Thursday, 28 January 2010

Sorry, I forgot...

...another outing is on Saturday, 1st May, at the lovely and lively town of Hexham on the Tyne, sweeping along with joy in its heart because the South Tyne has just met the North Tyne a mile or so to the West and they must have much to discuss. Hexham stages a really good book festival every year - see - with all manner of authors and events. On Mayday afternoon I'm going to be chatting with Ian Thompson, whose new book The English Lakes is about to come out from Bloomsbury, and Harry Pearson whose peerless review of True North in the Daily Mail (not always an agent of darkness) you can read here:,+warm+hearts,+but+no+chips.-a0210858243

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The horse's mouth

I can't pretend that controversy has exactly raged on this site so far. I hope that it's proving useful as a bibliography, and I very much appreciate the corrections which have all gone to the publisher. But I'd been expecting that the Grim North Brigade would march into action with drums beating out a dirge. Not a bit of it. They're skulking in their tents. This has been the case even to the extent that the Today programme on Radio 4 had real trouble finding anyone to debate with me until good old Arthur Smith stepped up to the line. Maybe people don't think it's still grim after all? If only. One of the spurs to writing the book was the nervous reluctance of southerners to move north, and the nonsensical images many still have of the region, which I have heard with my own ears.
There is to be debating, however. I've given quite a few talks since publication including - swoon - a Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch was was always regarded as the ultimate proof of an author making it when I was a boy. (It was always said, too, that the editor at the time, Sir Linton Andrews, insisted on publishing only gushing reviews, for the sound commercial reason that the name of the Post would then appear on all the book jacket blurbs, as it did). Anyway, here are some pending gigs: Friday, 19 February, at 8pm in Bollington Arts Centre, Wellington Road, Bollington (the fabled 'Happy Valley' of affluent Cheshire). Monday, 15 March, Huddersfield Civic Society agm at 9.45 in Kirklees College, New North Road (you may have to join the HCS for this, but wouldn't that be a good thing?). Saturday 20th March at 3pm in the Yorkshire College of Music, Shire Oak Lane, Leeds, as part of Headingley LitFest. And 16 April at Saltburn Community Arts Centre in Saltburnby the Sea, a lovely place not to be missed. Time to be arranged.
I've added pictures of Saltburn's pier and wondrous cliff lift, and of White Nancy above Happy Valley to further entice you to come.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Miles to go before we sleep

Well here we are at post number 40, and there are many, many more books to go. I may be dead before we get there, and as for pamphlets... I'll probably have to bequeath the task of listing them all to my heirs. These micro-publications, booklets, church leaflets, parish magazines and all the vast and numberless legion of ephemera form my greatest treasure trove. It is rare to find one without at least one nugget within of fine, original information or a surprising fact. To give you a notion of the task ahead, here are some phone pics I've just taken of the part of my pamphletarium which is sort-of organised - ie in small boxes with vague names such as Merseyside Generally or Newcastle & Northumberland. Just dipping into the latter, I'd like to commend and acknowledge The Pennine Cycleway by Ted Liddle, Dalesman 2003, The Hartlepool Villages series of leaflets, published by Hartlepool borough council (undated but c.1995), the Northumberland National Park's Public Access Guide to the Otterburn Military Training Area (undated, c.2000), Hadrian's Wall, an illustrated guide by A R Birley (he of Vindolanda, about which anything is excellent),HMSO 1963 eighth impression 1981, and W W Tomlinson's Historical Notes of Cullercoats, Whitley Bay and Monkseaton 1893, of which North Tyneside council library service kindly sent me a photocopy (of parts, not the whole) in the mid-1990s. More, much, much more to come...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sunshine mountain

True North deliberately accentuates the positive - 'Climb, climb up Sunshine Mountain' as we sang in the Sunday School at Gipton Methodist - and is thus vulnerable to criticism that everything is too radiant. I try to fend this off in the book, partly by pointing out how so much writing about the North is the exact opposite, steeped in gloom; and partly by calling in aid the sort of stories about bad things which I have covered for the Guardian up here since 1987.
The latter process has been hugely helped by careful statistical work, particularly from Government departments but also from extremely painstaking groups such as the Coalfields Community Campaign, now retitled The Alliance. A consortium of local authorities in former - and still existing - coalfield areas, it has produced endless, excellent data. A couple of examples: The Other Half of Britain and It's a Matter of Life and Death, both published in 2008. Look for The Alliance as publisher after June 2007 and the CC prior to that.The Audit Commission is first-rate too. When I chaired the old National Lottery Charities Board in Yorkshire and the Humber, I soon discovered how important audit is as a means of checking on non-elected public bodies. The commission's A Mine of Opportunities - local authorities and the regeneration of the English Coalfields, published in November 2008, makes extremely interesting reading. A good example of an academic book which makes sensible and responsible use of highly detailed statistics is Corporate City - partnership, participation and partition in urban development in Leeds, edited by Graham Haughton and Colin C Williams, and published by Avebury in 1996. I will be adding other examples to this post as I plough on through my groaning shelves...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Two-timing Gertie?

I should have included this handy book in the last post: Intercity 225 Leeds to London; a Traveller's Book, by Maureen Ellis and published by Hawksheath Press, Shadwell, Leeds in 1993. The trouble is, I always mean to take it with me on the train down South and I always forget. Even the combined brains of myself and Penny failed last week. Still, I enjoy reading it at home - loads of good stuff such as a reminder to look out for Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster, and the revelation that the bitterns which formerly lived there were known locally as Butterbumps. Meanwhile, here's a coincidence. Two books of the type I greatly like and consider extremely virtuous because of the role models they present to today's young. Way back at the start of the blog, I commended James Thompson's Leeds Born and Bred. Well here's Bradford's equivalent and, sort-of, Sheffield's. But what is this? Isn't that the same attractive young woman on the covers of both Bradford's Own by Derek A J Lister, Sutton Publishing 2004, and The Unseen, the Unsightly and the Amusing in Sheffield by J Edward Vickers, Hallamshire Press 1997? It is. Music hall afficionados will recognise Gertie Millar, and the honour of producing her is very definitely Bradford's. I used to live in Southfield Square, Manningham, a stone's throw from the cul-de-sac where she was born. She is only in The Sheffield book because she played the theatres there. Tush. Still, a pretty face on the cover sells books (and newspapers).


These books are about famous people (and events, including the atomic experiment at Sheffield Uni in 1924 which prompted hundreds of letters in advance begging the scientists to desist, in case they destroyed the world - tee-hee, but maybe prescient). Here are two more I have used about those who left less of a memorial, but thanks to A Photographic Memory by Jack Hulme, Yorkshire Arts Circus 1986, and They Worked All Their Lives by Carl Chinn, Manchester University Press 1988, are not forgotten. The second of the two is particularly useful, as its first-hand data shows how urban grime and misery in the 19th century was every bit as grim in London, Brum and other such places as it was in the industrial North.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Excellent - this blog gets a helping hand

Hello from the King's Cross train to Leeds - and we've just had that True Northern moment when the big blue loco pulls into the Throat tunnels and everyone on it seems to heave a great big sigh of happiness: we're off home. Romantic tosh. Probably. But Penny and I heaved our little sighs anyway.

And good news: an excellent reviewer, Paul Brassley, in this month's History Today draws attention to this blog in kindly terms, at least in its purpose as a bibliography. I've pasted it in below, plus the relevant weblink. My only reservation is over the way he says that the bibliography is 'inexplicably missing from the book.' Actually it's very explicable. As I say in TN, it would be a terrible waste of paper to print all this stuff out and add it to a book which already quite hefty, when we've got lovely free Blogspot and the broad acres of the internet.

One sentence which I specially like in the review is the one saying: He has the journalist’s love of a good story; there are many here and logical structure and sustained argument are never allowed to get in the way of telling them. Spot on, Mr Brassley. I can show you school reports from many years ago, saying very much the same thing.Anyway, here's the review (which as you'll see is mostly about my excellent colleague Madeline Bunting's great - and also Northern - book The Plot with a very much appreciated nod at the end to our efforts to continue the Manchester Guardian tradition).

What produces love of a single house, street, village, city, region or country? Is it something about the place itself, or is it more about our emotional connection to the group of people who happen to live there at a particular time, or have lived there in the past? Whichever it is, the attachment clearly exists and, as a result, people have celebrated, spent money, argued, voted and fought wars for thousands of years. In different ways, both of these books explore human relationships with places and how they are affected by historical change.

Madeleine Bunting’s Plot is a single acre of land on the edge of the North York Moors. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, John Bunting, her father, was a schoolboy at Ampleforth and was walking to the school’s annual picnic when he came upon the site of a ruined farmhouse at the southern end of the old drove road along the Hambleton Hills. The view was stupendous and the sense of isolation and peace especially precious on that day. In 1957, by then a sculptor and part-time art teacher, he returned, rented the land for 25 years at ten shillings per year and within 18 months had built a stone chapel there, complete with a life-size stone effigy of a soldier on the floor. It was his memorial to three former Ampleforth schoolboys who had been killed in the Second World War, as he might have been had he been a year or so older.

The meaning of this place, both to John Bunting, his family and the world in general, is what the book explores, mostly through accounts of specific land uses and their history. It produces a fascinating mixture of personal experience and historical context. Thus, one chapter is a hymn to sheep and their influence on history, another is about landscapes and the resultant development of tourism and so on through abbeys and escapism (the ruins of Rievaulx and Byland Abbeys are nearby), forestry, farming, wildlife and battlefields. The focus moves in and out, from the chapel itself to its locality, on to England and its place in Europe and back again. The whole is unified by Madeleine Bunting’s own memories of the Plot, its place in her childhood and her changing relationships with it as she leaves, moves abroad and then becomes a Guardian journalist living in London. In addition, each chapter reveals a little more about her father. Maintained by considerable ambition, religious faith and self-belief, he was an accomplished artist and an inspiring teacher. But he also appears as a domineering parent with a failed marriage whose sculpture was largely unrecognised. The Forestry Commission’s planting obscured the view from the chapel and increasing numbers of tourists ruined his sense of isolation. The angels he carved for its buttresses were stolen. We ruminate upon success, failure and the ways in which identity is shaped by history and locality as Bunting deftly draws us into his small domain. The only shortcoming is the poorly labelled maps, which do little to enhance the text.

Martin Wainwright’s ostensible focus in True North is much wider. He claims to cover the whole of the North of England (although the Leeds-Manchester area gets by far the most thorough treatment), with the avowed purpose of replacing the image of a grim, black, rain-soaked, economic desert of depressed manufacturing industries, populated by grumpy, racist, male chauvinists, with one that more accurately reflects the beauty, variety and economic, social and cultural progressiveness of the region and the changes that have occurred over his lifetime. Whether anyone seriously believes the clich├ęs he seeks to destroy is debatable. So is his claim to explain how they arose. He is more concerned with exploding the myths than with tracing their origins. He has the journalist’s love of a good story; there are many here and logical structure and sustained argument are never allowed to get in the way of telling them. Much of the book is based on his experiences as a Guardian journalist working in the North since 1987 and illustrated by numerous superb photographs from the paper’s archives. He has also produced an excellent bibliography, which is, inexplicably, missing from the book and only available, here on its website.

It is now 50 years since the Guardian dropped the association with a particular place, Manchester, from its title, but these books by two of its writers reveal the power still retained by the imagined communities associated with localities and their history.

The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre
Madeleine Bunting
304pp £18.99
ISBN 978 184 708085 1

True North
Martin Wainwright
Guardian Books
300pp £18.99
ISBN 978 0 85265 113 1

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Series in parallel

Let's hear it for series now. I have already mentioned that I am a voracious reader of tomes such as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and his successors' famous Buildings of England (Penguin and/or Yale University Press, various dates). But I value even more the outstanding county Village Books produced by the Federation of Women's Institutes in Lancashire, Northumberland etc. These are real classics, a sort of highly unpredictable Domesday with the character of each village defined by the woman or women entrusted with the task of describing it. Pevsner has his moments, revealing intense dislike of some pastiche architectural feature, or ecstasy at a touch of 1960s modernism. But he has nothing on the Women's Institutes when it comes to characterful writing. I have gleaned so many curious facts and anecdotes from the Northern WIs - perhaps my favourite being the story of the Japanese chicken-sexers of Cowling (pronounced Coaling), the village above Airedale on the road to Nelson and Colne, where Viscount Snowden was born. I revel also in the Aspects of... series published by Pen and Sword books. These have excellently detailed and well-researched essays on such subjects as When Buffalo Bill Came to Barnsley. And look! There are seven volumes on Barnsley alone! Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Hull and other fine Northern cities also figure in the list. If you can get hold of copies of The Yorkshire Journal, published in the 1990s and early 2000s by Smith Settle, they have some very good original historical articles too.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Quite right too...

Another mini-post: did you see that report in this week's snow mayhem white hell journalism, that Tweets in the North of England had a large share of words such as 'sledge' and 'snowman', while those in the South were more on the lines of 'stuck', 'frozen', 'gridlocked'?

This is germane to the thesis of True North, and I will try to get it in to the reprint. Although, as one of my sons suggested to me today before flying off to Mexico City (I wish...), books may become indefinite now that we have the internet. Via means such as this blog, they may just ramble on and on and on...

I don't like not having an illustration in a post, so here is one of girls from Harrogate Ladies College, my Mum's alma mater, at a time when it was producing the sort of Northerners who carried on cheerfully through the Depression, the Second World War and the winter of 1947, which makes our current cold snap look a picnic. I'm not a fan of modern independent schools because they are so seldom independent-minded; but HCL was then, and many women of that generation have a notable cast of mind. If you or your Mum or Gran are in the picture, do let me (and the world) know.

Talking of which, two daughters of retired dockers in one of the fantastic pictures by my former Guardian colleague Denis Thorpe in True North have been in touch, very pleased to see their Dads, who also look like redoubtable types. You'll have to buy or borrow the book to see that one.

Friday, 8 January 2010


The book is to be reprinted shortly, so any other corrections (additional to those five posts below (The Sprigge Gambit, or Sylvia's Curse) should be RUSHED this way NOW. Many thanks. More bibliography soon but now back to the snow.

Wonder women, part 2

Snow interrupted me just now, both for work and for maintenance of two other outstanding women, my Mum and Penny's, who are both tucked up in snowholes, but need supplying.
Anyway, here are some more books on Fine Northern Women, which I have enjoyed and which also contributed to my assertion that the region is indeed, in the words of the subtitle, England's better half.
I don't think Daughter of the Dales needs much introduction, nor its author, (with TV producer Barry Cockcroft), Hannah Hauxwell. She is what people oddly call a 'natural.' I shared a platform with her once in Hawes and my children, who were there, have had a mantra ever since, imitating her soft North Yorkshire voice excellently as they say: "I love me house, and I love me farm, and I love me sheep, and I love me..." (Arrow 1991 - and there are assorted other titles including Seasons of My Life also 1991).
Anything by Winifred Holtby or Storm Jameson is good, and you can read some good introductory material on both, and a host of other Northern writers, in Marion Troughton's Pens, Profiles and Places (Smith Settle 1989). I specially like Holtby's epitaph in the church at Rudston: 'Give me work till my life shall end, And life till my work is done.' Rudston also has an extraordinary standing stone and a stained glass window to the romantic-sounding Lord of the Isles, who deserted Scotland for this pleasant part of the East Riding.
Not far up the coast is Whitby Abbey, famously ruled in the 7th century AD by St Hilda. My late aunt Anne Warin wrote an enjoyable account of her life, Hilda, an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Lamp Press 1989). She was a tough negotiator, and that talent was shared by the heroines of a whole stack of books about the struggles of women workers. Here's an instructive trio from Yorkshire Arts Circus, those marvellous micro-publishers from Castleford: Bad Reputation, Yorkshire Women, Politics and Power, Ed Tina Kendall 1994 (how women suffer when they step out of line, but how they boldly go on doing so); A Woman's Right to Cues by Sheila Capstick, 1988, in which the villasin, rightly are Yorkshire working men's clubs and their belief in men-only snooker; and Our Bitter Harvest, 1993, by the women mushroom-pickers of Whitley Bridge, who went on strike for almost a year to end a life which, as they saw it, resembled the old saying about mushrooms: live in the dark, fed on dung.
A final excellent analysis of the harsh conditions and strength-in-unity of a trade dominated by women - homeworking - is to be found in A Penny A Bag - Campaigning on Homework, published by the West Yorkshire Homeworking Group in 1990.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Women from winter wonderland, part 1

Snowed-in just now, so I can finish another post which stalled last night because of the need to start sweeping the white stuff away so P could get back in. Her intrepid journey to choir rehearsal - which would be out of the question this morning - prompted me to look through some of the books I used when discussing women's role in True North - today often the same as men's pretty much, but very different in the past.
Anne Lister of Shibden Hall is an interesting example, and there's going to be a big BBC2 drama about her in the Spring, starring Maxine Peake. She was gay and kept secret diaries about her love life, which also cast light on the struggles of women trying to be independent in the early 19th century - a hard task even for a very wealthy Yorkshirewoman. Her former home of Shibden Hall near Halifax is now an excellent museum, although she would not have approved of that. She kept the public out. The growing literature on her includes No Priest but Love - Journals 1824-6 edited by Helena Whitbread (Smith Settle 1992) and I Know my Own Heart, diaries 1791 - 1840, (Virago 1988) edited by the same author who first transcribed the diaries and deserves much respect. Selected letters between 1800 and 1840 are in Miss Lister of Shibden Hall, ed by Muriel M Green (The Bookk Guild 1992). Two other interesting studies are Female Fortune - land, gender and authority (Rivers Oram 1998) based on Anne's writings 1833-6 and Nature's Domain, Anne Lister and the Landscape of Desire (Pennine Pens 2003), both by Jill Liddington, whose books on the suffragettes are exceptionally interesting - how Lister would have flourished, and how her talents would have been recognised in that milieu. Liddington's Rebel Girls (Virago 2006) has oodles of fascinating new material about Northern suffragettes and their cat and mouse adventures. I grew up just along the road from the former home of one of the book's heroines Isabella Ford, which has just been acknowledged by a Leeds Civic Trust plaque. More shortly, must just turn attention to snow mayhem for the paper.

Monday, 4 January 2010

How others see it

Penny’s out at choir tonight and all is quiet on the Guardian front. So I may get a little burst of posts done. There are certainly plenty of books left to acknowledge.
Having said that, this bit is about some of the reviews which True North has gathered so far, in case anyone would like to see them who hasn’t.
Leeds Student, for example, probably doesn’t have a huge circulation outside the two unis, although it deserves to. It was Newspaper of the Year in this year’s Guardian student newspaper awards. Important to say that the prize was awarded before Hannah Glick wrote these very nice pieces about the book. She nailed my fascination with chocolate sprinkle patterns on cappuccino very observantly. Hannah Glick. A name for editors to watch… Her interview is on:
and here's her review, scanned in because I can't find a link to it online (click on it to enlarge).My only slight sorrow here is that Hannah skipped the mining/strike/coal bits, but I'm down to talk to Leeds Student staff some time this term, so I shall try to tempt her, and any like-minded colleagues, to go back and have another go. On the other hand, her reaction accords to some extent with points I make about the 'new' North and its wish to break free of the 'old.'
Paul Whitehead also did a kindly piece in Leeds Guide, and in his Waterstone’s bookseller role promoted the book as a ‘staff favourite’. They have a competition to see which one on the ‘recommended’ shelves sells most by Christmas and back in early December, True North was in the lead. I fear it may have been overtaken since then, but will go down to Albion Street to check when I can. Anyway, here’s his take:
I have to add the excellent pic they used of me pioneering the ‘Jedward’ hair style in 1953, the year of the Queen's Coronation. This appeared in the mag but sadly, not online. So here you are.
Just to round off my native Leeds’ interest, Rod McPhee was very generous with space in the Yorkshire Evening Post, and here’s what he had to say:
Across the Pennines in Manchester, Paul Taylor did sterling work in the Evening News there:
And if you got bunged a free Metro in the train across, via my old canvassing playground in the Colne Valley and Saddleworth, you could read this:
Very nice too, although I’m not sure where the Cheshire to Chiswick line came from, apart from an understandable pleasure in alliteration.
In the big time, there was an incredibly joyous review by Harry Pearson in the Daily Mail and a good, interesting one in the TLS. That last came closest to the discussion and debate I’d quite like to get going; it all seems fair comment to me – in the sense of arguments you don’t agree with but which have logic and evidence; except the quip about Northerners being interested in making money, especially. One of my points in True North is that the region likes making things. Money may come with that, but has not been the prime motive to anything like the extent that natural (I suppose) human cynicism likes to believe.
I haven’t been able to link to these last two reviews so far, but I think I can scan them in. Then if you double click on the pic, the text should be legible.
There are other reviews I'm trying to nail links to, and actually I've just found Yorkshire Life's, by Terry Fletcher, former editor of the noble Dalesman. Alas, the online version doesn't have the magazine's fab pics by Joan Russell, with whom I've often worked on Guardian stories. But here it is, with thanks to Terry, and YL's matchless editor, Esther Leach:

Seeing things clearly

Penny and I had a lovely New Year walk in the snow up the Washburn valley, between Blubberhouses and Thruscross dam and back - there up the lane and back via the old flax mill leet, the reservoir and the canoe course where people much braver than myself enjoy things such as grabby stoppers and boofs. It's the only dam-release canoe run in England, apparently, and that tells a story: how a landscape once loud with quarries and a big mill is now a haven for watersports and ramblers like us. The old valve house on the mill dam - a nice little Victorian folly with arrowslit windows, is now a birders' hide. Thus things change, and that's a point I return to repeatedly in True North.
A writer who recognised this, and therefore deserves honour for being different from those talented but tramlined Northerners who dwell in the past and damagingly maintain that it is still exists, is Keith Waterhouse. His City Lights (sceptre 1994) is an outstanding evocation of boyhood in Leeds in the 1930s and early '40s, all the more appealing for the fun and pleasure which he took from the city, fired by his vivid young imagination. Anyone who sets out to trace the course of the Wyke beck on a raft called Spirit of Leodis (the supposed Roman name for Leeds) has something vital of the Huck Finn an Tom Sawyer in them.
Just as good, the sequel Streets Ahead (Hodder & Stoughton 1995) rushes past Waterhouse's time on the Yorkshire Evening Post to the triumph of Billy Liar (also terrific reading) and moving to London. Here, the honour already accorded him needs to be redoubled. Unlike so many Northerners who have succumbed to cliche-mongering because that was what their metropolitan commissioners wanted, he said, in so many words: 'I'm not in the North now. There are writers there who know better than I how things are, and how they are changing. I want to write about other things.' Of course, he did write about his Northern past, both in these autobiographies and in his Mirror and Mail columns, but crucially he made it clear that That was Then. He never pretended that trams still clanked over cobbles in the smog. Indeed he satirically lambasted Leeds for going all modern and abandoning such icons of his youth.
I'll include with his books this much more modest, but excellent, account of the Gipton estate in Leeds, The Gipton Story (Gipton History Group 1991) because the place has suffered from an 'adhesive' image based on highly partial and selective reporting. Charles and Dulcie Yelland, who were tremendous Labour activists on the estate, knew it backwards and bring out its virtues and the idealism of Rev Charles Jenkinson, the Socialist councillor whose vision created Gipton, and other peripheral estates in Leeds such as Belle Isle and Middleton, as model communities to replace the central slums. I also know Gipton well, because my family attended Lady Lane Methodist chapel which served the slums' residents and moved with them to Gipton when they were rehoused. So, like the Yellands, I have always known of the ample good which goes with the problems which inevitably, and seldom with any contextual material, make the media's headlines about the place, and many like it across the North.