyer both of whom were executed for their crimes.
I am sure that not all baby farmers behaved this way.

As the century went on, society began to have a conscience about the unwanted child and bodies such as the Children’s Home and the Waifs and Strays Society came into being. These organisations sought to protect the child and improve its quality of life.

After the First World War, there was a significant increase in the number of births outside marriage leading to an increase in the number of children needing a new home and there was pressure to do something about this. The National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child sought to keep mother and child together. Adoption Societies aimed to arrange satisfactory adoptions. Social pressure grew and the Adoption of Children Act 1926 was the result.

Legal adoption still had issues to overcome and even as late as the 1930s, baby farming was being practised and informal adoptions were taking place. The Horsburgh Report aimed to strengthen the position of adoption societies and resulted in further legislation.

It is interesting to note that in a pamphlet, aimed at fathers, published for National Baby Week said ‘It is harmful for children to be in an atmosphere laden with tobacco fumes’.

There was an adoption boom after 1945 as there had been after 1918, with more than 17000 babies being adopted each year to 1949. Twenty years after the Adoption Act, the idea was firmly established. Although the unmarried mother and illegitimacy were still very much frowned on, there was a regular supply of infants to be adopted from Mother and Baby Homes. Protection was now being given to the mother as she could not give consent to the adoption for 6 weeks after the birth and adopters were carefully scrutinised and of course the whole process was cloaked in anonymity to protect the child and adopting family.

The sixties saw a rise in adoptions with 24,831 adoptions in 1968, despite the pill. In 2013/14, 5206 adoptions were made.

As any family researcher will know, adoption is a difficult problem to overcome in the family history and this book devotes 20 pages to sources and advice and it provides a guide to further reading which includes web sites.

I have just one minor criticism, the index could be more extensive, but that said this is a worthwhile book.

Reviewed by John Treby

Reviewed John Treby

February 2015

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The Housekeeper's Tale by Tessa Boase

Published by: Aurum Press Ltd, London
ISBN: 9781 78131 043 4
Price £20.00 (£16.10 from Amazon at time of writing)

This book consists of five main stories presenting housekeepers, their employers and work. Each case has been fully researched and the social circumstances discussed in an even handed manner. Tessa Boase's writing brings these characters to life with well observed detail. Here the stories are told as presented by the record with social history adding context. The examples are chosen to show a wide history from Dorothy Doar working for Lady Stafford at Trenthem Hall, Stafford to Charleston, Sussex where Grace Higgens worked for Vanessa Bell of Bloomsbury group fame.

The research for this book has not been skimped. Boase's writing highlights the joy of using old records and bundles of letters in archives. Where the records are lacking, reasoned argument is used to complete the story. Family scrap-books and albums play their part and living relatives also contribute. Where there is no evidence, the unanswered question is presented.  Even H.G. Wells contributes to the story of Sarah his mother, who worked for Miss Fetherstonhaugh at Uppark, Sussex. For the family historian this book is a brilliant example of how to present the lives of these women and gives great insight to social life within a large country house.

The stories well are chosen for themes within a housekeeper's life, keeping the house prepared, appointing and managing servants, devotion to duty and eventual loss of their own jobs. The housekeeper's position is a difficult, between upstairs family and downstairs service. The case of Ellen Penketh at Erddig Hall shows another problem, managing the accounts. The First World War changed the role of a housekeeper like Hannah Mackenzie when Wrest Park, Bedfordshire became a hospital.

The epilogue compares the life of a modern housekeeper to highlight the themes. This book is a fascinating read and a great contribution to understanding the social history of domestic service in Victorian, Edwardian and modern times. Highly recommended. 

Reviewed by Tony Sargeant – Buckinghamshire FHS

February 2015

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A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England by Sue Wilkes

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978 1 78159 2649
Price £12.99 (£10.39 from P&S at time of writing)

This is an ingenious volume. The author, who has written extensively on social history and on genealogy, provides us with a detailed guide book to the habits, facilities, sights and values of Southern England in the early 19th century. Her walk-through of the territory is attractively supported by extensive quotations from the works of Jane Austen herself and from other contemporaries. The author comments that ‘ Austen’s observations of society were exceptionally astute ( though she was not infallible).’

The whole gamut of middleclass society is covered from domestic details (candlelight and privies) through travel (phaetons, barouches and stagecoaches ) to fashionable life in London ( Beau Brummell and dandies ). Perhaps the most interesting section deals with the etiquette (and pressure) to find a suitable marital partner, but as the author observes, ‘ It’s a man’s world’. Or as Jane herself describes it; ‘ Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.’

The text is lively and well arranged and the anecdotes relevant and illuminating. There is a selection of contemporary engravings, an extensive bibliography and a useful summary of Jane’s life. This is a book which Janeites will enjoy and which will provide an informative context to the novels.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

January 2015

cover for London's Great Plague

London's Great Plague
by Samuel Pepys

Published by: Amberly Books
ISBN: 978 1 4456 3782 2
Price £8.09

The book is a series of diary entries written by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys between October 1663 and September 1666. It therefore covers the time of the Great Plague, Fire of London and the second Anglo-Dutch War. The book lacks a brief foreword on the background of the times which I felt would have put the diary entries into context, and also doesn’t state whether the diary entries are written in full or simply extracts.

From the title of the book I was surprised at how much reference was made to the naval manoeuvrings of the ongoing war with the Dutch. But given that Mr Pepys was a well-respected naval administrator at the time, I should probably have realised such important events relating to his work would have been included.

The diary entries provide more of an overview of the plague rather than specific gory details, as it written by someone whose life is remarkably unchanged by the events. His personal family is largely unaffected, his fortune increases and his occupation carries on as normal, although not necessarily in the centre of London. What struck me most whilst reading the book, was the amount of travel and socialising Mr Pepys did during the plague. Evidently people got on with their lives as best they could and did not remain indoors in isolation. Yet, Mr Pepys’ descriptions of empty coffee houses, shut up habitations and quiet streets in what was once a bustling metropolis, leaves you with a sense of gladness that you were not living in London at that time.

Reviewed by Sue Steel, Bradford FHS

September 2014

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RMS Tayleur - The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic
by Gill Hoffs

Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 9781783030477
Price £19.99

For a few short months, reports of the revolutionary iron-hulled sailing clipper RMS Tayleur featured heavily in the Victorian press.  She was new.  She was big.  She was fast.  She was comfortable.  She was safe.  Yet at around 11 am on Saturday 21st January 1854, en-route from Liverpool to Australia, she smashed broadside into cliffs off the Irish coast and sank with the loss of well over three hundred men, women and children. 

First and foremost, it must be said that Gill Hoffs’ book entitled ‘The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur – The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic’ is a very good ‘read’.  Indeed, it could rightly be recommended for this reason alone as both the story and storytelling are truly compelling. 

But the volume does much more than absorb the reader, it also informs and instructs.  Gill Hoffs has cleverly interwoven technical details, eyewitness accounts and much all-important background information directly into the text.  So as the story unfolds we not only discover the strengths and weaknesses of the vessel, but are also made aware of the positive and negative aspects of the various players involved too.  Heroism and tragedy are demonstrated in huge measure, as is the rampant self-interest of a few participants.  

Family historians in particular will do well to review the list of known passengers and crew provided.
Want to learn more?  Watch Gill Hoffs talking about her book at: Waterstones Launch
Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Steve Manning –Peterborough & District FHS

September 2014

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Life in 1940s London – by Mike Hutton

Published by: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 9781445608266
Price £20.00 RRP

Life in 1940s London is a nicely published book which covers a lot of ground in just over 200 pages. It is evident that the book has been well researched and well thought out. Topics are contained in single chapters. At the centre of the book there are a number of photographs which capture the spirit of life and times in London throughout the decade. In fact, if you want to get an idea of what wartime conditions were like in London, or if you are an older reader who remembers any part of the 1940s, then this is the book for you.

It should be mentioned that the author, Mike Hutton, is a London social historian who has published other titles. Mike has a good writing style which is to the point, and matter of fact, along with a very dry sense of humour! There are numerous stories in the different chapters. The stories serve nicely in spicing things up, while other tales will tug at the heart-strings. For example, in Chapter 6, which covers wartime entertainment, the overview of wartime films is well written with the spirit of celluloid tales neatly captured.

Chapter 12, a London love story, has been written with feeling. Mike discusses the situation of demobbed troops, and how they coped with civilian life and their families which had changed while they were away on active service.
Overall, this book is an enjoyable read which provides some nice pieces of information to flesh out the lives of your wartime family members and of their communities.

Life in 1940s London catches the spirit of the wartime years, and of changes and momentous events post-war.
This book certainly “does what it says on the tin”.

Reviewed by Richard M Brown, member of East Surrey FHS and Lincolnshire FHS

April 2014

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Doctor Barnardo: Champion of Victorian Children
- by Martin Levy

Published by: Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 0923 2
Price £22.50

This is an attractive and well presented volume which describes a fascinating man who founded a 19th Century charity in London's East End, which is still powerfully active today. Michael Levy details Thomas Barnardo's career from his birth in Ireland to his death in 1986. While full credit is given to Barnardo for his Herculean labours to better the lives of the children of the poor, attention is also focused on the less attractive side of his personality and practice. The institutions he founded expanded rapidly to meet a pressing need but his high-handed and litigious behaviour involved his charity in a number of extremely difficult situations. He was often guilty of ignoring the rights and wishes of the families of his charges (only a quarter of whom were orphans). His scheme for shipping youngsters to Canada to give them a fresh start was significantly flawed, to the detriment of many children involved. Barnado comes across as a determined and driven man, an evangelical Protestant.

Sadly the style in which the book is written is, to this reviewer, uninviting and detracts from the subject. It is cliché-ridden, repetitive and meandering. Annoyingly it paraphrases rather than quotes source material and 'invents' historical conversations. Much of this gets in the way of a fuller analysis of Dr Barnardo ('Dr' by courtesy since he dropped out of medical school) and his paradoxical character, but if you can get beyond the style, the story rewards the effort.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

March 2014

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Voices From The Asylum - West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum
- by Mark Davis and Marina Kidd

Published by: Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 2173 9

If you ‘lose’ an ancestor in or between censuses, there is the possibility that sadly they might have been incarcerated in an Asylum built by County Councils fulfilling their statutory duties to provide care and treatment of ‘lunatics’.

Within the last few days, ironically that happened to me. I discovered my ancestor died in the West Riding of Yorkshire Lunatic Asylum in 1877. That Asylum is the subject of this book, albeit that it concentrates on buildings at Menston erected 10 years after her death.

The author’s introduction and a section entitled Care and Treatment give an excellent and succinct overview of the way in which mentally ill persons were treated in an Asylum, such as Menston and its various buildings, which only closed ten years ago. By the middle of the 20th century the authors point out that such was its size, the Asylum had become ‘a self-contained village for the mad’.

Historians are fortunate that records of patients, including photographs and medical records, from admission to departure, are held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) from the 19th century until the latter part of the 20th century. These can be seen by researchers, although there are some closures on more recent records. They are also available online via the WYAS website. It is these records which the authors use to good effect.

Mark Davis has already written a book about the High Royds Asylum entitled: ‘West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum Through Time’. [ISBN 978-1-4456-0750-4 Price £14.99]. He knows his subject well and enlightens the reader about a subject which until very recently was rarely discussed or acknowledged.

The book deals briefly with 37 individuals who were resident at Menston. The format used by the authors is, in most cases, to have a photograph of the resident, taken at the Asylum and on the opposite page a summary of their personal details on admission, history of their medical state and mental illness, demeanour (in particular if they were thought to be a danger to themselves or others). This information is taken directly from the archives held by the WYAS from the 19th century until the latter part of the 20th century. Their collaboration is acknowledged in the book.

In addition, notes by the authors are added at the end of each page stating what happened to the individuals about whom they written. Other items are referred to, including an ‘escape’ by inmates as reported in a local newspaper, sad letters written by patients to their relatives and at the end of the book one patient’s ‘improved’ version of Hamlet’s soliloquy: ‘To be or not to be’ .

The book contains 96 pages but through the skilful use of photographs and the biographic details, light is shed on the lives of patients who were ignored whilst alive and forgotten in death. The photographs are particularly haunting. Several are clearly ill and indeed several die shortly after admission as explained in the text.

A large number of patients remained in the asylum until death and many (2,861) were buried in a pauper’s grave in the cemetery adjacent to the Asylum on Buckle Road.

The book records the inspirational work by the Friends of High Royds Memorial Garden, who have restored the High Royds Mortuary Chapel and Memorial Garden which contains the unmarked graves of the 2,861 pauper patients. As the book says, the Garden is now a ‘beautiful and moving place to go to contemplate these sad stories’. The authors are generously donating the proceeds of the book to the Memorial Garden. The book costs £14.99.

The book I am now reviewing supplements Mark’s earlier work referred to above, which should be read if more detail is required about the way in which the mentally ill were cared for and specifically this Asylum, its employees and residents.

A minor error I noted on page 87 where the accompanying photographs are wrongly stated to be on page 80. They are actually on page 86.

It has helped me to appreciate what my ancestor’s life might have been like in the institution where sadly she stayed for 12 years. I can recommend this book.

Reviewed by David Lambert (FFHS)

November 2013

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Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England
How our Ancestors Lived Two Centuries Ago
- by Roy & Lesley Adkins

Published by: Little, Brown
ISBN 1408703963, 9781408703960

With a total of 422 pages, Eavesdropping includes not only a compelling narrative of exceedingly well researched material, but also incorporates a comprehensive index; some fine black and white photographs depicting many aspects of the era; a chronological overview from October 1760 through to 1925; a large section containing notes from the text and, of course, a bibliography.

Austen's Pride and Prejudice celebrates it's 200th anniversary this year. Her eloquent story telling highlights a somewhat peaceful existence experienced by a privileged few whilst the vast majority of a war-ravaged England lived a harsh and brutal life. Eavesdropping looks at everyday events and activities of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, including the sale of wives in town marketplaces, forced marriages, childbirth, and death, to name but a few. The authors, drawing on their own thorough research of the period, often use comparisons from various descriptions of life in the upper echelons written by Austen in her novels, with those commentaries found in the journals, letters and papers of the ordinary people struggling to make a life for themselves. Their fulsome commentary thus allows the reader to get a real insight into the many aspects of life as it was lived then.

I found this book an excellent read. My only criticism of the Publishers is that I would have preferred the 'Notes to the Text' to be at the bottom of each page instead of in a specific chapter near the end of the book. Having to regularly flick through pages to find the corresponding notes became tedious and interrupted my flow of reading.

For those students who are studying Austen either in English Literature seminars or for sheer pleasure, reading the Adkins' book will make a compelling addition to their own understanding of the era, enabling them to gain a more rounded point of view to life as it was in Austen's England. For those social historians who wish to expand on their knowledge of the experiences of the everyday in Georgian and Regency England, I could not recommend a better read.

Reviewed by Stephanie Turner, member of Louth Branch of the Lincolnshire Family History Society

November 2013

cover for Granny was a brothel keeper

Granny was a Brothel Keeper - 50 Family History Traps
by Kate Broad and Toni Neobard

Published by: The Family History Partnership (Lancashire), 2013
ISBN 978-1-906280-38-3
Price £8.99

'Granny was a Brothel Keeper' is an entertaining collection of true stories which illustrate the fascinating and sometimes bizarre world of family history research.

This book certainly catches the eye! On first reading I found this book extremely entertaining – the cartoons are light-hearted and funny and the structure of each section is well balanced with interesting titles. It is certainly not a reference book for genealogists but rather one that outlines many of the common traps that those researching family history often find themselves in. This book lays all those embarrassing traps out hoping to show the reader that genealogy is actually quite difficult and how easy it is to get it wrong – but how to avoid them in future. I like the fact that this book targets the well experienced as well as the complete beginner family historian. As the authors say their aim is to show the reader what the ‘banana skins of family history can be and how to avoid skidding and landing on your backside’ – and with 45 years research experience between them I think they know what they are talking about. The traps are all explained in an easy to understand format which is both logically described and hilariously illustrated. Toni gives the reader his ‘tips’ while Kate gives her ‘comments’ after each ‘trap’. The book is split into five main sections each with ten traps described.

I really enjoyed this book and grinned from cover to cover – the illustrations are very entertaining. The reader will be nodding their head, laughing to themselves and agreeing that they have indeed fallen foul to at least one of the ‘traps’ as they read through this book. I must confess that even after reading the book I find that I have picked it up several times since! I have not seen this kind of book written and its’ light-hearted take on research will indeed appeal to a wide audience. The authors’ distinctive way of writing throughout and the cheerful illustrations means that this book requires no summary. Its’ companion is ‘Grandad Was A Dwarf Strangler’ – which if this book was anything to go by – should also be another entertaining read.

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird, Regional Representative for Scotland-South (Guild of One Name Studies) and a Professional Genealogist at Dunedin Links Genealogy and proud member of the Scottish Genealogy Network (SGN) & IHGS Student

November 2013

cover for Suffragettes

Suffragettes: How Britain's women fought & died for the right to vote
by Frank Meeres

Published by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4456-0007-9
Price £15.29

Frank Meeres’ careful chronological approach in Suffragettes: How Britain's women fought & died for the right to vote will be appreciated by those new to learning about British women's struggle to win the vote.

Meeres outlines the work of the major national suffrage organizations and suffrage campaigns and their tactics across Britain - from petitions, meetings and caravans to stunts like mailing women to the Prime Minister and to window breaking and the hunger strike. Those interested in researching suffragettes in the family may be especially interested in women's tax protests and the suffragette boycott of the 1911 census - “If We Don't Count We Shall Not Be Counted” (p. 118).

Meeres often quotes at length from those in the movement and the press. Anti-suffrage groups and prominent individuals are mentioned and quoted, if briefly.

Some readers will be frustrated to find Meeres' book has no index or references, but there are many other publications to lead those interested to relevant collections and information, for example, The Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey by Elizabeth Crawford (Routledge, 2008).

‘Suffragettes’ does include a nice selection of photographs and images of posters and cartoons, many from the author's own collection.

Reviewed by M. Diane Rogers, member of the British Columbia Genealogical Society, Canada

August 2013

cover for Titanic Voices

Titanic Voices by Hannah Holman

Published by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4456-1443-4
Price £14.99

This is a paperback edition of the book which was first published in 2011.

Reading a book when you know the ending can prove to be disappointing but not with this book. This is a fascinating compilation of the stories of 63 survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Their stories are told by the use of transcripts of the US Senate Inquiry, the British Board of Trade Inquiry and interviews with the survivors.

The Author has taken the stories of a few persons from each lifeboat and used these stories to paint the picture of the confusion which reigned that night. She presents these stories in chronological order of the time each lifeboat was launched

She shows how the belief that the ship was unsinkable stopped many people getting into lifeboats  which resulted in many lifeboats being under filled but as the disaster unfolded this attitude changed although even at the last, there were empty seats available. This was mainly due the ‘women and children first’ policy.

Reading the accounts one is moved by the poignancy of the separation of families, of those who chose death rather than separation and the needless loss of life.

The account of the captain of the Carpathia (which rescued the survivors) gives a heart-warming account of humanity in contrast to the despair of those afloat in tiny boats  and I found the book full of hope.

The accounts are well presented and gripping and to anyone interested in the Titanic this is essential reading despite the plethora of Titanic books .

Reviewed by John Treby

July 2013

cover for Evacuees

Evacuees - Growing Up in Wartime Britain
by Geoffrey Lee Williams

Published by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978-1445613345
Price £9.99

Geoffrey Lee Williams has written about the wartime experiences shared by his twin brother Alan and himself for the duration of the Second World War.  The boys’ family home was close to Shooters Hill in Woolwich.  They were evacuated on three separate occasions to different parts of England, but returned home in between times to experience aspects of intense enemy action against London.

The book is a delightful tale of their wartime experiences and shows how children’s’ antics could produce amusing outcomes, even under the conditions of the time.  Geoffrey’s light style of authorship captures the spirit of the times; it is fascinating to read how inventiveness and play acting helped children cope during those years.

There are some interesting snippets about wartime propaganda and certain war efforts which came to nothing.  For example, you will be surprised to read what happened to the pots, pans and railings collected for the war effort!  Geoffrey’s commentary on social change in Britain is interesting.  The author has included a couple of chapters on the life of the twins in the post-war period.  This rounds off the tale rather nicely.

My only criticism is that the book isn’t indexed.  However, an index isn’t really essential and its absence should not detract from your experience as a reader.

Overall, this book is an enjoyable read which provides some nice pieces of information to flesh out the lives of your wartime family members.

I would certainly recommend this book as a holiday read.


Reviewed by Richard M Brown, member of The East Surrey FHS & The Lincolnshire FHSS

July 2013

cover for I Survived the Titanic

THe Loss of The Titanic : I Survived the Titanic
by Lawrence Beesley

Republished by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978 1 4456 1383 3
Price £9.99

Last year's centenary commemoration of the Titanic disaster saw two new museums opened (in Southampton and Belfast) and a shoal of publications, including the re-issue of this classic account of the voyage by a survivor.  Lawrence Beesley was a schoolteacher in his 30s on his way to meet his brother in Toronto.  He was a second class passenger and was one of the fortunate ones who got on board a lifeboat and was rescued by the Carpathia.  He started to write this book on board that vessel, completed it within weeks and it was published in 1912.  He was an alert and keen observer and gathered eyewitness accounts from fellow survivors.  It is a thoughtful and balanced narrative which avoids the sensational.  There is anger about the mistakes he describes as contributing to the sinking and loss of life but his tone is always restrained and rational.  He is particularly interesting when he describes the atmosphere surrounding the abandonment of the ship :

".... the principal fact that stands out is the almost entire absence of any expressions of fear or alarm on the part of passengers"

His detailed account of the collision with the iceberg (almost imperceptible in his cabin) and of the following events is graphic and still holds the attention today.  He was not right in every particular but undoubtedly his is a convincing story.

This edition is enhanced by a generous selection of illustrations, mainly related to the ship but including some of the author.  It also includes a very useful preface, written in 2011 by Beesley's grandson, which fleshes out the portrait of the man himself, who comes across as a fascinating, if unconventional, individual.  All in all, a book well worth reading!

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

July 2013

Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet – by Chris Paton

cover for Irish FH on the Internet

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978 1 78159 184 0
Price £12.99

This volume is an addition to the Pen and Sword list of Family History Guides. The author, in his introduction, states that it is complementary to his previous volume in the same series 'Tracing your Family History on the Internet' which, for reasons of space, omitted Ireland. This book handsomely makes good that omission with a wide ranging listing and analysis of websites relevant to tracing your Irish ancestors, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

The author prefaces it with a very relevant health warning :

"The internet is most definitely not the be all and end all of your research .... but be in no doubt, the internet will certainly help provide you with one heck of a starting point"

The contents are laid out in a logical and approachable manner, starting with the wide spectrum 'Gateways, Institutions and Networks', moving through 'Vital Records' (e.g. Civil Registration, Parish Registers, Wills), on to Censuses ('Where They Lived') and then to geographical locations. Professions and emigration ('The Irish Diaspora') are also covered in separate chapters. It would be an extremely unfortunate researcher who couldn't find some leads from this range of sources.

This is essentially a reference book and occasionally the sheer weight of website references can be rather overwhelming. However a useful index, and the logic of the book's progression, help to bring you back to the specific area of research you are pursuing. The author illustrates the book both with pictures from his own family album and with relevant anecdotes from his own research. He also adds the odd humorous comment, entertaining but not intrusive (as in referring to a Clan History Site as being "a wee bit Sir Walter Scott-ish in content").

This book is a veritable quarry for the family researcher into family branches in Ireland and there is little to criticise (except to say that inevitably some of the references will become outdated). However it was surprising that no map was included to provide an immediate reference point (the book does include a good review of maps online). And perhaps a mention of the Irish Genealogical Society Library in London (www.igrsoc.org) might have been included.

However the multiplicity of references will greatly assist researchers and, undoubtedly, result in many of them carrying their quest over the water to the Island itself.

Reviewed by Charles Kaye

June 2013

cover for British Herring Industry

The British Herring Industry - The Steam Drifter Years 1900-1960
by Christopher Unsworth

Published by Amberley Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4456-1081-8
Price £14.99

This is an excellent book in terms of its scope of the British Herring Industry and the people who worked within it.

Unsworth breaks The Herring Industry into readable chunks with nine chapters each covering productive years of the industry. Cleverly put together in an easy to follow and logical format, I like the style and the printing of the book.

It is not as statistically written as Mark Taylor’s article on ‘Wet fish and damp squids: The UK fishing industry’ where he tells the story of the economic and social changes within the UK following the Olympics of 1908 and 1948 in London, but it’s not far off. I am unaware of any other such book in publication, so this fills that void.

I like the fact that Unsworth covers both England and Scotland, although its scope is limited and it could have been expanded upon.  What this book does well is it cleverly brings in real ‘Herring People’ and tells their stories at the end (occasionally in the middle) of each chapter.  The author mentions names, tells us about their lives, stories that appear to have been handed down from generation to generation, the reader gets a real sense of what it must have been like for the herring people in their own words.

I particularly like Chapters 2: The Glory Years 1910 to 1914 and Chapter 4: 1914 to 1919 – War!  He gives us interesting statistics for the time, but I felt it didn’t go into any great detail. I was disappointed as I wanted more. There is lots of evidence stated, and it makes for excellent historical reading, however, there are no references as to where he found the information.

The author seeks to engage the reader’s attention further by pinpointing specific areas of the photographs – something that the reader may have missed on first reading.  I particularly like the references to the ships (Chapter 4) that were around at that time.

The cover displays perfectly the contents of the book.  It is eye-catching, a good use of photographic evidence, is well-researched and gives good coverage. There is a list of further information, a glossary of terms and useful websites although I feel the lack of references and a bibliography let the book down.

Overall, as a historical reference to the industry it is worthy of reading and I really enjoyed the book and I feel it will engage a wide audience.

Reviewed by Lorna Kinnaird, member of GOONS, Scottish Genealogy Society & The Heraldry Society of Scotland

June 2013

Jewish Lives: Britain 1750-1950 – by Melody Amsel-Arieli

cover for Jewish Lives

Link to Pen & Sword Books

ISBN 978 1 84884 411 7
Price £10.39

In this intriguing book Melody Amsel-Arieli uses ten case studies of Jewish families who came to England, and in one case Wales, to illustrate aspects of immigration, of Jewish society within society at large, and of Jewish family life.  She takes information about individuals that she has gleaned from descendants or relatives, and incorporates it into a free-flowing narrative that will interest non-Jewish and Jewish readers alike.

The author’s subjects are a varied bunch and range from Raphael da Costa who arrived in London from Lisbon in 1746, through Mosiek Hauzer who came to Cardiff from Brzeziny, Łódź, Poland in 1889, to Feige Mendzigursky who was sent to Manchester from Leipzig, Germany in 1939.  Wisely, she has steered clear of the better known Jewish immigrants such as Michael Marks (of M&S) and instead has focused on ordinary families.

The author has much more success with some of her subjects than with others.  Raphael da Costa’s chapter is heavy on speculation and remarkably short on demonstrable facts;  in fact Melody Amsel-Arieli refers to his story as a ‘genealogical leap of faith’.  Chapters that are more firmly founded in fact read much better, such as the story of Samuel Wolfsohn, who came from Prussian Poland to Sheffield in about 1857 and became (of all things) a policeman.

The author is an Israeli-American amateur genealogist and professional writer.  She has evidently tried hard to understand the British, but misses the target just slightly too often for comfort.  She seems to think, for example, that ‘The Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 ... united Britain and The Netherlands ...’ (it didn’t, it brought William and Mary to the throne in place of James II), that Sheffield plate is a 19th century variety of steel (it isn’t, it’s silver-coated copper, a predecessor of electroplating), and that in the 1880s fashionable Victorians travelled around London in open sleighs (Moscow perhaps, but not rain-lashed London).

The text is sprinkled liberally with sometimes-jarring American usages, and ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’ recur frequently, often relating to events in the central characters’ countries of origin or to their living conditions.

The problem with these successive speculations and mistakes is that cumulatively they build from amusement at the odd howler into a general impression of fallibility.  If the author cannot get simple things right - matters that could be easily checked on-line - how far is she to be trusted with the more personal and specific matters that form the real core of the book?  This is a real shame since the main thrust of the book - illuminating historic social questions through individual case studies - is an object lesson to all of us who are trying or have tried to write our own family histories.

As a model for the aspiring family historian this book has many good features.  Integration of historic, geographic, political, economic and occupational themes into pure genealogical data adds enormously to a successful family history, and Melody Amsel-Arieli provides some excellent examples.  If only she had managed to check her facts more carefully her book would have been thoroughly recommendable.  As it is - treat with caution!

Reviewed by Rod Moulding, of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain

May 2013

cover for Welsh Genealogy

Welsh Genealogy by Bruce Durie

Published by The History Press
ISBN 978 0 7527 6599 9
Price £17.99

When I discovered that one of my g/g/g grandfathers was a David Davies from south Wales, I panicked. With a name like that, from a parish of uncertain name, location and spelling, and a birth date before general registration, what chance did I have? Consequently, I leapt upon this book with glee.

First, let me say that the book is aimed at those of us in the earlier stages of family history. As Dr Durie says himself, he does not wade into the murky water of Wills, Manorial records and so on.  It is also probably of greater use to those of us who are not Welsh, but have Welsh ancestry. Perhaps three-quarters of the book could profitably be read by anyone interested in family history – Welsh or not. He addresses statutory registration, census records and parish registers clearly and he tells the reader where the relevant records are held. He is particularly helpful with historical banana skins like calendar changes and regnal years.

The meat of the book, though, lies in the differences between England and Wales. Welsh administrative areas have been tossed into the pot and more thoroughly stirred than English ones.  Despite several English administrative reorganisations, we still think in terms of ‘one county, one county record office’. Wales doesn’t work like that and Dr Durie guides us helpfully through the swamp, as he does through the Anglican diocese arrangement (there are six and we are told which parish lies in which diocese).  There is a chapter on Welsh surnames (I was right to be terrified – 40 surnames account for 95% of the Welsh) plus chapters on Welsh heraldry, Welsh emigration and the Welsh language (insofar as it is relevant to genealogy).

Dr Durie has a light and engaging style, making the book a pleasure to read. There is a good index and examples of the records you may encounter plus maps and drawings, particularly in the Heraldry chapter.

Do I now know where to find David Davies, born 1765, somewhere in south Wales ? No – but the book has given me the courage to go and look.

Reviewed by Mike Whitaker, of Cornwall FHS; Devon FHS; Wiltshire FHS; Somerset & Dorset FHS; Dyfed FHS; Norfolk FHS

May 2013

cover for The Home Front

Protesting About Pauperism: Poverty, Politics and Poor Relief in Late-Victorian England, 1870-1900
by Elizabeth T Hurren

ISBN: 9780861932924
Price: Available new via Bookprice24 for less than £20.00.

Workhouses were abolished, at least in name, in 1930. Despite the time that has since elapsed, even today most people have heard of their shortcomings. But what was it really like to be poor during Queen Victoria’s reign ? And what did the paupers themselves say and do about their plight? A range of answers to these questions can be found in this book.

Elizabeth Hurren’s investigations focus on the rural area contained within the Brixworth Poor Law Union, whose 87 square miles included the extensive estates of Earl Spencer in Northamptonshire. The earliest workhouse building at Brixworth was opened in 1837. Almost immediately, it attracted controversy when accusations of excessive strictness in dealing with applications for relief led to a Bow Street Runner being sent from London to investigate. Despite these complaints, it is clear from its “application and report books” that in the early 1840s the Union granted “outdoor relief” to many applicants, allowing them to remain in their homes and not forcing them to enter the institution when they fell on hard times.

The book focuses on a period of agricultural depression. Requests for relief increased at a time when the farming profits and rental incomes on which many local ratepayers depended were falling. Groups such as the Charity Organisation Society crusaded for stricter controls on the provision of relief and, initially, were encouraged to do so by civil servants at the Local Government Board.

The author provides a detailed account of contemporary policy debates and practices, at a national as well as local level. Tightening up in the administration of relief meant that paupers were generally denied either food or medical treatment unless they entered the workhouse. This policy was so strictly applied at Brixworth that the numbers receiving outdoor relief, which stood at 1,118 in 1871 had been reduced by 1892 to just 55. We can read pitiful accounts of bereaved relatives begging for funeral expenses to avoid the bodies of their loved ones being taken away for dissection – the sale of “unclaimed” bodies to medical schools was another way to reduce net expenditure on poor relief. In contrast, the average cost of maintaining those held in the workhouse was greater than the average outdoor relief payment and some officers of the Brixworth Union were extremely well paid.

It is hardly surprising that restrictions on outdoor relief stimulated political awareness and activity by the poorer members of society. Agricultural trade unions attracted much local support at this time and extensions to the franchise allowed successful challenges to be mounted at the election of the Guardians who directed the policy of the Poor Law Union. 1896 was the year in which control of the Brixworth Board of Guardians changed hands and the tight control of outdoor relief in the area started to be eased.

This hardback volume of over 300 pages has an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. It will appeal to two groups of readers. Those who wish to understand the shifts of theory and practice in poor relief will find a coherent analysis that challenges some conventional wisdom. If, like me, you have ancestors from the area between Northampton and Market Harborough, your relatives may appear among the paupers whose stories are told in detail; these accounts sometimes include letters to the Local Government Board  in which applicants for relief explained their plight.

Reviewed by Francis Howcutt (FFHS)

19 January 2013



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