Book Review: The Story of Mining in Cornwall by Allen Buckley

Story of Mining in Cornwall
The Story of Mining in Cornwall by Allen Buckley

The Story of Mining in Cornwall. By Allen Buckley. Published by Cornwall Editions, Ltd., 8 Langurtho Road, Fowey, Cornwall, PL23 1EQ, England. 2005. 240 pp. Bibliography, illustrations, index. Hardcover. £45.

This is a beautiful book to look at with lots of excellent color, black and white photographs showing places, documents, maps and mining activities (surface and underground, modern and period photographs) in Cornwall, on the surface and underground. The excellent illustrations are combined the most comprehensive and easy to understand history of mining in Cornwall that I have read, and I do have a number of Cornish mining books to compare it with. Readers need to be aware that I was educated in Cornwall as a mining engineer and worked underground in Wheal Jane one of the mines discussed in the book. I just wish I had Cornish ancestors.

The book begins by looking at the ancient tin industry (prior to the Norman Conquest), dispelling the Phoenician myth that I certainly heard about and have seen in print, but examining surviving evidence for what is reality. The next two chapters look at the late medieval and early modern periods examining the changes in management and technology, with an especially good explanation of the Stannaries. Reading the rest of the book moves by century through both the tin and copper industries describing: the changes in mining equipment and techniques; the problems with water and how to remove it from the mines; labor and union issues; religion among the miners; female labor; capitalization of the mines as they grew in size and consolidated; cost book system; global politics and discovery of deposits elsewhere in the world with the effect on tin and copper prices; the rise and fall of the mines that accompanied the rise and fall of tin and copper prices. We learn about the great mines like the Dolcoath, Cooks Kitchen, Botallock, East Pool, and South Crofty. The last tin mine, South Crofty closed in March 1998.

Tin and copper were not the only economic minerals in Cornwall. There is a chapter on the many other unique minerals found within the county, with photographs of some wonderful mineral specimens, plus a description of how they were exploited. There are additional chapters for the China Clay and State industries within Cornwall. The book concludes with a good bibliography and glossary of mining terms.

This book provides an excellent overview of the mining industry within Cornwall. You are not likely to learn about your individual miner, but you will understand the big picture and be able to put the miner and their family into context, learning about the good and the learn years and how they coped. This book is highly recommended for those with Cornish mining connections.

Editorial – This older review for a book which should be available through inter-library loan or as a used is being added because of comments from a couple of Australian readers responding to my latest review on coal miners, mentioning that they had Cornish miners. There are major differences between coal mining – a soft rock, and tin/copper mining – a hard rock. It appears to not be available from the publishers website.

Book Review: Images of the Past – Coalminers by Brian Elliott

Coalminers-Images of the Past
Images of the Past: Coalminers by Brian Elliott.

Images of the Past: Coalminers. By Brian Elliott. Published by Pen & Sword History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK £12.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. $24.95. 2015. 158 pp. Illustrations. Softcover.   

We all have an image of the life and working conditions of the coalminer and his family, whether from the movies, a governmental report, the news media, or the occasional image in a book. It is only when you see a collection of good quality photographs on the subject do you really come to appreciate the diversity of experience and hardship that a miner may experience.

Here is a collection of photographs in the “Images from the Past” series that gives a broad perspective on the life of coal miners and their community from around Britain (as opposed to one coal field).

The book begins by providing portraits and profiles of the miners. Here we find not only photographs but also copies of portraits, and sketches from a variety of media and time periods, showing a complete range of clothing for the working miner from 1814 to the present. In the following chapter on ‘Women and Children’ we see realistic museum dioramas, early carte-de-vistas, posed studio and informal on-the-job photographs of women and children, underground and on the surface. For the section on the ‘pit top’ we see the surface workers – engine drivers, cage operators, the pit baths (a major improvement), men getting into and out of the cages, plus surface operations from major operations down to a small adit driven into the side of a hill opened by striking miners to get fuel for their families. The chapter on the underground shows the hardship of the job, including everything from miners working with picks on their sides recovering coal from very narrow seams, to the large modern coal cutting equipment with conveyor systems to remove the cut coal.

The final chapters look at the strikes, lockouts and miscellany. The pictures of the 1972 strikes resonated especially with me as I grew up in a coal mining area and I was leaving that summer to go off to college to work toward a degree in Mining Engineering (which I got), but it was a time of uncertainty within the whole industry. The strikes and the lockouts required the ongoing support of the women and the community. The final miscellany shows images of the miners who gave their lives during the Great War, the strength of the unions, the closure of the pits and the development of the museums remembering the industry.

The photographs have good extensive explanatory descriptions, and they identify many of the people pictured. The images themselves are geographically diverse from all over England, Scotland and Wales. There is no index, so you cannot easily find images of individuals or places. This book of good clear photographs provides a good overview of the industry through time and place and is highly recommended.

Book Review: Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Adele Emm

Tracing Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Adele Emm

Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Adele Emm. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. $29.95. 2015. 214 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Our ancestral trees may abound with common laborers but we will also have tradesmen – such as the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. This book puts these tradesmen and craftsmen into historical context and shows how they can be traced.

The first three chapters explain how an individual would have become a tradesman or craftsman, and why. The medieval guilds, common in many localities, controlled who could ply their trade within their area, the most familiar and most important being the London guilds. In 1515, the forty-eight London livery companies were placed in order of precedence based on power and financial status, creating what has become known as the great twelve, mostly merchant guilds. These twelve are listed in order along with the date of their original charter, not necessarily from when records survive and their website. Later a list is provided of the remaining London companies up to 100, giving name and website. Some of these are 20th century creations, and some you may not even know what the occupation is, such as fletchers, broderers, horners, paviors, and loriners.  Importantly, a chapter discusses: the training and apprenticeship to become a freeman of a guild; indentures and deeds of apprenticeship; pay; school leaving age; working hours; holidays; pensions; health and safety; trade unions and friendly societies, all of which is good contextual information.

The remaining chapters address specific groups of occupations including: merchants and mercers; shopkeepers; builders and the building trades; smiths and metal workers; cordwainers and shoemakers; clothing and allied traders; and a miscellaneous group under other trades. Expanding upon the builders and building trade chapter as an example, this includes details on: auctioneers and house agents; bricklayers; brickmakers; carpenters, joiners, turners and sawyers; road builders and menders; painters; stone masons; and thatchers. As you might anticipate not every occupation is included, as I was hoping for plumbers and glaziers. But there are enough clues in these chapters to provide ideas of where to look for information on any desired missing occupation. For those that are included you get a description of the occupation (often for different periods), examples of records or possible places to find records (e.g. guild or union records), and museums that may focus or illustrate well the occupation. The book has good illustrations of the large variety of records that mention our ancestors plus places and tools associated with the occupation. The printed resources mentioned within the text are generally not included in the select bibliography at the end of the book arranged by chapter and topic, so both places need to be checked for potential leads.

This is an excellent guide to get you researching the trade of your ancestors, pointing you to published and online resources, plus how to put them into a correct social context. For the trades included you are well on your way to learning about your ancestors. For those not included you will have ideas of where to look.

Book Review: Tracing your Army Ancestors. Second Edition. By Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians, Second Edition by Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. Second Edition. By Simon Fowler. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK US Distributor: CasemateAthena 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. $24.95. Australian Distributor: Gould Genealogy & History, P.O. Box 119, St. Agnes SA 5097. AUS$34.95. 2013. x, 192 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

British Army research is a vast subject. This book breaks it down into manageable pieces. But how one does research depends upon the time period, rank, service specialty and the specific war. So the book’s chapters cover: organization of the army in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the army before 1660; officers; other ranks – enlistment and conditions of service; medals; casualty rolls; discipline and desertion; pension records; militia 1757-1914; women; British in India; dominion and colonial forces; Boer War; First World War; Second World War; 1919-1969. Appendices address: army service numbers; problem solving; TNA research guides; and army ranks. Each chapter begins by providing historical and social context for the subject under discussion. This is followed by detailed guidance on the records, what they contain, how to access them and how to interpret what is found. Most subjects include bibliographies for additional reading. The chapters are well illustrated especially in terms of sample documents.

It should be noted that although there is a growing body of military records available online, it is highly unlikely that it will ever all be online. Many original records will need to be accessed in person, or through hiring another researcher, at The National Archives in Kew.

I have read and used numerous how-to-books over the last 30 years for tracing my military ancestors and can heartily recommend this one. With any good book on the subject there will be a mental interaction with the book saying “I need to try that” or “I need to check out that source”. As you do research you find more about your ancestors, and you learn more. You are in a constantly changing place, and hopefully you have tried the obvious, but maybe you haven’t because more records are coming online all the time. Reading a book such as this will give you additional clues, indexes, sources that need to be checked out making it a book worth reading again and again as you make progress. I know I marked numerous record groups, indexes and published sources that I need to examine for my growing number of army relatives.

Book Review: Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Brown

Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Jonathan Brown

Tracing Your Rural Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Jonathan Brown. Published by Pen & Sword Family History £12.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishing $24.95. Australia Distributor: Gould Genealogy, AUS$32.95 incl GST. 2011. 162 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Half the population of England and Wales lived in the country in 1851 so it is going to be relatively easy to find rural ancestors on the family tree. At the same time this is a big subject with lots of options for the researcher.

Mr. Brown begins by describing the largest group of rural workers, the farm laborer (1.4 million in the1851 census), looking at what they did, who specialized and who did not, and how their role changed with time. He continues examining who were the farmers, which are not easily defined or identified, and their relationships to the workers, along with a look at the landowners, their great houses and estates. Village life was affected by the different businesses, tradesmen and professionals who lived and worked in any given community, but all left different records to be searched. Another chapter looks at rural migrants and the rural poor. In each of these chapters suggestions are made as to what records will assist in the identifying your rural ancestors.

The largest chapter consists of an alphabetical list of records and source for rural research. This annotated list identifies all the major records you would expect, but also highlights others you may not have heard of or thought of before, such as: copyhold records; enclosure records; farmers’ unions; inquisitions post mortem; rate books; terriers and more. The listing is followed by suggestions on how to identify where the records are located and how to access them, in archives, libraries and online.

One word of caution is that the bibliography states that it “lists all books mentioned in the text together with other suggestions for further reading” (p.145) but this is incorrect for numerous books were recommended within the text that were not included in the bibliography.

Rural ancestry is a large, many faceted topic. This book is a good introduction to the subject socially and genealogically, pointing the reader in the direction of where to find the records and more advanced readings.