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: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

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Reviewer:  Michael  Keith

Title: The Great Houdini; His British Tours

Author: Derek Tait

No. of Pages: 296

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

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In an age where film stars are treated like royalty and thousands of ordinary people come to merely look at them, it is easy to forget that there was a time when entertainers who were NOT film stars were also accorded the same adoration. One such was Harry Houdini; escapologist extraordinaire. Although an American who was well-known in his homeland, Houdini also toured internationally, making many visits to Great Britain while doing-so. This volume is the story of his ‘British’ visits.

In the Introduction to this volume, the author summarises its purpose. He states ‘I have always been fascinated by Houdini and the more I have read about him, the more I’ve discovered about all the many venues that he played at all over Great Britain. There have been many books written about Houdini but none cover his tours of Britain in their entirety. In this book I have tried to collect together as many stories, newspaper cuttings, adverts [sic] and photos of his visits to the UK’. He also notes that ‘I have tried to include the complete account of the show as it was reported in the local newspaper. This not only gives a good impression of what Houdini’s act was like but also gives a feel of the time by including other performers who appeared on the bill,,,’ However, lest a reader think that the result of these endeavours could be boring, they are definitely not. The result is an eminently readable and thoroughly-entertaining book.

An Introduction placed behind the Contents page provides background to what follows and traces Houdini’s origins and his entry into show business. The main part of the volume follows. This consists of 16 Chapters, 15 of which detail the tours that Houdini undertook in Great Britain between 1900 and 1920. The final Chapter (Number 16) carries the self-explanatory title Timeline of Appearances and Events. An Acknowledgements section follows Chapter 16. In it, the author thanks those who assisted him in the volume’s creation. This is in turn followed by a Bibliography which records the books, newspapers and websites which provided information to assist the writer. A 10-page Index completes the work. As already noted, the volume contains numerous photographs, reproductions of relevant postcards and advertisements, together with contemporary line drawings. These are clearly captioned, although only some are sourced,. There is no reference to their existence in either the Index or on the Contents page. It must also be noted that although the body of the volume contains numerous quotes from contemporary newspapers, there are no ‘formal’ indications of their sources nor supporting citations. This must inevitably reduce the usefulness of the volume as a research document. The volume contains no maps. As a result, without consulting an atlas, the reader has no way of knowing where the locations referred-to actually are. This could be particularly problematical for ‘off-shore’ readers not familiar with the geography of the British Isles.

This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed this volume, and believes that it will probably appeal to a variety of readers. As it relates to their hero and records a little-known part of his life, ‘Houdini-enthusiasts’ will no-doubt find it of value. Historians and social-science researchers interested in British entertainment and social conditions for the 1900-1920 period could also find it of use. ‘Generalist’ readers seeking an entertaining and informative story may also find it worthy of their attention.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Great Houdini: His British Tours’.

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: ‘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’.