Tuesday, 24 November 2009

School log books and FACHRS

After my recent post about Toddington log books, a friend reminded me about the school log books project being undertaken by the Family and Community Historical Research Society.  The project is aimed at studying the light that school log books throw on the relationship between schools and the local community.   The Toddington log book clearly demonstrated how school and community were intertwined and, incidentally, recorded events in the community that may otherwise have been lost, so there should be a lot that can be teased out of Beds log books about the history of daily life in the county.

I wonder if there is anyone working on Beds school log books for the project?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Bousfield Diaries reprinted!

BHRS's 2007 volume, The Bousfield Diaries, sold out several months ago and has now been reprinted in paperback at £14.99.  Available from the publisher, Boydell & Brewer, or good bookshops - see the list on the right for local Bedfordshire bookshops.

A recent review in The Local Historian praised the "exemplary introduction" and calls the diary "a valuable addition to local history and many other fields of nineteenth-century studies".

Toddington schoolboys given time off to see WG Grace

“School dismissed 2.55pm. Doctor Grace, his son, Lockwood and several other professional cricketers are playing a 2 day match at the Park and I want the elder boys to see the game” wrote the headmaster, Charles E Thomas in the school log book of Toddington Church of England School for 14 and 15 September 1899.

Other events such as football matches with local schools, Sunday School teas held by the different denominations in the parish, jumble sales, school concerts, and polling days led to the closure of the school, either for all or part of a day. These were rare highlights in school life. Other closures occurred because of less happy events such as an epidemic of measles in 1906.

Superficially the log books can seem repetitive and, even, boring, recording the weekly round of the school. They note average attendance each week and the effect of the weather and sickness amongst the children on attendance. Whooping cough, scarlatina, influenza, ringworm and measles, which seems to have caused most alarm, were annual occurrences. Absences also happened when the older children were needed to take dinner to the haymakers or to help at harvest time with blackberrying, etc.

The log book concentrates, of course, on teaching, with a lot of references to the themes of Object Lessons that were taught to different classes (‘standards’ to use the contemporary nomenclature), including dog, sheep, lion, tiger, ostrich, railway station, blacksmith’s shop, iron, coal, and thus introducing children to everyday things and to things that would be well beyond their experience. Much less is said about other subjects although it is clear that reading, writing, arithmetic, drawing, geography, history, religious instruction, singing, recitation and domestic economy (for the girls) were taught. There were drills and route marches. Gardens were established so that the boys could be taught gardening.

The school board manager, the local vicar and curate, local gentry and HM Inspectors visited regularly.

Log books rarely mention pupils by name except for real successes or tragedies, such as the death of “a little scholar”, Oliver Clarke from Standard II. “He was only absent from school a week. The cause of death was acute blood poisoning.” An unusual listing of names occurs in January 1899 when those children who had reached the required level were allowed to leave below the normal leaving age in order to go to work: Charles Hobbs, Fred Buckingham, Alice Reid, Ernest Brazier, Ida Coles, Rose Evans, John Nash, George Ansell and Charles Kingham.

The teachers figure prominently in the log. Most were pupil teachers and their work and exam successes are often mentioned. From their names – Briden and Muckleston in particular – they were locals who were working hard to make a career for themselves.

The annual school report was usually good, except in 1906 when discipline had been a problem, and can best be summed up by the 1904 HMI report that “Mr Thomas deserves the highest credit for the manner in which he conducts this difficult over-crowded and under-staffed school.” The annual budget was inadequate for improvements to the premises such as new desks and more toilets for the Infants, or Babies as they were called sometimes and babies they were too, some starting school as young as three. Some of the improvements, such as a wall round the girls playground, and luxuries such as prizes were paid for through concerts and jumble sales run by the school itself.

There is so much more in the log book – violin lessons for 15 pupils given by a local violinist; girls going into service; the headmaster also being the local church organist; the jubilation at the telegram announcing the Relief of Ladysmith; the children marching on to the Green with the Union Jack and singing patriotic songs -  that anyone interested in Toddington and in turn-of-the-century school life should read it at BLARS.

Photo (copyright of Ewart Tearle) of the Old School Toddington.  Is this the school which is the subject of these logbooks?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Edworth at Harvard

Many years ago on a visit to Harvard, I disgraced myself on being shown the portrait of Jeremy Bentham in Harvard Law School Library's Art Collection Room by exclaiming 'But that's not Jeremy Bentham!' because the portrait bore little resemblance to the wall painting at University College London.

This posting has nothing to do with Jeremy Bentham, but it is concerned with Harvard Law School Library and Bedfordshire. Amongst the Library's manuscripts is the Hale Collection: 132 manuscripts of land dealings by the Hale family of King's Walden (Hertfordshire) in the 17th century. More than 20 relate to the Hale's lands in Bedfordshire, mainly Edworth (including a grant of the manor in 1683) and a few about Wrestlingworth, Ampthill and Markyate.

A spot check on Edworth in BLARS online catalogue suggests that Harvard's holdings are complementary.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Regional history - where is Bedfordshire?

From time to time the editor of BHRS has been offered articles for publication and has had to turn them down because the Society has no plans to publish a collections of essays and does not publish a journal. It has been possible to suggest a few journals to which the articles could be submitted as there are academic journals for the history of most subjects and periods.

It was less obvious which regional academic journal would include Bedfordshire because the county can fall into a bewildering range of regions. Is it in central England, the Chilterns, East Anglia, the east midlands, the home counties, the midlands or south midlands or ... where? In addition to a journal's territorial coverage, authors also have their own definition of Bedfordshire's regional place so that, frequently, when looking for the Bedfordshire content of an article with an appropriate regional coverage, it is lacking.

At the Local History conference at the University of Leicester in July this year, I talked to the publisher of Midland History about this problem and discovered that I was talking to the right person. Midland History, published by the University of Birmingham is the place for articles about Bedfordshire. According to the publisher's information (Maney Publishing) -

"Its aim is to publish scholarly work on the counties of Bedfordshire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It is a refereed journal which prints articles on midlands topics: from professional and amateur historians alike, locally based and from overseas."

It would be good to find that in the journal's thirty five volumes there were a lot of articles specifically about Bedfordshire. But alas, only three articles had the words Bedford or Bedfordshire in the title. Is there anyone out there reseaching and writing about Bedfordshire to fill this gap?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Bedfordshire at LMA

Amongst the manors purchased by the City of London from the King around 1628 were several in Bedfordshire - Biggleswade, Ampthill, Houghton Conquest and more.

Auditors' reports on rentals and the surveys of these manors undertaken by the City are amongst the papers held by the London Metropolitan Archives . For example one of the auditor's reports of 1627/8 is described as "Mr. Knights brief report as to extent of the Manor of Littington and the names of tenant and reversioner".

LMA's online catalogue only includes minimal information about these and many other documents with a Bedfordshire focus, but there is sufficient to awaken interest in any serious researcher.

Bedfordshire at the Imperial War Museum

Staying with the wartime subject of the last post (A Soldier in Bedfordshire 1941-42), I recently discovered the rich collections of the Imperial War Museum - illustrations, posters, interviews, films, books, diaries, letters and personal accounts of wartime or by service personnel.

A basic search in the IWM collections' catalogue for Luton resulted in 128 hits, beginning with a beautiful picture of the De Havilland Mosquito B35, probably built by Percival Aircraft Ltd at Luton in 1945 and a long description of the aircraft itself.

A search on Bedfordshire brought up more than 400 hits including diaries and letters written by men of the Bedfordshire Regiment during WWI and a 1918 film of the Inspection of volunteer regiments at Bedford in March 1918 by Field Marshal Viscount French.

For anyone researching 20th century Bedfordshire, this is a collection well worth consulting.

A Soldier in Bedfordshire 1941-42 - BHRS's 2009 volume

BHRS's 2009 volume A Soldier in Bedfordshire 1941-42 was launched at the Society's AGM in Bedford on 19 September.

It is the diary written for Mass Observation by Denis Argent who was in a bomb disposal unit stationed in Bedford then Luton for a few months. Mass Observation, a social research organisation set up in the late 1930s to record 'how we were', relied on ordinary people to submit diaries and answer questionaires for its archive of everyday life. Denis Argent, who had been a journalist before joining up, took his diary very seriously and wrote about daily life as he saw it in Bedford and Luton.

The diary is full of army routine, transport problems, politics, leisure, films, books, music and bomb disposal, including an account and pictures of digging up a bomb in Bedfordshire. Denis was also a conscientious objector at the beginning of the war and he writes a lot about how conchies viewed themselves.

The book was launched with a lively presentation by Dorothy Sheridan, Development Director of the Mass Observation Archive and Bob and Patricia Malcolmson, who edited the diary for publication and who have edited several MO diaries. Sussex University hosts the MO Archive, which is very much an ongoing project - view its website to find out what is currently going on.

The dairy is available from booksellers and the publisher, Boydell & Brewer at £25.

Land Girls ‘Get-Together’ in Bedford

This contribution has been received from Stuart Antrobus:

On Sunday 31 May 2009, I was pleased to attend a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford, for former members of the Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps, arranged by the Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Sam Whitbread. Over 300 people attended, including over 70 former ‘land girls’.
This was followed by a lively reception at the Harpur Suite. The sun shone and everyone was in their ‘Sunday best’ clothes.

The service, arranged by the Reverend Canon John Pedlar and Mr. Whitbread, included both familiar hymns – “All people that on earth do dwell”, “We plough the fields and scatter”, “All things bright and beautiful” - and a choral version of The Land Army Song, “Back to the land”, for female voices. As the historian of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) in the county I was able to contribute by suggesting the secular readings – an extract from ‘Land at War’ by Laurie Lee and a moving poem, ‘Remember us’, by Hilda Gibson. I read the Laurie Lee passage which celebrates the contribution that ‘land girls’ made to wartime agriculture, enabling the nation to be fed. The poem was read by Faith Baxter, daughter of Mrs Erica Graham, who chaired the WLA county committee during the war. One of the highlights of the service was a live ‘conversation’ between Pam Rhodes (of BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’ fame) and three representative former ‘land girls’ I had chosen to give their own personal testimonies of service on the land during the Second World War. This brought alive some of hardship and laughter which these young women experienced and must have triggered many memories in the minds of those other, now elderly, ladies (some of them in wheelchairs; others quite sprightly) in the congregation.

It was fitting that this final great ‘get-together’ should come in the year after these former ‘land girls’ – who had given up the comforts of home to volunteer to take the place of male farm workers drawn into the armed forces for the duration of the war – were finally awarded a Veterans Badge to acknowledge their sacrifice and contribution to the war effort.

Mr Whitbread talking to forrmer Land Girl, Liz Day (photo by Ros Wong). More photographs of the event are on flickr via the Lord Lieutenant's website.


Stuart Antrobus is author of We wouldn’t have missed it for the world: the Women’s Land Army in Bedfordshire, 1939-1950 (Book Castle Publishing, 2008)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Ouse Valley Books

Recently I attended a Provincial Booksellers' Fairs Association fair near my home. The first stand I came to was Bedfordshire-based Barrie Farnsworth's - and I bought a Bedfordshire book immediately.

Barrie's secondhand stock includes Bedfordshire history. He does not have a website yet but says that enquiries to ousevalleybooks@btconnect.com are welcome.