BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities

Author: Melvyn Jones

Total Number of Printed Pages: 150

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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Historians rarely focus on communities, preferring instead to write about outstanding individuals or important events. When they are actually mentioned, ‘Communities’, whether large or small, are merely ‘background’ to a larger and more focussed narrative. In this volume however, it is the ‘Communities’ which are the focus, with the important events or people, where they occur being adjuncts to the story rather than its focus.

In his Epilogue, the author notes ‘Mining migrants came from every country in England, from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and even from overseas to populate the mining villages of South Yorkshire; it is this migration which forms the basis of this volume’. The author does this via ‘…In-depth case studies of examples of six very different types of mining settlement in South Yorkshire…’ noting that ‘…Many … survive to this day, although now there is little sign of the collieries that were their raison d’être’. The result is a volume of social history that examines life in the now-former mining settlements of South Yorkshire.

The author is of Welsh descent and ‘…Grew up in a mining family’.  Unsurprisingly he notes that he ‘…Has been writing about it [mining] ever since I left school’. His dissertations for his university qualifications were mining-based, with particular emphasis on migration to, and settlements on, the Yorkshire coalfields. These were subsequently followed by articles on the migration of Welsh miners onto the Yorkshire coalfields. With such a background he then decided ‘…That it was time to bring all these studies together in one comprehensive volume’. This book is the result.

Within this volume a Forward follows the Contents page. In it, the author narrates his family connection with the Yorkshire coalfields and his reason this book was written. An Acknowledgements section then thanks those who assisted in its creation. The book’s main part follows; it consists of seven Chapters. The first of these (titled General Considerations) outlines the factors which the author considers influenced the development of the villages that appear within the Chapters that follow.  Each Chapter relates to settlements within a specific section of the South Yorkshire coalfield, each settlement being allocated a subheading with the specific chapter. An Epilogue placed after the last chapter precis’ what has gone before and details what remains of the settlements and industries previously-described. This is in turn followed by a section titled Sources, References and Further Reading, which acts as a Bibliography. An Index completes the work.

Most chapters contain maps and photographs. Collectively termed Figures, each is captioned and is numbered sequentially within the specific chapter in which it appears. Although some are sourced, many are not. There is no reference to their existence on the Contents page or in the Index. Surprisingly (and despite its extensive use of mining terminology), the volume contains no Glossary for those unfamiliar with the industry. That such a section is necessary is shown by this reviewer’s inability to find an explanation for the terms Exposed Coalfield and Concealed Coalfield that are in widespread use throughout this book. As it is probable that many purchasers or readers of this volume will live outside South Yorkshire, such an omission is of some consequence. Curiously, and despite their prominence, these terms also do not appear within the Index. Few citations are provided, and where these occur, they are minimal in detail.

Due to its ‘Academic’ origins this volume is well-researched and highly detailed. As a result those seeking ‘facts and figures’ about specific localities are likely to find it very useful. Residents of settlements described within this book may also find its historical information of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘South Yorkshire Mining Villages; A History of the Region’s Former Coal Mining Communities’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

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Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young

Author: Peter Higginbotham

No. of Pages: 310

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8

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As is evidenced by this volume’s subtitle, it is ‘A history of institutional care for Britain’s young’.  The author notes that ‘The total number of children’s establishments that operated over the years [ran[ into many thousands and the children that lived in them probably into millions.  As a result, and by ‘Casting its net wide, this book takes a look at how these many and varied institutions operated and evolved in the context of changing views of how to best serve the needs of children in their care’.  It is a fair summary.

The volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject. Within it, the reader is take from the Christ’s Hospital (claimed to be ‘..England’s first institutional home for poor or orphaned children’), to the Twenty-first Century and beyond. The story that is presented between these two points is well-researched and written. it is eminently readable, and is both enlightening and (not unexpectedly), at times somewhat depressing.

The main part of the volume consists of 25 Chapters preceded by an Introduction which summarises what is to follow.  Of the Chapters, 23 relate directly to the subject. Chapters 24 (Children’s Home Records) and 25 (Useful Resources) are however intended to assist genealogists and researchers seeking further information on the topic. Each Chapter covers a specific time-period, with subheadings within it providing more details about specific subjects. There are numerous informatively-captioned illustrations, although these are not sourced, and no mention of their existence appears on either the Contents page or in the Index. Endnotes are employed to provide additional information within each chapter. Chapter-specific and numbered sequentially, their citations appear in a dedicated References and Notes section placed after Chapter 25.  A Bibliography follows that section, with an Index completing the volume.

That this book is well-researched is very evident. However, for this reviewer, it was badly let down by its Index. While reviewing the volume, he had occasion to check the Index for additional information concerning British Home Children (p.209). Nothing was found. Subsequent (and random) searches for Australia, Canada and Ontario (subjects which figure prominently within the narrative) had the same result, while a final (also random) search for Hampton (p.213) also found nothing. For a volume with the potential to be an authoritative work on its subject, this discovery was disconcerting. While it cannot be known if other omissions have occurred, for this reviewer, the authority of the Index is now under question. Whether or not this is important will depend-upon the reader.

The mater of the Index notwithstanding, it is possible that this volume may become a major research-tool for those interested in British social history, orphanages, child welfare and the evolution of child foster care within Great Britain.

On a Rating Scale Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given it an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Children’s Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain’s Young’

BOOK REVIEW:’Being British’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Being British

Author: Kieran Hughes and Maureen Hughes

Total Number of Printed Pages: 152

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In the Introduction to this book, the authors state that ‘There is so much in Britain worthy of celebration ‘and that ‘Hopefully, this book will remind you [the reader] how great it is to be British and for those wanting to settle here, provide a little something about our customs, history and idiosyncrasies’. It is a succinct summation.

The result of this intent can best described as a compendium of many of the things that the authors perceive to be ‘British’. The main part of this volume consists of 16 well-written, and at times humorous, Chapters. Within these, the subjects covered are wide-ranging. The Chapters include such titles as  The Geography of Britain and Its Counties (Chapter 1), and The English Language (Chapter 7); this latter section including such delights as Common Yorkshire Words And Phrases, Cockney Rhyming Slang and Common Welsh Phrases within its pages. As already noted, the main part of this volume consists of 16 Chapters. Although the majority concern the ‘positive’ side of being ‘British’, for ‘Completeness’ the last of these (titled Worst of Britain) is devoted to those things which the authors perceive as being to be the worst aspects of ‘British’ culture. It makes for interesting reading.   The text within the Chapters is invariably entertaining and in some instances contains relevant personal reminiscences. Because of its content, this volume is encyclopaedic in nature and suited for ‘dipping-type’ searching. Although (as this Reviewer proved) it is possible to read this book from cover to cover (and in a single sitting), the volume of information it contains tends to result in ‘information overload’ and such a practice is not to be recommended. It should also be noted that for unknown reasons, the focus of this book is primarily on England and, to a lesser extent Wales. Although references are made to locations within their borders, Scotland and Northern Ireland receive little attention.

As would be expected, the Contents page appears at the front of the volume.  However (and unusually), the reverse of that page contains both an Introduction (which gives a very brief summary of the book’s purpose), and an Acknowledgements section which thanks those who contributed to it. As it is more usual to have an individual page dedicated to each of these sections the reason for this arrangement is not known. The ten Chapters which constitute the main part of the volume then follow. Where additional information is provided within each Chapter, this takes the form of Subsections, the headings for which appear in Bold-type. A two-page Bibliography follows the Chapter section. Of the 36 entries the Bibliography  contains, 32 are websites, and only four are books.

 A four-page Index follows; completing the work. Although a small number of illustrations and numerous Tables appear within the book, the Contents page and Index make no mention of their existence. Surprisingly, given its subject, and the references to various British geographical, geopolitical and linguistic locations that it makes, the volume contains no Maps.

As it gives a ‘once-over lightly’ introduction to ‘British’ culture, this volume will probably have wide appeal. Tourists and potential immigrants are likely to peruse it with great and earnest interest. In this context it is perhaps unfortunate that as a potentially high-use book, consideration was not given to producing it as a hard-cover volume rather than using an easily-damaged, high-wear paperback format. That detail notwithstanding, residents of the British Isles and native-born ‘British’ may find it amusing to see themselves described by their peers. Linguists with an interest in the Welsh, Yorkshire and Cockney language / dialects may also find it useful in their researches.

For this reviewer, this volume is an ‘Introduction’ to the subject; it should not be taken as the ‘Final word’.

On a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): I have given it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW:’Being British’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title:  Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years

Author:  Simon Webb

Total Number of Pages: 188

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 5

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In the opening sentence of this volume’s Afterword, the author writes the following: ‘In this book we have looked at the strange myth which has been sedulously propagated over the last few years by baby boomers about the idyllic nature of their childhood’, He then adds  ‘That they should … half believe this nonsense is perfectly understandable’ . There is more in the same vein within the chapter and these statements summarise what is ultimately a very sour and unpleasant little book.

As can be seen by the subtitle, the focus of this this book is on the ‘Not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’, and the possibility that the well-held viewpoints of the ‘Baby Boomers’ of the title (defined by the author as being those born between 1946 and 1964) may be incorrect, This is a reasonable possibility and one would expect a reasoned and well-presented discourse as a result. What one finds instead is that the author’ is of the viewpoint that all the ‘Boomers say is exaggerated and viewed through increasingly rose-tinted glasses. It is a hypothesis looking for a home.  To prove (or perhaps justify) the correctness his hypothesis, the author then proceeds to locate, record and then destroy (largely, it should be noted, through use of derision),  all and any stories which might just suggest that there was an element of truth in what Boomer’s might be saying.  The result is unpleasant, derisory, bitter and resentful. It rapidly becomes evident that the author is determined to find incidents to support his preconceived ideas, while coming from a curious position of both moral superiority and self-justification. If there is a fault to be found, he will find it and expose it to the light of the Twenty-first Century values, where it can be derided and ridiculed. There is no objectivity.  The result does not make for good reading.

The main part of this volume consists of nine Chapters. These cover those aspects of British society which the author has chosen to investigate in support of his hypothesis. They are preceded by a List of Plates section. This repeats the captions placed under the 15 images appearing in a dedicated 8-page section within the volume. An Introduction then records both the reasons the work was written and summarises its narrative. An Afterword placed behind the last chapter justifies the author’s stance for what he has written, and is followed by a two-page Bibliography.  An Index completes the volume.

Due to the preconceived ideas of its author, this reviewer would suggest that this volume’s value as an ‘authoritative’ work should be treated with some caution. However, those seeking confirmation of similar ideas concerning Baby Boomers and their views, will no doubt find it useful. Baby Boomers themselves might find it of interest in respect of their younger years, although with the qualification that they might find the author’s viewpoint difficult to reconcile with their known realities. The photographs might also trigger reminiscences.

Due to the author’s very evident bias against his subject, this was not a pleasant volume to read. As a result, on a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given it a 5.

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nzcrownmines is available for Book Reviewing: Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Post-War Childhood: Growing up in the not-so-friendly ‘Baby Boomer’ years’.