Book Reviews

Many of these reviews have appeared in the pages of The Blackcountryman. They now appear together so you may check out the wealth of books and other publications that are available in our region.

Not all of these publications are available from the Society, wherever possible I will include details about where to purchase. The reviews will cover the entire period of the magazine, as well as older titles I have found. Part of the intention is a bibliography of Black Country writing - fiction and non-fiction. If you have a publication that is not reviewed here, please contact The Blackcountryman Editor: .

A Good Christmas Box

Edited by M & J Raven
From volume 1, issue 1 The Blackcountryman magazine, 1969
21 pp, 10 shillings (long out of print). Original published 1847.

This is a facsimile reproduction of a book of the same title, published by G. Walters of High Street, Dudley in 1847. The text used by the editors is in the possession of Dudley Library. The material was photocopied, all blemishes removed and the document rearranged so that each folio page of the present edition is comprised of 6 pages of the original text. This means the book is an attractive, easy to read volume, which has been further enhanced by the choice, as cover design, of a reproduction of an English alabaster head of John the Baptist from the middle of the 15th century.

Despite its title, the book is not just a collection of Christmas Carols. Today we associate the word 'carol' essentially with Christmas singing, but the traditional use of the word covers a much wider group of songs of celebration. In this book are songs such as "The Little Room" and "Twelve Points" that have no connection with the Christmas festivities; there is also a New Year carol. Some of the songs are well known and well loved favourites, the majority are known only to scholars and are worthy of production in this accessible form.

There are also a number of different variants of common songs. No tunes are printed in this edition, but the editors give references to tunes printed in the Oxford Book of Carols and the journals of the Folk Song Society for 24 of the 58 carols reproduced. It is surprising to find that the midlands has so rich a carol tradition and that this volume, printed in the heart of the Black Country over 100 years ago, is one of the most important 'source books' for the study of the English carol.

Folk Lore and Songs of the Black Country and the West Midlands, Volume 3

Edited by M & J Raven
109 pp, 15 shillings (long out of print)

Much of the material in this new book relates to parts of the midlands other than the Black Country; sections cover the Birmingham Broadside Tradition, Heroic Ballads, Lichfield Dances and other subjects outside the Black Country. The Black Country material, however, forms an important element in the volume; there is especially important matter relating to Dudley songs and tradition.

The editors do not claim originality for much of their work and lean heavily on the more important local and national authorities in their field. It would, however, be wrong to ignore the fact that a substantial minority of the songs, stories and traditions have not previously been published; this is especially true of material relevant to the Black Country.

Much of the rest of the text exists only in limited and rare publications known only to researchers and scholars in this field. Experts will note that many of the opinions expressed in this book, especially relating to industrial history, are superficial, controversial and out of date (Editor - especially in the 21st century over 30 years since first published). There are some obvious inaccuracies - the name of Boulton, of the famous firm of Boulton and Watt, is misspelled. The editors however, make no claim to be recognised authorities on these subjects. Their work is a version for popular consumption, not for the definitive study of the folk lore of the region that demands proper time and academic ability. The book is well illustrated with photographs and prints in folio, with a coloured cover depicting dogs fighting a bull in the 18th century.

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Owner’s Encyclopaedia

John F Gordon
252 pp 35 shillings
(From Volume 1, issue 2 The Blackcountryman

Gordon has previously written about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, his reputation is enough to ensure that this work will be well received by those concerned with the breeding, rearing and ownership of this famous breed. However, this is not simply a manual for breeders; it holds a mass of information that will be of great interest to readers of The Blackcountryman. There are, for example, compact and useful accounts of the traditional baiting sports, so long associated with the Black Country, which have left their mark in the names of streets, pubs and open spaces across the region.

The bull terrier quickly gained a reputation for courage and tenacity. One Wednesbury dog was able to grip the nose of a bull and when it broke loose to hang on until it reached Coseley! Such interesting stories as these enliven the book and throw light on the people of the Black Country. A full account of dog fighting is also included and it notes the articles of agreement that were drawn up to organise such events. It would be difficult to find in modern volumes a more concise and accurate account of the sport. There is also a full list and explanation of technical terms used in connection with the dog, its ailments and breeding terms. Practical advice for owners is also given, including treatment of dogs who have been involved in fights with other animals.

The volume is attractively produced, well illustrated and easy to use. As a practical guide to the development and breeding of the Black Country’s own dog, it could hardly be bettered.

Black Country Stories

Edited by Harold Parsons
Price 5 shillings
(From volume 2, issue 1 of The Blackcountryman)

The original work on which this book draws was a 5 volumes in one omnibus of material by JH Gough. The original was showing signs of age and needed a facelift.

The ancient and modern are very different animals; this modification of an existing work has resulted in both gain and loss. The original contained no index and was a hotch potch of reminiscences, jokes and comments on local affairs and characters, and general observations on the Black Country. In short it was irritating and frustrating for anyone searching for information; however it did have a flavour and vigour of its own.

The new version was the result of extremely hard work and is a compact, readable book, removing much of the irrelevant prose. The character is much altered, consisting almost entirely of jokes; the personality of the author does not predominate, leading to some loss. On the other hand, much of the atmosphere and characteristic humour of the Black Country is here – distaste for authority, irreverent attacks on pillars and would-be pillars of the Establishment, liking for food and drink, local dialect and the ever-present conflict of marriage.

The World of William Shenstone

By Audrey Duggan, ISBN 1 85858 251 2, £13.95, softback, 174 pages, published by Brewin Books.

Before I read this book I knew very little about William Shenstone, other than the fact that he was of course responsible for the planning and instigation of the Leasowes (or Lezzers as it was called by some local residents) at Halesowen.

Thanks to Audrey Duggan’s biography, I now know a lot more of both Shenstone and the times he lived in. Not only did Shenstone become one of the leading landscape gardeners of his generation, he was an accomplished poet, editor and literary critic with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Amongst these were David Garrick, Lord Dudley, William Pitt and Dr Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1714 into a Worcestershire land of hamlets and villages, he commenced his education at a local dame school at Halesowen, then progressed to Solihull School from where he advanced to Oxford University. On leaving Oxford he divided his time between Halesowen and London, where he frequented the coffee houses and literary circles of the capital. He became a published poet and in doing so attracted the attention (and indeed some of the barbed wit) of Dr Johnson.

It is however, certainly amongst the population of Halesowen and its environs, that Shenstone will be principally remembered for creating the magnificent gardens at the Leasowes. In its heyday, people from all over the country came to view and admire the site. It was designed not as a formal concept but more as a natural landscaping style working in harmony with the natural contours of the area utilising wood, water and rocks to create winding paths, waterfalls and cascades together with statutes and urns. It must have been a wonderful sight, now sadly disappeared. However, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council have seen fit to landscape a small part of the location in order to try and recreate it as it was in the eighteenth century.

In this biography, Shenstone is portrayed overall as a gentle man, sometimes subject to depression and self doubt but retaining his concern for his fellow men, specially in his treatment of his few servants, which was commendable in an age riddled with class distinction. He died at the young age of forty-eight and is buried in Halesowen churchyard.

Small excerpts from his works are quoted throughout this biography; Audrey Duggan is obviously very fond of Shenstone’s poetry and states that he has been unfairly denigrated in the past by not having been accorded the literary recognition that she feels he undoubtedly deserves. The book is very readable and I feel that I now know much more of the subject and can more fully appreciate the talents of the man.


A History of Halesowen

By Julian Hunt, ISBN 1 86077 317 6,
£16.99 hardback, 180 pages,
Published by Phillimore & Co. Ltd.

This is a most readable, exhaustive history of the township of Halesowen by Julian Hunt, a professional historian who spent five years in its preparation. Halesowen has been described, euphemistically, as ‘the burnt crust of the Worcestershire pie’. The author firmly places Halesowen as part of the Black Country. Its foundations were coal, iron smelting, iron fashioning – nails, chains, scythes, gun barrels and tubes – the River Stour as a power source with its rural origins represented by tanning and horn button making, all of which are well covered in the book.

The beginnings of the settlement from Saxon times is explored and the Domesday entry analysed, as is the later role of the monks of Halesowen Abbey, and of the Lyttelton family, all seventeen of them. From the earliest market c.1215 to the present, retail trading is described in the longest chapter III: Shops and Shopping. This is enhanced by seven-part double page spreads of vanished shops by local artist, Bill Hazelhurst, to supplement twenty-eight photographs in this section. Further chapters deal with Pubs and Publicans; Roads, Railways and Canals; Gentlemen’s Houses; Churches and Chapels; and Schools and Schoolmasters.

The penultimate Chapter X1, ‘Local Government’ traces local administration from c.1270 when Borough status was obtained but later forgotten about, perhaps purposely. Students of the history of local government will find, interestingly defined, the terms they have encountered in their studies. Halesowen residents will find much contemporary material to interest them, culminating with ‘The Redevelopment of Halesowen’. I place this volume in the ‘premier division’ of town histories.


The Flawed Inheritance

By Norma Washbrook, ISBN 1 904986 06 4,
£8.99, softback, 354 pages,
Published by Blackie and Co.

The Flawed Inheritance is Walsall-born Norma Washbrook’s first novel. Covering the period 1954 to the present-day, it tells the life story of Valerie Potts, a young girl who wants to escape the drudgery and poverty of life in a small Black Country town. The novel tells of Valerie’s travails: her upbringing by an over-protective and self-obsessed mother; her encounters with Ronnie Edwards, a boy who first enters her life by throwing her whipping top onto a dustcart, thereby becoming her mortal enemy; and her struggles to better her situation in life. The title of the book becomes apparent at the end of the story.

The novel has a large supporting cast, with aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends and enemies. The characters are well-drawn and believable, with Valerie herself coming across as a complex, flawed and realistic person. The story moves at a good pace, and the writing is convincing in both its dialect and sense of place & time, with deft handling of a large number of sub-plots. The book is ambitious, telling several life stories in less than 400 pages, and towards the end of the novel, I felt that the story was being somewhat rushed in order to meet a word deadline. Whilst the dialogue and prose is in general very readable, the book would also have benefited from a little judicious editing of repetitious phrases – for example, I lost count of the number of times that the reader is informed that ‘Valerie gritted her teeth’.

These minor criticisms aside, I found that the book held my attention from beginning to end, and that I was interested to know the respective fates of the principal characters. Norma Washbrook is to be congratulated on producing such a readable work for her first novel, successfully avoiding a formulaic ‘rags to riches’ story, and the book should be of interest to those readers who would enjoy a complex tale of life within a Black Country town.


A CROWN FOR STAFFORDSHIRE: Royal Pretenders in the 14th-16th centuries

By Dianne Mannering, ISBN 1 904546 12 9, £9.95, softback, 136 pages, published by Churnet Valley Books.

This book is an ambitious undertaking, telling the story behind the changing fortunes of the owners of three Staffordshire castles: Tutbury, Stafford and Dudley (Dudley has always been in Worcestershire, but the castle was administratively in Staffordshire), and their respective roles in determining the Royal succession. The generously illustrated publication is on the whole successful, giving the reader an insight into the turbulent and often downright dangerous world of political and military intrigue in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period. There is a plethora of family trees to aid the reader’s understanding of the often incredibly complicated dynasties of the ‘nobility’ of England. I found the chapter on Dudley Castle to be especially interesting, not having realised how close members of the Dudley family came to the crown and throne of England.

There are a few problems with the book: the use of boxes containing ‘snippets’ of further information is irritating; and it could have benefited from a further proof-reading – there are a couple of real howlers, including Stafford Castle being viewable from the M1 rather than the M6; use of the word ‘principal’ instead of ‘principle’, and a description of a ‘horde’ of coins. These mistakes apart, the book is a useful addition to the historical canon, as it provides an unusual slant on the machinations of some of the most powerful families in England during an extremely troubled period of our history. The book also contains colour photographs of numerous beautiful embroideries by Sylvia M. Everitt MBE, replicating the often exquisite work carried out by Mary Queen of Scots during her long imprisonment in various English castles.


The GWR at Stourbridge and the Black Country – The Life, The Times, The Men, Vol. 1

By Clive Butcher, ISBN 0 85361 627 2,
£14.95, 240 pages,
Published by The Oakwood Press

Following the success of his Railways of Stourbridge (1999), Clive Butcher continued his researches into the railways of the Black Country and this volume is the first of two, the second will be available by the time this magazine is published.

The longest chapter in Vol. 1 is devoted to a comprehensive account of railway workings from Stourbridge Junction from its opening in 1952 when there were six trains a day each way, three on Sundays, on a section of the OWW Railway. By 1867 the Stourbridge Extension to Handsworth was operative and the Stourbridge Town branch opened in 1879. The framework was then in place for a great expansion of passenger and freight traffic. Tickets issued in 1923 totalled 302,917 (365,636 from Cradley and Cradley Heath), and comparisons with recent passenger traffic are given. Parcels traffic figures for 1936 are given: 30,952 from Old Hill, 57,301 at Cradley and Cradley Heath, 23,733 at Lye. Workings at Stourbridge Junction marshalling yards and Stourbridge Town Goods branch are detailed and there are chapters on other local yards and the Halesowen branch.

Skilfully interwoven with the technical details, maps, diagrams and timetable extracts are some most interesting personal accounts of former railway men. The extent of stationmaster’s responsibility beyond the platform surprised me. In the final chapter on the how the national rail strikes of 1911, 1919 and 1924 affected Stourbridge, the preamble lists the different grades of railwaymen which had their own organisations and whose rivalries sometimes impeded a common policy with which to take on the employers.

This is an essential book for all railway enthusiasts. For the general reader there is much to interest them in the personal accounts and in the photographs, scores of which are published here for the first time.


Rowley Revisited

By Anthony H Page ISBN 0-7509-3090-X.
Over 200 photographs; 128 pages.
Published by Sutton Publishing Ltd. at £12.99
(reviewed in issue 38/4)

Anthony Page's latest book contains another marvelous selection of photographs in a publication that is equal to any other in Sutton's excellent series of 'Britain in Old Photographs'. The author's careful selection of pictures along with their informative captions gives an excellent balance throughout the book. I was particularly pleased to see the Introduction by David Hickman as to 'Why is Rowley called Regis?' Once I'd started the book, I found it impossible to put down until every page had been devoured at least twice; - it's amazing what you miss the first time round. Throughout my life I've been a frequent traveler to and from Dudley, via Rowley. Seeing again pictures of the Park and Village just as it was in days gone by, bought back a wealth of childhood memories. As did those of Tipperty Green, Springfield and Bayley's Post Office, the latter a landmark for every traveler along the Dudley Road, and one that ought to have been preserved for future generations.

There are some wonderful reminders here of people and places long since gone. I do wonder however, how many more fascinating old photographs of the area are still tucked away somewhere and forgotten. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone with Rowley connections, and personally look forward with eager anticipation to the next book from Anthony Page.



(A search for their history - a new book from Stourport Civic Society. Researched and written by John Cook, for Stourport Civic Society.)
(reviewed in issue 38/4)

As well as tracing the history of 64 pubs the book sets these within the development of Stourport, gives a thumbnail sketch of the history of each of these pubs with illustrations and photographs and includes the names of most of the men and women who held the licenses over a period spanning about two centuries.

Secretary of the Society, Jill Fairbrother Millis says, "This is an important piece of historical research providing invaluable information on Stourport's drinking houses, many of which have disappeared and are continuing to close at a rapid rate. Residents and visitors will find something to interest them and perhaps snippets of information they did not know - for example the licensee of "The Boat" in the Gilgal would write all debts on the back of a door in chalk, and when disputes arose, would carry the door to court for the matter to be settled. John tells me that he spent two and a half years enjoyably researching the material for this book! "

Priced £9.99, the book is available from Mr Clean-Calls in the High Street. It can be ordered from the Society via the Stourport Civic Society web site. Delivery is free within Stourport. Contact Jill Fairbrother Millis on 01299-827625 for more information.

Painter Man

By Jeff Phelps ISBN 0 9547913 3 9
price £7.99, 320 pages,
Published 25th May 2005, Paperback, from Tindal Street Press.
(reviewed in issue 38/4)

Jeff Phelps is a Local Authority architect in Wolverhampton and lives in Bridgnorth. He is widely published as a poet and short story writer. He won first prize in the Mail on Sunday novel competition in 1991, which was judged by Fay Weldon and John Mortimor.

Malcolm is the Painter Man of the title. He loves his family but, isolates himself from Alice, his wife. When she turns to someone else for attention she takes their 2 children and leaves Malcolm to his restless art and his demons.

Malcolm falls out with friends, has a brush with the law, tries but fails to keep in touch with his daughter Caroline and his 'chip off the old block' son David. He gains comfort in recognition by an enigmatic art buyer, but only begins his recovery when he meets breezy aromatherapist, Suzie. Together they track down the mystery of her London ghosts, and Malcolm sees a chance to free himself from his own nightmare - a long-ago accident in a Black Country steelworks.

Writer Clare Morrall declares this to be "…a thoughtful and profound novel about the mind of a modern artist and sculptor", "it is an uplifting story of the reconstruction of a troubled man through love, set against the bleak and sinister beauty of the Black Country"

The tension between Malcolm and Alice in the first chapter is palpable, she heavily pregnant, he leaving to find art supplies and returning to find Alice in labour. I don't want to give away the story, but it seems almost inevitable that they would eventually separate because of Malcolm's apparent lack of attention for his wife. The novel is totally set in the Black Country, with Dudley and Tipton featuring heavily, a true Black Country novel.


Images of England - Dudley

By David Clare ISBN 0 75243534 5
Price £12.99, 128 pages, paperback
Published by Tempus
(Reviewed in issue 38/4)

Over 200 archive photographs highlighting the changes in Dudley over the last 150 years. It shows the Dudley that was shaped by the Industrial Revolution and occupied a place right at the heart of the Black Country. Eight chapters give structure to the book - About Dudley, Market Place, Dudley Folk and Notable Buildings being four of them. The photographs are all black and white, even the modern comparisons; I believe this makes comparing eras more straightforward. The book is a human document, not just pages of old photos, with many local people named and described in the pages. The only thing missing for me is an index, but this will give me an excuse to go back into the book time and again to remember some additional facet of my birth town.

The book is well presented, and there is plenty of information with each photograph. I also enjoyed the "then and now" style to some of the pages; if you are interested in Dudley history this will be a useful addition to your collection.


English, Irish and Irish-American Pioneer Settlers in Nineteenth-Century Brazil

By Oliver Marshall, ISBN: 0 9544070-4-0
322 pp, soft back, price £20
Centre for Brazilian Studies, Oxford University.
(reviewed in issue 38/4)

This seems an unlikely title to send to 'The Blackcountryman' for review, but examination of the index which lists references to 'The Black Country' and 'Wednesbury' covering some 40 pages, led to careful reading of the book.

In the mid-19th century there were some 3,000 Irish immigrants living in Wednesbury. They endured poor work and living conditions and antagonism by the local Protestants because they were Catholics. To help meet their spiritual needs, Father George Montgomery, a Catholic convert, was transferred to Wednesbury after a period in Bilston, and raised money to build St. Mary's R.C. Church which was opened in 1852. He played an active role in community affairs. Worried about the brutal conditions in which many of his flock lived, the priest became convinced that Brazil would be a suitable place for them to go to live a better religious life. Thus Father Montgomery became an unofficial recruiting agent for this venture and was involved with sending a party of 247 Wednesbury residents out of a group of 339 people who left Wednesbury's London North Western Station on 3rd February 1868 for the journey into the unknown. Difficulties started at Liverpool and there was a delay of 3 weeks. This exhaustive study chronicles the outcome of the venture in Brazil and Wednesbury.

Chapter 4 paints a vivid picture of the plight of agricultural labourers in mid-Victorian Britain, which led to some 3 million people emigrating over a period of 10 years, but mainly to North America. The Appendices cover about one third of the book, with tables, notes, maps and illustrations.


A Black Country Boy

(John Parker, 90 pp, softback, pub. 'History in Print' £9.95. ISBN 1 85858 305 5)
(reviewed in issue 38/4)

This autobiography by Society member John Parker, Black Country Personality No. 68 in Vol.38 No.3 of this magazine, chronicles his life from a poverty stricken childhood in Toll End, Tipton, to important positions in Engineering. At the age of 10 he won a scholarship to the newly opened Wednesbury High School for Boys where the impressive Headmaster, C.S. Kipping 'brought him out'. An apprenticeship at the Horseley Bridge Company was the start of many years part-time study, which led him to be qualified as a Civil Engineer, a Structural Engineer and an Engineering Geologist. This progression is set against a background of local, national and international events.

Tipton Library hosted a launch for this book on 16th July when the author spoke about the changes he had seen in his lifetime. In launching the book, Black Country Society President, John Allen spoke of the great pleasure had had in reading the book, for many of the matters discussed were similar to his own experience for he too had been a Horseley Bridge apprentice. He commended the book which he thought was well written and illustrated, gave an excellent insight into inter-war years Tipton, and the successful work and dedication of John Parker to the highest levels in the engineering profession.


Made in Walsall
(The Town of 100 Trades)

(Michael Glasson ISBN 0-7524-3566-3, £12.99, 128 pages, Tempus Publishing Ltd)

In the last issue I reviewed 'Images of Dudley' from the same publisher. This time Walsall is the subject, and again I am pleased with the result. The book is full of original photographs, advertisements, sketches and other illustrations. Chapters cover mining, metalworking, saddlery and lock making. This book will not only be of interest to Walsall historians, but the wider Black Country as well. Again there are useful descriptions to photographs and other images.


Biblical Ballads

(Wilfred Howard Poultney ISBN 1-84401-388-X, £5.99, 72 pages, Athena Press)

An unusual book, written by Bilston born author, which contains 10 amusing and quirky ballads, one in dialect. All are easy to read, titles include "The Ballad of Adam and Eve and all that" and "The Ballad of Jonah and the Whale". Another appropriate selection for a Christmas present. The book is available from all good bookshops (you may need to order it so note the ISBN, or on-line at


'Playing and Performing in Langley'

(edited by Dr. Terry Daniels - Langley Local History Society, 160 A4 pp, price £10 plus £1.30 postage, from T Daniels, 17 West Park Road, Smethwick, B67 7JH)

This is the second book by this group covering leisure and recreation in the Langley area of the Black Country over the last 100 years (the first dealt with the development of industry and transport in the area). The book includes research into newspaper reports and other documents, and is illustrated by the recollections of many Langley people, advertisements and nearly 300 photographs.


"Memories of Rubery Owen"

(compiled by RJ Owen Neate Publishing, 155 A4 pp, price £12.00 + £3.80 p+p from publisher at 33 Downside Rd, Winchester, SO22 5LT or from good bookshops or Elaine Eaton at Rubery Owen Holdings 0121-526-8104)

A substantial softback book, well presented, lots of photographs and documents charting the history of this family business from 1884 to the present. A company I had heard of, but knew very little about. What comes across in the book is how family-oriented the management were. Many of the pictures show company sports days, outings, presentation dinners and all the things associated with an employer who values their workers. It is also an insight into the wide range of businesses and products made by Rubery Owen, and the companies they have created and developed.

The importance in the history of the Black Country is crucial; they built some of the first motor frames, an early flyover for Oxford Circus, innumerable car wheels, and stands for sporting arenas such as Twickenham and Manchester United. They were among the first to have a canteen for all, sporting facilities, employee social services, day nursery facilities, and so on. This is another of those books I can recommend both to anyone associated with the company and also people interested in the development of the industrial Black Country.


Black Country Breweries

By Joseph McKenna
ISBN 0 7524 3722 4. Price £12.99, by Tempus Publishing Ltd. 128 pages

The Black Country is well known for home-brew houses, sadly only a few remain today. The likes of Ma Pardoe, Batham's, Holden's and Sarah Hughes still survive. Many other have disappeared, or have been swallowed up by major breweries.

This book is a most useful resource for anyone with an interest in the Black Country brewing industry. Chapters cover the history from the early days of brewing, retail and home-brew houses and the rise of the big breweries. Very useful to historians is a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of breweries, and a 'genealogy' showing 'who swallowed whom' in terms of amalgamations and takeovers. There are over 100 photographs and illustrations.

This is a useful reference for any historian whose studies lead them to a public house, an ancestor or an event linked to the brewing industry, public houses, taverns, inns and the like.

Staffordshire History Journal and Web site email treasurer (@) (remove bracket to type address)

I have included a link to the Staffordshire History web site in both the magazine and on our web site Much of our history is linked to Staffordshire. Their journal is published twice a year for members and contains articles relevant to the Staffordshire area. I have recently received a selection of back issues from Bevan Craddock, their webmaster. The site contains much information relevant to the historical administrative county of Staffordshire that existed until 1888. The journal has been published since 1984 by the Community Council of Staffordshire and has now reached volume 42. Annual subscription is £8 in the UK. The journal has covered articles that are of interest to the Black Country, it is A5 size, containing 24 pages per issue. For those of our members that live in the old county of Staffordshire area membership will come in handy.

I can recommend the web site as a useful source of information. The magazine is well laid out and, on occasions will feature articles relevant to our members. I will be liaising with Bevan Craddock to try and feature such articles in The Blackcountryman in the future. Bevan also points out another useful web site he edits, that of the Staffordshire Parish Registers' Society, found at

Published Works of Francis Brett Young

A Bibliography by Michael Hall, 154 A4 pp, s/b, 41 b/w illustrations, published by The Francis Brett Young Society at £9.95p plus £2 p & p.

The Black Country's best known author (1884 - 1954) had 45 major novels published, and his other writings included short stories, poems and articles for newspapers and magazines. In this exhaustive work, Michael Hall, already a biographer of Francis Brett Young has assembled details of the whole range of the author's literary output over more than 50 years. This volume includes a brief synopsis of each of thirty of the novels, and, in most cases, details of publishers, foreign translations, prefaces, dedications, including two to Prime Ministers, and the earliest known review. Similar treatment is applied to his anthologies and works of non-fiction. There is coverage of the author's poetry, including an analysis of his epic poem 'The Island'. In all, there are over eleven hundred entries.

This informative, attractively presented work, will be of interest to readers of this magazine and to anyone discovering Francis Brett Young, and getting 'hooked' - an excellent guide in how to proceed. To the growing band of aficionados, thanks to the efforts of the 30 year old Francis Brett Young Society, it is a mine of background information.

Tanga Letters to Jessie

Written by Francis Brett Young to his wife from German East Africa, 1916-1917 [Published by Francis Brett Young Society, November 2005]

Jacques Leclaire, Emeritus Professor of English at Rouen University and Past President of the Francis Brett Young Society has edited this attractively-produced selection of 83 letters from the Midlands' poet and novelist serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps to his wife in Brixham. The letters begin with Young's arrival in Cape Town in April 1916 and end on board ship during his homeward journey in February 1917.

Illustrated with Young's own snapshots and sketches, these are wide-embracing letters, ranging from war's suffering and brutality to the niceties of officers' social life in Durban and Nairobi. With a poet's vision Young captures picturesque Cape Town:

"Hedges mostly of plumbago, everywhere oleanders and azaleas, and along with our native oak slightly tipped with autumn, were pendant masses of magenta Bougainvillea". In stark contrast in this most oppressive theatre of war, "bush so thick you could not see twenty yards ahead", the letters speak of malaria and dysentery which ravaged human combatants and tsetse fly which decimated transport animals.

There are insights into the books that Young was writing during his war service and Leclaire quotes four of Young's poems not readily available to the general reader. An introduction sets the scene and there is a useful glossary identifying people named in the text. Young always intended his letters for eventual publication, and those interested in his life or life in First World War Equatorial Africa are indebted to Jacques Leclaire for making them available ninety years after they were written.

Michael Hall

Tanga Letters to Jessie £9.50 plus £2.25 p&p
Published Works of Francis Brett Young £9.50 plus £2.25 p&p
Or both books £18.00 plus £4.75 p&p

Available from Francis Brett Young Society, 8 Hickmans Close, Hales Owen, West Midlands, B62 9DF. Cheques payable to Francis Brett Young Society

Cinderellas & Packhorses - A History of the Shropshire Magistracy

Edited by David J Cox and Barry S Godfrey, 94 A5 pp, s/b, b/w illustrations, pub Logaston Press, £9.95.

The book is available to BCS members at the special price of £9.95 inc. p+p, from Logaston Press, Little Logaston, Woonton, Almeley, Herefordshire HR3 6QH (cheque payable to Logaston Press)

This very readable book consists of five chapters, each of which is contributed by an expert on some aspect of the subject. These trace the development of the duties, powers and responsibilities of Shropshire Justices of the Peace from the 12th century to the present.

David J Cox, Editor of The Blackcountryman from 2001 - 2005 contributed Chapter 3, 'The Shropshire Magistracy in the 18th century, and co-edited the collection. Professor RE Swift sets the overall scene in Chapter 1 and records that the Statute of Winchester, 1285, defines 'keepers of the peace' and explains how, over several centuries, subsequent statutes developed a county structure of local government by local people. By 1580 there were over 1700 JPs in England and Wales.

Dr. DC Cox charts the changes in Shropshire and covers elected neighbourhood constables, the social structure of the magistracy, religious and political influences in their appointment and administration of matters other than law and order.

David J Cox's chapter covers the Shropshire Magistracy in the 18th century during which its role increased greatly in the field of what is now termed 'local government'. The quantity and quality of magistrates in this century is explored and examples given of the variety of their responsibilities: enforcing gun laws, an early planning complaint about the building of a 'Bog House', administration of the Poor Laws, inspection of lunatic asylums, maintenance of bridges. These matters, together with the responsibilities of such bodies as Boards of Health and Boards of Education were, in the late 19th century absorbed into a local government system such as that we see today, though greatly expanded by 20th century legislation.

Dr. Helen Johnson continues the story into the 19th century with details of the 'New Police' in Shropshire, the establishment of the County prison in Shrewsbury and Shropshire's views on juvenile crime. In the final chapter, Dr. Barry S Godfrey brings this history up to the present with an examination of the pattern of crime, police courts, professional and lay magistrates and the future of the Bench.

This book will be most valuable to anyone with an interest in local government, for outlined here is a clear picture of its beginnings and state when it became more formalised on a national basis from 1888. It is also essential reading, I think, for anyone taking up his or her place in the current line up of a centuries old system.

Edie's Tale - Growing up in Darlaston

By Edith Rushton with a Foreword by Dr. Carl Chinn, MBE 118 pp s/b, 80 photographs, pub. Sutton Publishing Ltd. price £12.99.

This is the personal story of an ordinary person, born in 1918 and growing up in a Black Country town in the difficult times between the wars. For many the struggle to survive was the priority and people had to be satisfied with the few inexpensive pleasures that came their way. The interesting photographs of this period indicate that Edie's family survived well and her horizons widened considerably particularly when, after some difficulty, she found employment. Wartime conditions are covered and her marriage to a serviceman who returned safely to happy married life.

Edie's (very readable) Tale, for which the scene is set by Dr. Carl Chinn's Foreword will evoke memories of older readers and remind younger ones how the older generations lived.

The Hardware Man's Daughter - Matthew Boulton and his 'Dear Girl'

By Shena Mason, h/b, 240 pp, incl. 32 colour pages, 44 b/w illustrations, 18 pp of Notes, a Bibliography, Index and dust wrapper. ISBN: 1 86077 374 5, pub. By Phillimore at £25.

The 'Hardware Man' in this book is Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a successful manufacturer, founder member of the Lunar Society and successful campaigner in 1773 for a Birmingham Assay Office, who in 1775 entered partnership with James Watt to produce the latter's stationary steam engine. The partners became wealthy. The 'Daughter' is Anne Boulton (1768-1829), the elder of two children of Boulton's second marriage to Ann, the sister of his first wife Mary who died in 1759 after the deaths of their three children.

Boulton traveled widely on business and throughout his long, frequent absences, wrote to his wife and daughter, with directions, advice and enquires about all aspects of their lives. The most meticulous author of this book quotes extensively from some 160 of Boulton's letters to, and from, family and friends. These, together with much background information, enables readers to become better acquainted with many aspects of domestic and social life of well-to-do families in the late 18th century and early 19th century.

Particularly interesting are references to people's medical conditions and early treatments: leeches, 'live' tooth transplants, and to the education of their children. Both Anne and her younger brother were sent away to small establishments or tutors and Boulton monitored their progress carefully. When Matt, aged 19, was in Germany with a Revd. M. Reinhardt, he fell in love with the wealthy young Baronness de Wangerheim who gave up her affair with a servant on Matt's proposal to her. However, he was prevailed upon to break the engagement, after which the young Frauline Julie resumed her affair with the footman.

There was much lavish entertainment at Soho House, built in 1766, and in 1799 the Russian Ambassador, Count Woronzoff, was a guest negotiating for the installation of new coinage mint at St. Petersburgh. To cap the feting of this important potential customer, a canal passenger narrow boat was chartered for a voyage through the Black Country and into the limestone caverns under Dudley Castle. This is fully described in a Boulton letter to a friend.

There are many other topics covered in the letters: Anne's slight foot deformity and unsuccessful treatments, her thwarted marriage hopes, Matt's marriage at the age of 47 to the much younger Mary Ann Wilkinson and his seven children, other Boulton and Watt products, contacts with Royalty, 'Priestley Riots', early touring in Britain, large houses, political matters including eye witness accounts of events during the French revolution, furnishing large houses and laying out huge gardens, and many others.

The author and publisher are to be congratulated on this fine book which will interest not only those readers of general history, but also history specialists, for there must be much in this volume to 'clothe' technical skeletons, and much, too, which will give social historians a new light on the period.

More Black Country Chapels

By Ned Williams, s/b, 144 pages, 270 photos and other illustrations. ISBN 0-7509-4183-9, Sutton Publishing, £12.99

The sequel to 'Black Country Chapels' published in 2004, and following the same format as before. This time Smethwick, Oldbury, West Bromwich, Langley, Rowley Regis, Blackheath, Halesowen, Stourbridge, Netherton, Dudley, Harts Hill and Wolverhampton receive the Ned Williams treatment. There cannot be much of the Black Country left for Ned to write about!

Photographs old and new abound in this book, the Sutton format will be familiar to many of you, and this book will not disappoint. Ned has unearthed photographs, drawings and other illustrations to help us to understand how they developed from the middle of the 19th century, and how many have been sadly demolished, progress it is called. There are first-hand accounts from chapel goers from all sorts of denominations, covering the buildings and the events and social gatherings associated with them. If you are Black Country born and bred this book will bring back memories of a facet of our community that is fast disappearing.