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Book Reviews, September 2006

by John Loosley

Dying for Glory: The Adventurous Lives of Five Cotswold Brothers by Michael Boyes, 2006 pp190, illustrated, Phillimore & Co Ltd. £20.

Robert Le Marchant the rector of Little Rissington and his wife Eliza had 15 children. In his book A Victorian Rector and Nine Old Maids, published in 2005, Michael Boyes explored the extraordinary life of their nine daughters and in this latest book recounts the adventurous careers of 5 of their sons. The Le Marchants were a distinguished and long-established family in Guernsey and several held high ranks and served with distinction in the British army. It was therefore unsurprising that these 5 sons should serve in the armed forces, 4 in the army and 1 in the navy. Based on journals and letters the author describes their experiences in military campaigns between 1871 and the First World War. Edward Le Marchant served in India and Afghanistan rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel before being shot by a Muslim assassin in 1899. Evelyn Robert Le Marchant had a naval career spanning 40 years starting as a naval cadet at the age of 13 rising to the rank of Admiral and serving in all parts of the world. Basil Le Marchant joined the army as a cadet in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry and was commissioned into the 76th Regiment of Foot and fought in the Boer War and in Afghanistan. Cecil joined the 35th Regiment following basic training in Royal Guernsey Militia and served in Egypt, Sudan and the North-West Frontier. Louis the youngest son was commissioned into the 30th Regiment of Foot and travelled to India in 1887 and serving there and subsequently in the Boer War and then in the First World War. At a time when commissioned officers were expected to have a private income the problems of the sons of a relatively poor Rector are described as is the fascinating life of officers serving during the height of the British Empire. This is a well researched and written book with a wealth of illustrations.

A History of Minsterworth, from prehistory to 1900 by Terry Moore-Scott, 2006, pp64, illustrated, ISBN 1-873877-74-9, Reardon Publishing.

In this small book Terry Moore-Scott has provided a concise and well researched description of the development of the community, its buildings, people, occupations and communications. Further chapters explore Minsterworth from prehistoric times up to Queen Victoria when the Viner Ellis family were the principal landowners. This book is designed for the general reader rather than the academic and for a more detailed history of the church one is directed to the work by Margot Johnson. What is lacking is the history of the last 100 years, but I gather this will be covered in a forthcoming book of old photographs. The author in his introduction raises the question as to why a history of a community should be written and comments "...the more we all understand how our village was formed and has developed over time, the more we can appreciate how it came to be as it is today and, in the process, gain a stronger sense of place and belonging". This is of particular importance today as people are more frequently moving in and out of communities.

Sheep in the Cotswolds, the Medieval Wool Trade by Derek Hurst, 2005, pp224, illustrated, ISBN 0-7524-2898-5, Tempus Publishing Ltd. £17.99.

When reviewing a book which aims to be a comprehensive work on a major subject the first check is to see the source of the material. In this case there was an initial disappointment in that few primary sources had been used, however a look at the bibliography revealed that the author had carried out an extensive research into the subject and the book is evidence of this. From archaeological evidence it has been established that sheep were bred in the Cotswolds for wool from the Iron Age but the origins of the Cotswold breed are much more difficult to establish until depicted on brasses in Northleach church. What is in no doubt are the huge numbers of sheep on the Cotswolds in the medieval period. In 1100-35 Caen Abbey had 1700 sheep at Minchinhampton and by 1300 Gloucester Abbey had some 10,000 sheep on their estates. Other monastic houses which had large flocks on the Cotswolds included Winchcombe, Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Llanthony, Kingswood and some outside the area such as Worcester and Evesham. Trade in wool was mainly through Southampton with buyers from Italy and Flanders and the fortunes of overseas and local merchants during the erratic history of wool taxation and wars in the 13th and 14th centuries are chronicled. In the 15th century the Cely family were buying large amounts of wool on the Cotswolds and selling through the Calais Staple as evidenced in their letters. The book has useful descriptions of shepherding and sheep-cotes together with an account of the rise in woollen cloth manufacture in Gloucestershire. The Cotswolds are rich in the evidence of this huge trade from the sheepwashes to the 'wool' churches in Cirencester, Northleach, Fairford and Chipping Campden.

The Turbulent History of a Cotswold Valley, the Upper Slad Valley and The Scrubs by Patricia M. Hopf, 2006, pp218, illustrated, ISBN 1-84588-116-8, Nonsuch Publishing Ltd. £16.

Laurie Lee's book Cider with Rosie gives a picture of life in the Slad valley in the early 20th century and its readers will have found that the area was very different from the affluent community of the later 20th and early 21st century. Patricia Hopf's book similarly describes the hard and often violent life in the area of the upper Slad valley and the Scrubs which is difficult to appreciate from the comforts of the present times. This book covers a very small community of, at present, around 50 living in 25 houses although 150 years ago the population was 200 living in around 50 houses. The small geographic scope of the book allows the author to examine in great detail the history of each building and the inhabitants and there is an appendix giving these details. Whilst this aspect is of importance to those currently living in the community it is the wider picture which will appeal to the general reader. The area was in the small manor of Sydenhams, one of six in Bisley, and in a series of chapters the book traces its fortunes from medieval times to the beginning of the 20th century. As in all communities round Stroud, the woollen cloth industry had a major impact and the local Vatch Mills and Steanbridge Mill provided employment for many. The descriptions of the changes in agriculture are particularly well covered as Patricia Hopf, an economist with a PhD in agricultural economics, has a great interest and expertise in this subject. Much of the material of the later chapters covering the 20th century comes from interviews over the past 40 years with residents and former residents and provides a remarkable record of the decline in the first half of the 20th century and the revival in the second half following the discovery of the area by town dwellers, particularly Londoners. Recent books on Sheepscombe, Oakridge and Cranham have described the same phenomena. The book has many "then and now" photographs of buildings and reproductions of the mural in the Old Rectory, Bishop's Cleeve of Steanbridge in the early 19th century

Glorious Gloucestershire by Wallis Peel, 2005, pp208, ISBN 0-9547268-1-2, Giete, £8.99.

As the title suggests this is a celebration of Gloucestershire. The author has been writing articles for newspapers in Gloucestershire for many years and this is a collection of these articles. A general history through time of the county is followed by chapters on places arranged alphabetically. Wallis Peel has researched the history of each place covered by using many existing published histories including Atkyns, Rudder, Bigland and many more. She also enlivens the history with stories of local people and events such as the William Tyndale who tutored Sir John Walsh's children in Little Sodbury and the Charfield railway accident in 1928. The book reminds me of a modern version of Arthur Mee's "The King's England but without illustrations. There is a map in the front showing the location of the places covered in the book. It is an informative and entertaining book but as there are no references of bibliography, the historical accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

The Crescent in its Historical Context, THS Historical Briefing Document No.1 by John Dixon, 2006, pp12, Tewkesbury Historical Society £1.00.

This is a new initiative by the Tewkesbury Historical Society to provide in an A4 format briefing documents giving the history and historic significance of places in Tewkesbury whether buildings, streets or areas. The need for this Historical Briefing Document has been identified as a result of proposed changes to the area known as the Crescent and it is encouraging to see a local history society providing the historical context in a simple format for the public ensuring an informed debate on the changes proposed. It is something that other local history societies could follow.