Memories of several years in south western Africa

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book that paints a picture of life in what is now Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s. It covers several interests of mine, like family history, because the auther was a friend of my wife Val’s great great grandparents, and missiology, because of his comments on the way missionaries behaved then.

Memories of several years in south-western AfricaMemories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.

Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscript holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.

Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.

Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.

He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people — the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described “wagon trains” going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don’t describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.

Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.

So we have Een’s view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators’ notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can’t have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.

All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of ‘das grosse Vaterland’. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation’s flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans… The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren’s victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion… All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives…

Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,

In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.

It little details like these that make Een’s book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.

It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife’s great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. Fred Green married Kate Stewardson, the daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson.

The translators, in their notes, persist in repeating the errors of several published sources by referring to Francis Stewardson as “Ian” Stewardson (which is a name that was made up for a historical novel), and giving Fred Green’s middle name as Frederick Joseph Green, when it was actually Frederick Thomas Green. I mention this because of the persistence of these errors, which come from relying on secondary sources. The church records, in Namibia and Canada, show that Fred Green’s middle name was Thomas, and the elder Stewardson’s name was Francis, not Ian. Fred Green’s deceased estate file in the Free State Master’s Office also shows his middle name as Thomas, so he didn’t change his name in middle age as some people do.

Een (2004:74) reveals that Fred and Kate Green had another child that we didn’t know about before:

Last among the hunters to arrive [in Ovamboland in November 1866] was Mr Green with with his wife who had been born in Damaraland of English parents. Both of them were ill. Green already had the first symptoms of the fever [malaria] prevailing in the country, which he had first contracted some years ago and which characteristically recurs every year, and then often enough it reappears some time before the period of its general recurrence. Mrs Green could not, of course, be anything other than exhausted and sick as she had had a son some days previously. The child died soon after their arrival here without having been baptized, and was buried without any ceremony at the foot of a fig tree…

Green was an amiable and pleasant gentleman and known as the most proficient hunter in this part of Africa. He did not consider it worthy of a gentleman to shoot elephants from an ambush at night when they came to the water to quench their thirst.

Een goes on to describe the recent death of another Swede, Johan August Wahlberg, who was killed by an elephant when on a hunting expedition with Fred Green. In Wahlberg’s case, he was ambushed by the elephant.

In a couple of places Een refers to Francis and Frances Stewardson’s daughters as beautiful, and one of the last things he did before he left to return to Sweden was to attend the wedding of one of them, Fanny, to another Swedish trader, Axel Whilhelm Eriksson (Een 2004:187).

Eriksson returned from his expedition to Ovamboland in September [1871]. He wasd engaged to one of the beautiful daughters of Mrs Stewardson, and now the wedding was celebrated with the usual pomp and splendour. He marriage ceremony was performed by Missionary Viehe in the meeting-house or school-house of Omaruru, and was attended by a large crowd of black spectators. The bride, dressed in light-blue silk, was radiantly beautiful. There was a big salute [of guns] and the black spectators were given two fat oxen on which they could feast as they pleased.

Sad to say, the marriage ended in divorce 10 years later. Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson had four children, and one of them was named Axel Francis Zeraua Eriksson, presumably after his father, his maternal grandfather, and Chief Zeraua, who was a close friend of Eriksson.

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Life in Namibia and Angola a century ago (book review)

William Chapman: ReminiscencesWilliam Chapman: Reminiscences by William Chapman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family history and Namibian history. My wife Val’s paternal great grandfather, Frederick Vincent Greene, was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, in 1868. His father, Frederick Thomas Green, a Canadian, lived in Damaraland for 25 years as a hunter and trader, and when he died in 1876 William Chapman attended him at his death bed, at Heigamkab in the dry bed of the Swakop river. He describes the scene in his book in some detail.

The late Mr Frederick Green had arrived shortly before at the bay [Walvis Bay] and had gone with his family on a trip to Cape Town so I decided to wait for his return and then go with him to the interior. During the time I was waiting for Mr Green I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr John Gunning, the manager of Mr A.W. Eriksson’s store in Walvisch Bay.[1]

When Mr Green returned I joined him and we left the Bay for the interior, he was very unwell. After reaching Hykamgap in the Swakop River he became worse and died on the 4th May 1876, succumbing to what Mr Palgrave said was an acscess on the liver, the last days of his illness being marked by vomiting. I was in the wagon with him during the last night and present when he breathed his last. Poor man, he left a widow and a number of children!

Chapman goes on to give a summary of what he knew of the life of Fred Green, who had been a friend of his father, James Chapman.

Family historians like to get birth, marriage and death certificates for information about their ancestors, but there was no registration of these events in Namibia in those days — at that time the country consisted of a number of mini-states that sometimes quarrelled among themselves. Fred Green’s death took place during one of the peaceful interludes, though he himself had participated in some of the earlier battles. But Chapman gives as much information as most death certificates, and with a more human touch.

William Chapman went to Damaraland as a teenager to seek his fortune. He had a romantic notion of following in the footsteps of his father James Chapman, and saw Fred Green as a Nimrod who would teach him the ropes. He was 16 at the time.

Instead he had to be content with Fred Green’s brothers-in-law, William and Charles Stewardson, teenagers not much older than himself, who were equipped and sent out to hunt and trade by the aforementioned Mr A.W. Eriksson. It makes me wonder about the youth of today. How many parents would send three kids aged 16 or 17 out on a business trip, putting them in charge of expensive equipment, and in a country full of wild animals, some of which they would hunt, and others which would hunt them? Though I suppose we do send them to war, to hunt and kill other human beings.

But William Chapman did not get on well with the Stewardson brothers, nor they with him. Reading between the lines, it sounds like a high school kid being excluded from a gang. The Stewardsons had been brought up rough, in a desert country. Chapman was the citified kid, who had been to a relatively posh school, which taught him gentelman’s manners. The Stewardsons preferred the company of their Damara and Herero servants, and at nights around the campfire preferred to talk to them, in their own languages, thus excluding the city slicker, who spoke only English and Dutch.

Chapman grew up fast, however, and eventually went into business on his own account, and migrated northwards to Angola, where he farmed, hunted and traded for 48 years.

The book is in two parts. The first part, the reminiscences proper, he began to write in 1916, mainly for his children, or at least at their request, and is the story of his life and of the people he encountered. The second part is an account of the Dorsland Trekkers, who left the Transvaal when it was under British rule about 1880, and went north-west through what is now Botswana, ending up in Angola, which was gradually coming under Portuguese rule.

It seems that he may have intended the second part for publication, but never actually got round to finishing it, because there are blanks for things like dates and names to be filled in later, and towards the end it is in obvious need of much editing. Most of the last part is a series of anecdotes intended to show how terrible Portuguese rule in Angola was, and why the Dorsland trekkers left after having lived there for nearly 50 years. There is no account of how they left and what subsequently happened to them.

Except for those last 50 or so pages, the book is very readable, and gives an interesting picture of what life was like in Namibia and Angola a century or more ago. There are also several photographs.

One of the things that struck me was some strange inconsistencies. I’m not sure if they were mere personal idiosyncracies, or if they were attitdes common among white people living there at the time. At times Chapman rails against the Portuguese for their unjust treatment of the “natives”, and gives accounts of such practices as forced labour, imprisonment (and even killing) without trial, confiscation of livestock and so on. And then in another place he accuses the Portuguese of over-familiarity, giving chairs to natives to sit on when they meet for discussions and similar malpractices. The British and the Boers, he avers, would never sink to that level.

The value of the book is enormously enhanced by comprehensive annotations by the editor, Nicol Stassen. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to identify people and places mentioned in the text and to provide useful information about them in footnotes. It is almost worth buying the book for these alone.

Notes

[1] John Gunning, A.W. Eriksson and Fred Green were brothers-in-law, since they had all married into the Stewardson family. Frank and Fanny Stewardson (Francis and Frances, if you want to be formal) went to Namibia from the Cape in the late 1840s, and their daughter Kate married Fred Green, Fanny married Axel Eriksson, and Charlotte married John Gunning.

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More Hannan cousins – Badcock Walters & Reddick

Our holiday trip ended as it began, with Hannan cousins in Clarens, though my second cousin Peter Badcock Walters was away in Namibia this time, but his wife Toni, son Craig and half-sister Louise Philp were there, and it was the first time we had met Craig and Louise.

Badcock Walters

Craig Badcock Walters, Louise Philp, Toni Badcock Walters, at Clarens, 19 May 2011

We went to Clarens brewery to sample the local brew, which was a considerable improvement on the fizzwater produced by SAB Miller, but not quite up to the standard of that we had tried at Nieu Bethesda. I don’t normally drink much beer; for one thing, I couldn’t afford it, and most beer produced by the SAB Miller near-monopoly tastes insipid. But when there’s a local brew I’m always willing to try it.

Knot the Juggler

Craig Badcock Walters, alias Knot the Juggler

We talked late into the night. Louise is interested in family history too, so we swapped notes and stories, and Craig is a fan of Tolkien’s books, and so we talked about the similarities and differences between  the creation stories in The Silmarillion and the Bible. I invited Craig to join our Internet discussion forum on the Inklings so that we can continue the interesting discussions we were having. It is the Neoinklings forum, and the aim is not merely to discuss the works of the Inklings (J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis & Co) but to write new work in the same kind of genres they wrote in, and to discuss our work as they did. Anyone else who is interested is welcome to join us.

Craig is also into juggling and street entertainment. and has his own blog under his stage name of Knot the Juggler. You can also “like” his Facebook page. He has also done some work in TV production. He has a daughter Leah, aged 16.

I’ve seen Peter Badcock Walters (Craig’s father, and Louise’s half-brother) at fairly long intervals, because we’ve always lived far apart. The first time I met him was on 7 June 1953.

Michael Curtis, Elizabeth Dods, Peter Badcock, Stephen Hayes, Sunningdale, 7 June 1953

I was at boarding school, and as it was a Sunday a friend, Michael Curtis, came home with me. I must have had a masochistic streak, because Michael was much bigger than me, and used to hit me for no reason at all, but his parents were away, and he would have had to spend the day at school alone, and probably being made to work in the school gardens by the headmaster. At that time we lived on a smallholding in Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg. My mother’s cousin Betty Stewart (formerly Fowler, born Hannan) from Ndola in Northern Rhodesia had come to stay with us, bringing her nephew Peter Badcock, who was about 4 years old.

Peter Badcock, Stephen Hayes, Michael Curtis, Elizabeth Dods

Another friend, Elizabeth Dods, who lived nearby in Sandringham, came with us, and the four of us went down to the Huddle Park golf course, alternately riding and walking with our two horses. There we saw some big concrete tanks with water covered with green slime. There was a sign that said “Contaminated water”, and none of us knew what it meant. When we got home I asked my mother, and she said I should write to ask my godfather, Tromp van Diggelen, who lived in Cape Town. It was a sneaky way of getting me to write him a letter. Michael Curtis kept threatening to hit Peter, and saying “Stephen’s little cousin is going to get hurt.”

Peter Badcock, Michael Curtis, Stephen Hayes. Sunningdale, 7 June 1953

I next met Peter when doing a moonlight flit to get away from the Security Police in South Africa. A Detective Sergeant van den Heever wanted to give me a banning order (I didn’t know it at the time, but discovered it many years later in my SB file). I drove through the night from Johannesburg to Beit Bridge, which we reached at dawn. John Davies, the Anglican chaplain at Wits University, accompanied me to take my mother’s car back. We crossed the Limpopo and went into the Rhodesian immigration hall — this on Wednesday 19 January 1966, two months after UDI. The Rhodesian immigration officer, looking very British in white shirt and shorts, asked us to fill in a form at the desk. We went to the desk, where there were about 15 cubicles for writing, each with a neatly framed notice: “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.” First impression of Rhodesia. John wanted to take one as a souvenir. We took the forms back to the immigration officer with white shirt, very different from his South African counterparts who were wearing dowdy grey suits or sports jackets. He questioned the amount of money John was bringing with him — he had only put down five pounds on the form, but the man let him pass when John showed him his building society book with 500 in it. Then we went to the customs, got third-party insurance for the car, a temporary importation permit, and a petrol ration slip. We expected to get only about five gallons, but they gave us fifteen, and obviously have not begun to take the oil sanctions seriously. Then we went out. It was now 7:30, and we drove through the gate with the Union Jack still fluttering above, an incongruous testimony to Harold Wilson’s exousia. Then to a hotel where we bought cold drinks, and saw a sign advertising petrol at Messina prices, indicating that here, at least, the petrol is brought by rail from South Africa. And when we paid for the cold drinks we were back in the land of pounds, shillings and pence.

My mother arranged a plane ticket to the UK, which I collected at a travel agent in Bulawayo, and late in the afternoon boarded an Air Rhodesia twin-turboprop Vickers Viscount. In just under an hour the plane landed in Salisbury, and at the airport I phoned Mum’s cousins after studying the instructions on how to work the telephone for ten minutes. It required the tickey to be dropped before dialling, and various buttons to be pushed. They came out to the airport to see me: Betty Stewart and Alex her brother and their mother Aunt Agnes and Peter Badcock. I asked how they were, and Betty looked grim and said “We’re determined to see this thing through,” which wasn’t what I meant. We talked a little, keeping off politics by mutual consent, except that Aunt Agnes said that soon we would be facing the same difficulties in South Africa, and Betty shushed her saying, “Stephen probably doesn’t agree.” And then I had to go through customs and into the transit lounge, where I bought a James Bond book to read on the plane — an Alitalia DC8, which took me to Rome, where I changed to a Caravelle, which took me to London.

Now a slight digression, to a different branch of the Hannan family. My mother had another cousin, Willie Hannan, who was a Scottish MP. Betty Stewart had written to my mother around the time of the Rhodesian UDI, when Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the UK was straight from the deepest pit of hell in the eyes of white Rhodesians. Betty described cousin Willie Hannan in her letter as a “one man one vote bastard and a sick leftist”, so I pictured him as some kind of heroic and romantic revolutionary Che Guevara figure, and was slightly disappointed to find that he was very mild, very conservative and the furthest thing imaginable from the wild radical of Betty’s description. Because of my precipitate departure I’d arrived about 9 months early for the UK academic year, and Willie had contacts who helped me to jump through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get work when I had entered the country as a student. I worked for London Transport as a bus driver.

And there was yet another Rhodesian cousin, Willie’s sister Ria Reddick, whose husband and eldest child had died in Rhodesia. She didn’t like the idea of living under the Smith regime, and returned to the UK, and I went with Willie to meet her at the airport on 4 February 1966. Her plane was due to arrive at 12:20, and then she was going up to Glasgow with Willie at 3:00. On the way to the airport on the bus Willie told me about his family, and how he had met Tommy (Mum’s brother, who died 2 and a half years ago) when he was in the merchant navy during the war, and he said I looked like him. He also told me of his father, who during the First World War was a pacifist and a a socialist, and had spent two years in jail. I told him that Mum had said that my pacifism runs in the family, but did not enquire about the nature of the socialist Sunday School she had said her uncle (Willie’s father) had sent his children to. At the airport we found the plane with Ria, a South African Airways Boeing, would be late, and we sat having tea and sandwiches, and I told Willie something about the Liberal Party and its policies, and a little of the way in which our activities were hampered by Special Branch intimidation and so on. He said he was not a religious man himself, and I said I wouldn’t have expected it. “Oh, why do you say that?” he asked. “Because so few people are,” I replied. He said he admired John “Honest to God” Robinson, and thought he might be able to accept those views. I then told him how issues in South Africa were sufficiently clearcut to enable one to make a political speech using biblical texts, but that here it was not so. When the plane with Ria arrived at about 1:20 we had to go over to another building for them to get the plane to Glasgow (there were 3 terminal buildings at Heathrow — one internal, one European, and one intercontinental) and there we had tea and talked about Rhodesia. Ria said that she had had a Rhodesian passport and citizenship, and felt that she could not stay after UDI, so had got a British passport on the 9th of November, two days before Smith went mad. Two of Willie’s parliamentary colleagues joined us while we were waiting, and Ria showed us a letter she had had to get from the government giving her permission to resign from her job with Shell Oil. Then Willie and Ria and the children left. The kids were quite sweet — a boy of about 15, called Carson, and Heather, about 12. Both had dark hair, like their mother. There was another daughter, Fiona Reddick, but I didn’t meet her then.

Peter Badcock, December 1968. Cheltondale, Johannesburg

End of digression. I returned to South Africa in 1968, and at the end of the year Peter Badcock, then 18, came to spend a few days with us. He came with two friends, Gary and Brian, who were wanting to buy musical instruments for their band, and were in search of a wah-wah pedal and a fuzz box, which were not available in Rhodesia, because of sanctions.

I didn’t see Peter again for another 22 years, when Val had to go to Durban in October 1990 to install a new computer for Rasco Fire Protection, where she was working. Peter was then married to Antoinette Willemse, and living in Kloof, and doing educational consulting after having been a book illustrator for a time (we have a copy of the works of Herman Charles Bosman that he illustrated). We were staying at the Fields Hotel in Kloof (now closed) and went to see them, and also met their younger son Ross.

We saw them again about three months later when they came to the Christmas service at our church, St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton, Johannesburg. Peter Badcock came with his wife Toni and sister Philippa, and said they had enjoyed the service. I hadn’t known he had a sister, and was even more surprised when he said he had four of them, and then added that he himself hadn’t known they were his sisters until he was 21, and he had also found out that the man he had thought was his father was not actually his father. It appears that when Betty discovered that her younger sister Nan was pregnant, she persuaded James Badcock to marry her. But Peter’s real father was William David Fanshawe Walters, who later married Elizabeth McKenzie and had four daughters, including Louise and Philippa. James Badcock had left Nan, and, without divorcing her, had married someone else and had several children, and Peter said he could say to them “I’m the only legitimate bastard among you.” So the Badcocks are no relations of any of us, but I suppose I could describe Louise as my step-cousin.

Peter and Toni moved to Clarens some years ago, and bought an old sheep shed, which they are converting into a house with a studio that Peter can use for his art, and several self-contained self-catering apartments that they can let out, or use as accommodation for family who come to visit.

sheep shed

Peter and Toni Walters's house in Clarens in the Free State -- a converted sheep shed

Book review: The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History

The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford Companions) The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History by David Hey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not sure at what point one can say one has “read” a reference book such as this. But I think I’ve read enough to comment on it. It is quite a substantial book and comes at quite a substantial price (£25.00), which I didn’t have to pay as I borrowed it from the library.

The first part of the book is devoted to twenty articles on various aspects of family and local history. They are by various contributors, and deal with topics such as beginning family history, surnames, researching Afri-Caribbean ancestry, family and society, landscape, industrial and labour history, domestic architecture, historc churches and more.

The second part is arranged alphabetically, like an encyclopedic dictionary, and consists of shorter articles, most of them less than a column in length, on a wide range of topics. A random sampling of entries includes parlour, potatoes, pottery and postcards, lectern, leasehold and leather, contraception, copper and copyhold tenure.

The longer thematic articles are a mixed bag, and generally I found them disappointing. Some were interesting and informative, while others were merely annotated bibliographies that conveyed little actual information. An example from the article on Domestic Architecture is typical (p. 143):

From the very beginning it was recognised that a regional approach was necessary to chronicle the separate development of the smaller house in different parts of the kingdom, where local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials, farming practices and economic prosperity, to create local solutions to the housing needs of the population. The two pioneering studies both came from Yorkshire. In 1898 S.O. Addy, a Sheffield solicitor and prolific antiquary on subjects ranging from dialect to cutlery, published The Evolution of the English House, and in 1916 C.E. Innocent, an architect and another native of Sheffield, published The Development of English Building Construction. Both books drew on local examples and remain invaluable because they record rural houses at a period before the radical alteration demanded by changing perceptions of public hygiene had obliterated much of the evidence of the original forms.

He tells us nothing about the original forms, or the changes – simply that you can find out about them in two out-of-print books that are probably inaccessible to many readers. Nor does he tell us about how local craft traditions responded to climate, topography, available building materials etc., he simply mentions that they did so. If you are a family historian, and want to know what kind of houses your ancestors lived in, this kind of article is worse than useless. It tells you nothing, except that you have paid a lot of money for a book that does not give the kind of information you expect to find in it. This kind of article would be very useful as a resource for an author writing an article for this kind of book, but it is no substitute for the real thing, and the actual article has yet to be written.  Boo hiss to OUP for giving us an unfinished book.

Several of the thematic articles take this form, being simply annotated bibliographies, with no real information at all. If the book were advertised as a companion to historiography, rather than to history, that might be acceptable, but as it is it verges on fraudulent advertising. This kind of writing might be all right as a literature survey at the beginning of an academic thesis, or as an article in a scholarly journal. But at least the literature survey is followed by the meat of the thesis; here there is no meat at all. I might have given it four or five stars, were it not for this shortcoming.

The alphabetical section is generally better.

It contains quite a lot of useful information, and I’ve enjoyed reading it in bed before going to sleep. One can read a couple of short articles and perhaps jump around looking for references to other things. But in view of the shortcomings of some of the longer articles, I’m not sure that the book is worth the price. One can probably find more information on the Web free of charge, like this article on domestic architecture, for example.

The book does make several references to web sites, though as that kind of information can quite quickly become outdated, I’m not sure how useful it will be in a few years time.

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