Category Archives: history

Poor Puss: A Social History of English Cats
Marilyn Crowther

At the turn of the 19th century, in support of the first animal welfare campaigners, cats told their own stories through a series of best-selling children’s books. They moused in high places but pay was often poor, as revealed by Florence Nightingale in her memo complaining of the meagre rations for cats in the War Office. Many cats worked at home in London - where rats were a scourge – and enjoyed the luxury of a daily fast food service: a slice of horse flesh on a skewer delivered through the letterbox by the Cats-meat man. On the steam railway network, cats had power: the safety of the travelling public was largely dependent on the hunting skills of the signal box ratters. Crowds flocked to the first cat show held at the Crystal Palace in 1871, when aristocrats and royalty obsessed over their competitive hobby of breeding longhairs.
Published:April 2019
Paperback:166 pages
Size:250 x 250 mm

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£18.50 (+ £2.50 postage)
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A spoilt Persian puss scratched the hand of the Prince of Wales and even more spoilt ladies chased the terrified exhibition organizer round the hall for something he had forgotten to do. The National Cat Club was founded along with the first stud book as a guide for ‘points of excellence.’ Technical advances in colour printing raised the profile of cats; their image was everywhere, on greetings cards, valentines, picture post-cards, sheet music and advertisements that sold every kind of product imaginable. Poor Puss is the story of cats as they bravely clawed their way up the social ladder - out of persecution and superstition - to gain their rightful place as cherished family pets today. With impressive research, over three hundred archival pictures and entertaining anecdotal detail, meaty as a plump mouse. You may never view your cat in the same way again!

Jilly Cooper
Marvellous historical background and all the glorious illustrations

Dear Marilyn, A million congratulations on your wonderful book Poor Puss. A Social History of English Cats, the marvellous historical background and all the glorious illustrations make it the perfect present for any cat lover. Truly well done, Love, Jilly Cooper.

London Metropolitan Archives
'impressive in every way'

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Mary Queen of Scots in Staffordshire: A local history with national and international dimensions
Trevor Fisher

Mary Queen of Scots in Staffordshire
This is a local history with national and international dimensions. It has always been known that Queen Mary was imprisoned in Staffordshire, and other Midlands counties, but the crucial role of this county in the many plots launched around the captive Queen has been underestimated. The times when the Queen was put in Staffordshire always meant that the plots and plotting which followed her had reached crisis proportions. Staffordshire was a highly secure backwater, but her jailers could not isolate herf - until the very end, and then with unexpected consequences.
At first the government of Elizabeth, her cousin, knew she was plotting but not how. In the first year of her captivity she sought a court intrigue to marry a Duke - and was caught up in the Earls revolt. In the final eighteen months in the county the spymaster Francis Walsingham organised a ground-breaking counter plot to find out what was going on. But was his counter plot a trap? This was an illegal captivity - but was Mary making political choices which triggered her downfall? Staffordshire was the crucial stage for the key developments in her English captivity, explored here for the first time in unique detail.
Published: Dec 2019
Paperback: 124 pages
Price: £8.00
ISBN: 9-781913-425029

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It’s Not about Shakespeare – Aspects of ordinary life in Stratford-upon-Avon, 1775-1915
Val Horton

It's Not about Shakespeare
Aspects of ordinary life in Stratford-upon-Avon, 1775-1915
Val Horton
A great deal is known about Stratford-on-Avon’s remarkable Elizabethan history but very little of its more recent past. Beginning in 1775 with an Act of Inclosure through to 1914 and the First World War, this book attempts to redress that imbalance. It is a concise and compelling read, presenting the reader with a rare glimpse of local life during the 140 years concerned. Being a period of remarkable change, it brought great improvement to the town, but there was often a price to be paid. Education, healthcare, suffrage, slavery and housing are just a few of the areas explored. Within its chapters, local dignitaries, benevolent families, unfortunate paupers and brave men and women all have a voice. When George Cope encountered Constable Keeley during the 1832 elections, and feelings were running high, he wanted to ‘split his skull open’. Later, in 1912, Albert Danks was told by a local district judge he had ‘done a foolish thing’ in accepting a stolen duck, and let off. With such well-chosen words, many gleaned from archived copies of the local paper, the reader is presented with an intriguing insight into life in this famous small town.
Published: Dec 2019
Paperback: 262 pages
Price: £12.99
ISBN: 9-781912-419760
Images: 60 B/W

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Robert Booth, Social Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian
Bristling with the chaotic energy of riots, strikes and bacchanalia, this elegant, humane and subtly radical social history of Stratford reveals a place unknown to the millions of visitors who come looking only for the trace of Shakespeare. Val Horton is a witty and diligent guide as she charts her home town’s other life: a stuttering journey to modernity from the squalor of the poor house via the struggles for women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Suddenly, Shakespeare’s town seems so much more.

Anne Langley, Family & Community Historical Research Society
This is an unusual book...The research started out as a history of the author’s Edwardian house, but by including the owners of the land on which the house was built, it’s developed into a record of everyday life in Stratford (1775-1915). The chapters alternate between those about the history of the house and those of more general interest. Thus there are chapters about the workhouse, education, medical provision, women’s suffrage, the Great War and so on.
Anyone writing the history of a house- or indeed their family- might like to consider copying this enterprising approach to publishing their findings.

Dr Sarah Richardson, History department, University of Warwick
An impressively researched and fascinating insight into the changing character of a town in transition: Stratford-on-Avon. The lost voices of ordinary men and women from the town echo through the pages, providing a unique interpretation of the town. Valerie Horton has created a brilliant and inspiring social history based on comprehensive and meticulous research.

Michael G. Mattis, retired editor, Davis, California
Val Horton’s long residence in Stratford-Upon-Avon and her devotion to the history of its people have given her a clear vision of this special place. More than a story told between neighbors over the back fence, her book gives the bigger picture - of inclosure, slavery, conscription, insurrection, politics, women’s rights, law and order, education, medical care, housing for the poor – but from a local perspective.
A fascinating look at an amazing town.

Cyril Bennis, former mayor of Stratford, now the town’s swan keeper
Communities are a collection of individuals, connected by streets, and this is the logical starting point for this engrossing social history. We are given a fascinating glimpse into the plans and personal aspirations of the various owners of Mayfield Avenue, and how these involved and were influenced by the social institutions of their time in the town at large. Meticulously researched and well told, it brings to life a non-Shakespearean, but no less engrossing, period of Stratford-upon-Avon life.

The Box of Beautiful Letters:A wartime love story revealed from 1939-1941 correspondence
Cheryl Underhill

The Box of Beautiful Letters
A wartime love story revealed from the 1939-1941 correspondence between Lily Smith and RAF pilot Martyn Allies
Lily and Martyn met in London and fell in love at the beginning of World War II, before the bombs had started to fall. Shortly after, Lily, then aged nineteen, was evacuated to work in Torquay and Martyn was called up to train as an RAF pilot. As their feelings for one another deepened and their affectionate letters became ever more passionate, circumstances forced them to live further apart.
The war intensified and Lily moved back to Woodford Green in London. The couple kept up each other’s spirits through their prolific letters, Martyn describing his alarming flying experiences, and Lily painting a colourful picture of everyday life amidst air-raid sirens and bombing raids.
Was marriage ever going to be within their reach? Their letters give a rare insight into life in war-torn Britain and into the experiences of a fledgling RAF pilot advancing to the status of a Coastal Command pilot operating from Iceland.
Published: Sept 2021
Paperback: 364 pages
Price: £11.99
ISBN: 9-781913-425944

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This treasure-trove of letters might have remained hidden forever had not Cheryl Underhill found them in a battered cardboard box at the back of a cupboard. Painstaking work has knitted them together to form this remarkable book.

Cheryl Underhill, a former primary school teacher, discovered many new interests in retirement and one of these, encouraged by her membership of the u3a, was historical research. Once she had set about reading the wartime letters that she’d discovered, and appreciated how well-written they were, she embarked on producing a book to tell the writers’ story, in the context of its era. This, she hoped, would be a tribute to Lily Smith and Martyn Allies’ love for each other, and the love felt for them by their family and the many others with whom their lives had been entwined.
This exceptional book was featured on Radio 4’s programme Saturday Live on 16th April 2022.

Ironopolis: Establishes Wolverhampton as the heart of the Black Country
Nick Moss

Nick Moss started to seriously research the history of Wolverhampton within a Black Country context around 2015, saving various articles for personal interest only. In studying local books about the Black Country, he was surprised to find a considerable disconnect between the views expressed by highly-respected local bodies such as the Black Country Society or some 20th Century authors, and those views expressed prominently in local newspaper archives or in books written during the critical 1800s-period - when the ‘original Black Country’ evolved both in name and as a physical entity.
Increasingly, he found strong evidence that fundamentally contradicts the now-widely accepted definition of the Black Country based solely on the existence of the thick coal seam. And Wolverhampton, once widely considered its original ‘Capital’ or ‘Metropolis’ has increasingly seen itself removed from Black Country history in recent years, and this work attempts to correct what he perceives as an anti-Wolverhampton stance and a misrepresentation of local history.
Published: September 2018
Extent: 474 pages
Paperback: £17.70
ISBN: 9-781912-419395

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Nick analyses the different Black Country definitions, and clarifies the original, widely-accepted one which he proposes should still apply. Additionally, he hopes that anyone with an interest in Wolverhampton, will find it to be a detailed and enjoyable read, that in turn provides definitive but controversial and to some, surprising conclusions, that may cause considerable waves in some circles, and perhaps even kick-start a reappraisal of elements of Black Country history.
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The Great War’s Sporting Casualties:International sportsmen who were killed in the Great War
James Holder

The Great War claimed the lives of many professional and amateur sportsmen, including over three hundred who had represented their countries in one sport or another.
The Great War’s Sporting Casualties contains details of the sporting achievements and, where known, the circumstances of the deaths of those international sportsmen who were killed in the War or died as a result of injuries sustained in the War. It also contains details of nine other sportsmen who were killed in the War but who, although they did not represent their countries, did achieve something exceptional either in sport or in war.
Included amongst those listed are twenty-two Olympic gold medallists, twelve who captained their country at rugby, two who won the Tour de France and one who was a four-times Wimbledon champion. Also included are the three international sportsmen who won the Victoria Cross, one of whom was the only person to win two Victoria Crosses for deeds during the War and the fifteen who won the Military Cross.
Published: September 2018
Hardback: 502 pages
Price: £25.00
ISBN: 9-781912-419418

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James Holder was born in Somerset and, after reading law at Cambridge University, practised as a solicitor; he now works as a consultant. He is passionate about sport and has always taken an interest in family history much of which involves relations who were fortunate enough to survive the Great War. He and his wife have four children and one grandchild and live in Oxfordshire.

Andrew Brown, Oxfordshire

This is an impressively comprehensive guide to how the Great War led to the loss of so many top level sportsmen. While that in itself is not surprising –it led of course to the deaths of people from all walks of life-it is a stark reminder as to how many young, talented people were lost in the prime of their lives. The book focuses on international team sports - football, rugby and cricket - and Olympians and it is interesting to see the different rates of losses; for example, the worst hit proportionally were rugby players and Scottish rugby players in particular. The author surmises that this could be because a higher proportion of rugby players were privately educated and as a result officers who led from the front.

As well as the many fascinating and tragic individual stories in the main section of the book, I also enjoyed the appendices. One gives useful summary accounts of the many different Great War battles while one also details the losses by the internationals which they played; of the 30 players who participated in the January 1913 Scotland versus France rugby international, 14 were to die in the subsequent conflict.

Tales From The Archive: Reading University Wives’ and Women’s Club – 1948–2018
Margaret Houlbrooke

Reading University Wives’ and Women’s Club

The journey travelled by the University of Reading Women’s Club has mirrored the individual paths taken by very many women between the late 1940s and today.
This book brings to life the archives of seventy years and through them it is possible to note the changes in women’s lives and attitudes.
Tales from the Archive is invaluable for the social historian as well as a memento for all Club members old and new.
Published: Sept 2018
Paperback: 160 pages
Price: £10.00
ISBN: 9-781912-419487

£10.00 (+ £2 postage)
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All Quiet in the Western Suburbs: WW1 – Letters home to Chiswick and nearby districts
John Grigg

Millions of letters were written home by soldiers and sailors in the First World War and the men from Chiswick, West London, were every bit as prolific as their companions from elsewhere. Most of the letters in this book were sent to the Rev. Oldfield in Chiswick and he sent them on to the Chiswick Times, but there are others are to relatives, friends and employers and the Chiswick Working Men’s Club, and there are interviews and reports from journalists in the Chiswick Times and the Acton Gazette.
This is a unique record of the experiences of servicemen from the district who served all over the world. They describe the horrors of the war, writing of ‘Jack Johnsons’ ‘Rum Jars’ and ‘Coal Boxes’ (all nicknames for enemy shells and bombs) although often with feigned indifference, but many do not touch on the horrors at all - perhaps to protect relatives and friends from anxiety. The war was not confined to the European Western Front and this book includes letters and reports from other parts of the world: India, Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Mesopotamia (present day Iraq), and the Dardanelles. There are even letters from Russia where British forces were engaged against the Bolsheviks after 1918.
Published: June 2018
Extent: 460 pages
Paperback: £14.99
ISBN: 9-781912-419319

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John Howard Grigg was born in Feltham, Middlesex in 1935. He has lived in West London all his life apart from two years in Nottingham with relatives during the Second World War, and two years National Service with the RAF. He retired from the Midland Bank in 1987 and has always denied he was ever a bank manager. He served as a local councillor in Hounslow from time to time between 1958 and 1990. He is an amateur local historian specializing in local social and political history.
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