Book Reviews by Phill Bowker.
Crickhowell 1881  by Eliane Wigzell Pub: Crickhowell District Archive Centre.
ISBN 978-1-8382571-4-9 260 pages paperback with 17 illustrations.
A History of Llangattock: In Four Parts  Pub: Crickhowell District Archive Centre.
ISBN 978-1-8382571-3-2 188 pages paperback with over 50 photographs and illustrations, many from the Chris Lewis collection. The four parts have been brought together in one publication
The District Archive Centre has published two new books, which will be of great interest to people living in the Crickhowell and Llangattock areas as well as of interest to others, who might live further afield, but have connections or links to these places and their past.
They are both priced at £10 and can be purchased from the CRiC, District Archive Centre and Bookish either directly or on-line.
A History of Llangattock in Four Parts, is a collection of articles have previously published in various editions of Brycheiniog, the journal of the Brecknock Society, and was based on the work of the Llangattock Local History Society.
Three of these articles were first published in the early 60s and as you might expect they perhaps adopt a more formal or academic style and deal not only with the historical and sociological aspects of the village, but also cover its geography, botany and other aspects.
In pulling all these articles together and presenting them with a wealth of additional photographical evidence, the District Archive Centre has done a marvellous job and made life a lot easier for those interested in researching the history of the village in general, those looking for specific personal connections in particular, and those just interested in the life and times of people from another era.
Sarah Sankey-Barker’s article was written some 40 years later than the first three Llangattock Parish Scrapbook contributions and complements and extends the earlier works. She also includes a number of plans of the village and outlying settlements and pinpoints a number of additional features.
Many of the earlier themes are still evident, and there are sections on: Church, Chapel and School; Work and Recreation; Farming, Poaching and Transport; Wartime; and Life and Work in the Country Houses.
As a former soccer player myself, and one that turned out for Llangattock many years ago in the Sunday morning leagues, I was interested to see the 1920/21 team pictured with their female trainer Lizzie ’the Bells’!
The most surprising but nevertheless very interesting section is one covering ’Superstitions and the Supernatural’! A History of Llangattock is well-presented and well worth the cost, given the breadth of information and the sheer amount of detail and pictorial illustrations included.
Crickhowell 1881, by contrast, is essentially a snapshot of Crickhowell across that one year, and is presented in month-by-month sections. This is social history presented in a most powerful and evocative manner and takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster. We are drawn into the real life stories of known individuals and then taken back and forth as the true stories unfold across a range of activities, as the broader and overarching social issues of the day are given additional context.
We also learn about a range of very interesting roles and the way that society works across the class divide. How do you go about landing a job such as the ’Inspector of Nuisances’? As we travel through the year we delve into many issues of the time and get a real sense of the difficulties facing most of the ordinary people living in this area.
True there are many well-to-do country houses in the area, but the majority of people were living from hand to mouth and some barely surviving. We read, for example, of stories about the ’climbing boys’ - youngsters sent up chimneys at an extraordinarily young age and purposely malnourished to keep them small and useful.
Other stories involve: girls and young women in service; the workhouse and how it functioned; the schools and education; religion and the divide between church and chapel; and the differences between the wealthy and the very poor, working classes. There is some light relief, with accounts of the fair coming to town and all that comes with it.
The strange animals, the stalls and apparently the ’Extraordinary Fat Miss Wallace’, was a sight to behold! The descriptions of country shows and what people did in the leisure time, are also interesting, but there was very little spare time for the vast majority of ordinary people.
Issues therefore, such as poor health, very high mortality rates of children and the plight of young mothers giving birth to illegitimate babies can sound as if this book might be a depressing read, but it is far from that. These are the issues of the time and it is sometimes easy to look back through rose tinted glasses and talk about the successes of such eras and forget about the human ’fall-out’ of the ordinary people involved.
One such story not only illustrates a huge issue of the time, but also serves to show how this book works. In the October chapter we are introduced to Alice Dewsbury and where she comes from and how she ends up in Crickhowell with a young baby Ernest, who she just cannot provide for.
Many women in this plight might have left youngsters to perish and even sometimes actively resorted to infanticide, but Alice leaves her young baby on the step of a house in Crickhowell in the hope that he might be taken in and given a better life than she was able to give him.
Now the book moves on to November and on to other issues, so the reader is perhaps left wondering about young Ernest and what becomes of him. The author cleverly provides us, after the 12 ’monthly’ chapters, with chapter 13, which offers more information under the title of ’Continuing Stories’. Here we find out that later, whilst Alice herself was arrested and brought back to this area and punished for her actions, she moves back to her native Staffordshire and eventually marries and has three more children. We learn that Ernest enlists in the South Wales Borders and returns to Wales after serving in the Boer War and enlists again in 1914 when war breaks out, having married in 1913. In June 1915 Alice is informed that her son from her marriage is killed in action in May that year, but what she could not have known is that Ernest, the child she abandoned all those years ago was also killed, at Gallipoli.
Crickhowell 1881 is a marvellous read and one that will certainly tug at your emotions, for sure. It is also though, a book that provides a wealth of information and research detail that has been pulled together with great skill and thought. As well as the 13 chapters mentioned already, there is interestingly, a chapter entitled ’The Walk of the Book’, with a map, so that the places mentioned in the book can be visited. The author provides some additional notes too, along with acknowledgements and also 20 pages of references to the original source material used in the publication and local papers such as the Abergavenny Chronicle and the Brecon and Radnor Express feature prominently in these lists. Crickhowell 1881 is indeed an impressive piece of work and with Christmas just around the corner I’m sure it will be a very welcome stocking filler for anyone who is interested in Crickhowell and the surrounding area but also anyone who is interested in local history and in learning more about life in the late 19th Century. Well done to the author and the publishers for coming up with a little gem.
*Eliane Wigzell [author of Crickhowell 1881] is doing a session on her book, as part of the Crickhowell Literary Festival on Sunday morning and another in Llangattock with Minister Margaret Williams in the afternoon. Tickets can be obtained from the District Archive Centre.