Book reviews

Twin track history is a treat
By Rail to the Music Halls
By David John Hindle
184 pages (hardback)
Pub: Silver Link
Price: (Amazon price £17.50)

The subtitle of this book sets the agenda: “An historical survey of the relationship between steam-age rail travel and trips to music halls and theatres across the country.”
That lengthy description might suggests an academic thesis, but the reality is in fact the opposite.
This is a splendidly produced hardback volume popularising linked aspects of history by an author totally on top of his twin topics – trains and old-style entertainment.
Bringing up the parallels to be drawn between the origins of railways and the nation’s music halls is an original concept, as Gary Morecambe (son of comedian Eric) points out in the forward. And as he rightly says “long before the age of the automobile it was the railways that conveyed audiences and performers to the music halls that evolved to become variety theatres.”
Lancashire-based author David Hindle has been thorough in his research, encyclopaedic in his detail and ludic in his writing style.
He’s previously written on the history of entertainment in his native Preston as well as writing excellent books on rail heritage and ornithology. He seems to be on top form whatever topic he tackles.
‘By Rail to the Music Halls’ takes a nostalgic and yet realistic look at the world of train transport and entertainment, from an era which will perhaps be just about within living memory of those who I guess will be among its readers.

It might have been tempting for this Lancashire author to concentrate his research on his native North West, but wisely Mr Hindle has painted with a very broad brush, taking in a nationwide canvas rather than a regional one. He is equally at home chronicling Edinburgh theatres as those in London and the south coast.
The popularity of the stars of bygone days (eg Laurel and Hardy, Harry Lauder, Joseph Grimaldi, Frank Randle) are detailed, as are those of more recent memory (Hylda Baker, Bruce Forsyth, Roy Barraclough, Ken Dodd) their lives and times, are also outlined.
One chapter I particularly enjoyed is devoted to the life and career of theatre architect, Frank Matcham, examples of whose work throughout the country (including in Blackpool) still stand, though sadly, as Mr Hindle records, many of his creations have been destroyed.
Prior to the onset of mass car ownership it was public transport, and in many cases steam trains which took folk from both towns and rural areas to the entertainment palaces in the cities and other urban, increasingly industrial, areas.
It wasn’t just the masses that travelled by train. Early celebrities such as Charles Dickens, who visited Preston by rail several times, on one occasion in 1867 to read from his ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Pickwick Papers’ at the Theatre Royal.
As well a great read the book is replete with illustrations culled from a huge variety of sources. Photos of old theatres and music halls as well as old trains feature alongside a marvellous miscellany of pictures of decades old posters (in remarkably pristine condition).
This book will find a welcome place on the shelf, and in the hands, of readers with interest in both railwayana and UK entertainment history.
Review by AEC (Garstang Historical Society committtee member and railway enthusiast).

The book's cover
Author David Hindle


Title: The notebook of Thomas Noblet; joiner from the Fylde in Lancashire
Authors: William McCartney and Adam Bowett
ISBN: 978-1-9996303-0-0

The cost of family tree tracing for genealogical sleuth Bill McCartney included getting a bloodied leg when a dog attacked him at the gate of a farmhouse in Wrea Green.
The hound’s owner turned out to be distantly related to Bill and not only related, but the custodian of an unsorted treasure trove of family, local and craftwork history – the brightest gem of which was an old notebook dated 1725.
This reproduction of joiner Thomas Noblet’s workbook (along with opposite page facing transcriptions and notes) forms the basis of this fascinating and highly unusual paperback.
These days if you want some furniture or a piece of woodwork it’s a simple as a visit to a trading estate. Not so in the 1700s, when master craftsman Thomas Noblet was at work, painstakingly carrying out his craft in the rural Fylde.
Thomas's preserved sketches are of 18th century items such as clock casings, clothes chests, chests of drawers, doors, spice boxes, church pews, tables, cradles, bannisters, chairs and squabs (settees).
He travelled around the Fylde area doing both domestic and ecclesiastical work. The main author, Bill McCartney, points out in his introduction that currently it has not been possible to find any furniture made by Thomas still in family hands.
Designs for a pulpit and a church gallery are included in these fascinating pages. Which church they were crafted for is unknown. (There are similar style fixtures at the old St John the Baptist church, Pilling).
One of Thomas’s domestic customers was one Eling (Eileen?) Grimbildstone who wanted a made-to-order “Dresing Teble.”
Throughout the book measurements, details of costs, expenses, payments, itemised listings of timber, jottings regarding accounts, financial borrowings and mathematical calculations show Thomas’s eye for detail.
Other unexpected jottings listed (and commented on) include a supposed cure for worms - not the timber-eating creepies.
The background notes which form the introduction to the book explain how Thomas’s notebook came to be found, preserved and transcribed, as well as details of the Noblet family and their relations, the Jolly family, over several centuries.
The book is clearly of both specialist and wider interest.
Co-author Dr Adam Bowett of the Regional Furniture Society says Noblet’s notebook is “… a unique survival from the period, and it contains some of the earliest drawings and descriptions of a number of key eighteenth-century furniture archetypes. Most remarkable … is the fact that it comes, not from London or some other urban centre, but from a tiny village on the Fylde of Lancashire.”
More generally the book will be of interest to local and family historians. Numerous family surnames from the period covered by the book are extant in rural Fylde and Wyre today.
The authors are to be commended for shedding light on this generally overlooked area of domestic, ecclesiastical and workaday history.

* The book is available from William McCartney, priced £12.99 (plus packing and postage). He can be contacted at:

(The review is an extended version of an article which will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Lancashire Local History Federation Newsletter).

Title: Dancing to the beat of the tide
Author: Angela Norris

Publisher: Matador

Price: £8.99
The proverbial "sleepy backwater" of Over Wyre has produced several first class writers over the years - eg  R G Shepherd (one time deputy editor and country writer of the Blackpool Gazette) and J E Bowman (author of "When every day was summer").
Now another name needs to be added to the handful of talented writers whose tales of being brought up and living in the flatlands of  north Fylde, between the countryside and Morecambe Bay - Angela Norris.

Angela, one-time weekly newspaper reporter who quit journalism for a career in the health service, has returned to her first love - writing - to pen  a part-autobiograpahical / part- insightful documentary of her early years in Preesall and Pilling.

It's all fairly recent history, but with a very personal twist. Despite the times of her tales being only a few decades ago, her reminiscences and delightful prose jog the memory of those who lived through those times in this area. The focus is as sharp as the writing is incisive.

Angela's portrait shows a countryside district in  state of transition. She describes the change in character of Knott End and Preesall, via the 1960s building boom, from separate communities to what is effectively now one somewhat urban mass.
It's tempting to describe the book as nostaligic in tone, which is partly true, but Angela avoids the sentimentality often associated "local" autobiographies. Few topics are left unmentioned - boyfriend issues, the onset of periods, teaching troubles (she's not afraid to name bullying teachers), teen fashions and music not to mention the activities on the back row of the movies (at Knott End's Verona cinema).

One topic on which she expresses understandably strong views is the 11+ exam. Angela failed and went to the local secondary modern (St Aidan's). Her description of the education system of the 60s, and how she believes it failed numerous young people at the time will be read with interest by many readers.

Similarly Angela's burgeoning feminism and emerging opinions stand out, without making the book "preachy."

She is brilliant at describing village personalities, of which Preesall and Knott End still has many.

I'm hoping there will be sequel in which Angela will shed light on her years as a roving reporter on the Garstang Courier and her later decision to move into the health service. An analysis of her involvement in regional journalism and the health sphere

I hope Dancing to the Beat of the Tide becomes of a local classic. It's the first time a book of this kind about the Over Wyre community has been published. It will be appreciated by those, like Angela, who are children of the 60s and 70s, as well as by "incomers" to the district, keen to learn more about its recent past.

*Dancing to the Beat of the Tide, is available from Knott End News and Knott End Post Office or through the author’s Facebook page. Price: £8.99. 

Title: A Ramble round Catterall and District
Author: Joe Lane

Price: £8

Garstang's southern neighbour, sometimes in the shadow of its northerly big brother has stepped into the limelight with the publication of a book firmly focused on the village of Catterall.

While several books with a distinctly Garstang theme have been written in recent years, the new paperback on the life and history of Catterall has recently come off the presses.

The simple sounding title "A ramble around Catterall and district" belies the depth of research undertaken by the author, a long-standing resident who is reluctant to be identified and wishes only to be known by his pen-name "Joe Lane."

The 136-page paperback is packed with history, geography, topographical facts, old photos, maps, statistics reminiscences, reports from old newspapers and fascinating information about the village's largely forgotten industrial history.

The book's sale will help boost the funds of a local memorial fund, the Matthew Hesmondhalgh Fund set up to support the work of the CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young charity). Catterall man Matthew was only 22 when he died on a night out in 2011.

Explaining the genesis of the book "Joe" said "As a retired civil engineer specialising in water engineering, I have always been intrigued by the former industries which the Rivers Calder and Wyre supported in the village.

"Finding readily-available information about the topic was difficult as Catterall, despite being a major industrial centre for about 100 years from the late 18th century, always seems to get overlooked on historical matters in favour of the bucolic charms of Garstang.

"So I decided to research the industry side of things and ended up being drawn into the area's dysfunctional social history as well. And I threw in a few bits about the environs of Catterall which I frequently pass on my cycle rides.

Mr Lane does not confine himself to the past. He rightly points out that recent history has proved Catterall to be a strong-minded community - taking on developers and sometimes winning. Few in the district can forget the spirited campaign which defeated the animal waste incinerator plan, or the similar battle against a proposed maggot farm whose would-be developers had links with the West Indies.

The publication of the book is timely. Parts of the parish are likely to see more housing development in the coming years - this book will help preserve much of the village's spirit and help Catterall residents remember their heritage.

* "A ramble around Catterall" is now on sale, price £8, from Car Care, High Street, Garstang, and Crimpers, Bridge Street, Garstang. The book costs  price £8, with all proceeds going to the Matthew Hesmondhalgh Memorial Fund/Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). The charity aims to reduce the frequency of sudden cardiac death in young people through supporting CRY’s screening programme.


A Celebration of the tricentenary of St Michael's Church, Grimsargh - 1716 to 2016.
By David Hindle
Price: £10

In the early 18th century dedicated Anglican worshippers from Grimsargh would walk the five miles to Preston parish church on Sundays, conscious they were treading in the paths of history.
Their route to Preston would take them along the road taken by Cromwell during the bloody English Civil War 50 years earlier. And shortly before the opening of their own church in 1716 the Grimsargh worshippers would also be conscious that only months earlier the same sanguine spirit had manifested itself at Preston in the last Battle on English soil, which saw the rout of the Jacobites.
Out of these chaotic times a more peaceful era was to emerge - with the encouragement of the Preston vicar who had witnessed much of the Jacobite v Hanoverian action in November 1715.
It was Rev Samuel Peploe, staunch defender of the C of E, and landowning patron Henry Houghton who were responsible for the creation of Grimsargh's own church.
Not long before the battle of Preston, Peploe, a stern critic of Catholicism, had voiced his concerns to the then bishop of Chester about the need for a church in Grimsargh, hitting out at the influence of "popery" in the rural area. Peploe expressed the hope that the new church would "of great use to men's souls."
Clearly ecumenism was not a feature of those religiously turbulent times. A bell taken from Fernyhalgh (Catholic) church in 1689 found its way into the belfry of the new Grimsargh Church.
It's details such as the story of the bell, and Peploe's plea to his bishop revealed in this new book which show the painstaking research carried out by its author, respected Preston historian (and Grimsargh resident) David Hindle.
Hindle is no stranger to local history, with books on a variety of subjects, including 'Grimsargh, the story of a Lancashire Village' (2002). Who better for the church authorities at St Michael's to turn to when it came to writing a book for the church's 300th anniversary than Mr Hindle?
Although only 34-pages long this excellent book leaves no stone unturned about the history of St Michael's...the subject of stones featuring in chapter two where we learn ashlar stone from Longridge's quarries were used for the construction.
Fascinatingly, in considering the wider ecclesiastical scene at the time, Hindle also points out the church was one of only five built in the whole of Amounderness (The Fylde, Preston and district) in the 18th century.
But churches are more than bricks and mortar - and it is the tales of the families associated with St Michael's as well as the clergy down the centuries which add to the interest of the book.
The author lists all the clergy who have led the Grimsargh flock, including a few 'characters' such as the wonderfully-named late Victorian vicar Rev Tertius Augustus Buzzard who combined his pastoral duties with caring for the peacocks in the churchyard and ministering home made medicines to the sick. From the mid-1930s the vicar was the notoriously untidy Rev George Oswald Rubie, who banned women from his study in case they tried to tidy his clutter. This man of the cloth also had two guns, enjoyed showing cine films to villagers and evacuee children and preached to congregations of more than 200.
Two particularly fascinating appendices take a detailed look at other aspects of parish life - an extract and commentary on parts of Victorian diary of Kathleen Ellen Cross of Red Scar, whose family's history is intertwined with the church, and a look at the work and witness of the church school which takes its name from the parish - including the tale of Nellie Carbis, its late headteacher who is still remembered with fondness in Grimsargh.
As to the future of the church? According to Mr Hindle the church's status as a building of architectural interest should ensure its long-term survival, before perceptively adding "Of greater importance than the the concept of a living, vibrant, church fulfilling the purpose for which it was originally consecrated."
The residents of Grimsargh should be well pleased with this 34-page history book. There is much within its covers to commend it to both parishioners, as well as lovers of local history.
* A Celebration of the tricentenary of St Michael's Church, Grimsargh - 1716 to 2016 will be formally launched at the church on January 27 at 7.30pm, though copies are already on sale at Grimsargh Post Office. Copies may also be obtained from David Hindle on 07572823520 or from his sister, Jayne Woollam, who is organiser of the tricentenary events, on 0774934208 David 07572823520.
On the night of the book launch Mr Hindle will be conducting tours of the church and explaining its history and features, including an opportunity to view the burial place of William and Ellen Cross who are entombed in the chancel, marked by a magnificent ornamental gothic-style brass plate.
Research was undertaken over 18 months/two years and supported by a friend and direct descendant of the Cross family, Anthony Assheton Cross from Devon. He has generously donated £300 for his one copy, representing £1 for every year of the churches existence 1716 - 2016

Title: Preston Planes Trains Tramcars and Ships

Author: David John Hindle

Publisher: Amberley

Price: £12.99

Packing hundreds of years of Preston's transport history into 120 pages is no mean feat, but veteran author David Hindle has achieved it.

The retired policeman from Grimsargh has authored many books on a variety of topics over the past few years - from birdwatching to Preston's entertainment history to local railways.

In his latest contribution to the ever-growing number of good quality local and regional history books, this one on the area's transport history is to be welcomed.

It has an amusing starting point...who can imagine sedan chairs being carted, with passenger inside, through the busy streets of the city these day? And yet, that was one of the ways in which people from certain classes of society got around town in the days of yesteryear!

Taking a thematic approach to history means strict chronology isn't too important. Nevertheless it is with Preston's early network of trains, trams and canals, and the district's connections with the rest of the country, which dominate the opening chapters.

Extensive quotations from 'Bradshaws' guidebook (the Victorian railway 'bible' followed by Michael Portillo in his popular TV railway journeys) sets the scene for understanding how roads, railways and canals all played their part in period between the Industrial Revolution and the ongoing commercial growth of town in the 19th century.

Hindle takes his reader from turnpike roads and stagecoach journeys to canals and railways, and, of course the much missed Preston tramway system. It is the story of the tramways which forms one of the most fascinating chapters.

Its predecessor were horsedrawn omnibuses, which gave way (in 1879) to horsedrawn trams, linking the town centre to Fulwood.  By the early 20th century electric tramcars took over with a fleet of 30 double-decked open-top tramcars manufactured by WB Dick and John Kerr taking to the tramlines. In its first year of operation Preston's tram system carried a staggering seven million passengers.

And there were even "green" ideas in those days. Hindle observes: "Trams ran off electricity generated by incinerators burning the town's waste."

The routes of the various tramtracks are fully explained, including short links, for example from Preston railway station to Deepdale football ground.

Two motor companies have their origins in this part of Lancashire - the (literally) tiny Bond minicar company and the once internationally respected Leyland Motors.

Hindle dubs these two the David and Goliath of the area's motor manufacturers!

The story of three wheel motor vehicle developed by Lawrence Bond is something of a minor side story in British motor manufacturing history, but for Preston form the 1940s to mid-60s it was an important industry. The Bond could travel to London on two gallons of petrol, making it the most economical car in the country. During peak production around 300 cars a week were made at their base at Ribbleton Lane.

Another motor manufacturer now gone, though certainly not forgotten, is Leyland Motors, based in Leyland. It was producing 6,000 vehicles a year during World War One, becoming a world leader in the market for commercial vehicles, notably trucks and buses.

Its history is traced from the glory days to the time, within living memory of many Preston and Leyland workers, to the 1970s and 80s when, Britain's industrial decline led to the splitting and sell-off of the company.

Hindle's enthusiasm for trains, and steam trains in particular, is well known. His previous books and lectures on long since disappeared railways around Preston and Longridge are deservedly poplar. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the area's steam days is reflected in the book through the judicious selection of many rail photos from Preston, Leyland and Farington, reminding the reader that, as one Victorian commentator once put it, Preston at one time had the most comprehensive railway service anywhere in the country.

Preston's proximity to the coast and the passing River Ribble add another transport theme....the role of Preston as a port and a ship building base. The relatively short-lived tale of the rise and fall of Preston Docks has been documented in many places, but Hindle manages to re-tell the story freshly, summarising the developments from the building of the Albert Edward Dock to the end of commercial shipping within living memory.

The closing chapters document the links between Dick,Kerr and English Electric and the enterprising developments in engineering and aeronautical science which helped to put Preston and district at the forefront of aviation technology. The stories of aircraft such as the Canberra, Lightning, the TSR2, Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter/Typhoon, made at Preston by successive generations of aircraft workers, all feature in this book, along with details of the 'family trees' of the different companies which have been at the forefront of this aspect of Britian's air defence export industry.

Preston Planes Trains Tramcars and Ships is a comprehensive documentary of all aspects of the area's transport history. It is equal to Hindle's other excellently-researched books and deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone seriously interested in local history.

Review by Anthony Coppin

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