Seek and Ye Shall Find

Several years ago I wrote of my fruitless search for my great-aunt.  I hadn’t physically lost her for she had died many years earlier – she was just one, albeit an important one, of the conundrums that constantly arise when researching your family history.

Aunt Baba had left a lasting impression on me when I met her for the first and only time; me just entering my teens, she as an elderly lady of ninety.  Although she certainly was elderly (ancient to my young eyes) she still had the quiet energy and sparkle that had endeared her to my father and his siblings as youngsters.  Perhaps because of the happy visits to her that he would tell me of, I too, adored her instantly.

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Aunt Baba, aged 90, c.1965

As youngsters, my father, uncles and aunts, around the time of the Great War,  would travel to Rudgwick, Sussex in what is now the South Downs National Park to stay for short holidays.  There they were allowed to run wild, roam the fields and woodlands and generally be spoilt in a way that would never be allowed by their authoritarian parents.  Brought up as Plymouth Brethren, a strict Christian sect, their usual life was one of bible study, education, chores and prayer meetings.  At aunt Baba’s, although she too was Plymouth Brethren, life was very much more relaxed.  In later years, when I was a child, the Brethren became more rigid and dictatorial about who they could associate with.  My father had rebelled as a young man and as a consequence, contact with us became forbidden.  Family meetings were very few and aunt Baba’s visit was shrouded in secrecy for fear of her being ‘caught’.  Many years later, long after both she and my father had died, I realised I had no idea whether she was a relative or not and my research was drawing a blank. In desperation, I wrote of her  in the hope that someone ‘out there’ might respond.

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Relaxing in the 1940s?

The blog post (link here) created quite a lot of interest but no hard leads.  It did generate correspondence from the Rudgwick Preservation Society which although useful didn’t produce the breakthrough I hoped for.   Fast forward to a couple of months ago when I discovered a letter from my father’s eldest sister.  In it she told of how, when staying with aunt Baba, she had met her future husband whose parents also lived in the village and were Brethren.  This was the first ‘hard’ fact I had to go on and from there aunt Baba’s story unfolded.

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My aunt as a young woman with aunt Baba, about 1924

Born close to midsummer’s day 1875, aunt Baba, who remained unmarried, by 1916 had become housekeeper to an elderly farmer and his son who lived in the wonderful, ancient house of my father’s memory, Greenhurst.  By the time of the Register that was conducted of all households immediately prior to WW2, it can be seen that by 1939 she had moved to a house in the heart of the village.  Within its grounds stood a Plymouth Brethren Meeting House.  Further correspondence with the Rudgwick Preservation Society has revealed that when the son died, (his father predeceasing him by several years), the house had been left to their loyal and long-serving  housekeeper; a wonderful gesture.  By 1943, old telephone directories show that she had moved once more, this time to a smaller house in the same street.  She was still living there in 1953.  She may have continued to reside there after that date but the trail disappears until the record of her death in 1965 – which means she must have died within months of my meeting her.

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The house where my father ran wild c.1918

The research has revealed that her name was, as I had thought, Frances White, and that she was a close family friend and not a relative.  I am rather sad that she isn’t blood related for, in theory, she doesn’t belong on my family tree.  I have placed her there for posterity anyway as an honorary member, in the process, no doubt, causing some confusion to future genealogists.

Is there more to find out?  Indeed there is, for how on earth did she end up being called aunt Baba?  That is the part of her history that, I suspect, she has taken to her grave.

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How To Grow Tomatoes With Little Effort

It may seem odd writing about growing tomatoes at the time you should be harvesting them but it is often the case that when you see a plant growing somewhere that is the time you wish you knew how to grow them.  As regular readers of my garden articles will know, although I love gardening I also like to achieve great results with the minimum of effort and tomatoes are not an exception!  Effortless gardening doesn’t mean bad horticultural practice for you can hardly expect great results from shoddy workmanship wherever your interest lies.  All the photographs below demonstrate that it is possible to have superb tomatoes without devoting every spare moment to growing them.

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Perfect tomatoes can be grown quite easily using my method

As is often the case, I discovered this easy way to grow tomatoes out of necessity: a client wanted them but they only visited their country house irregularly and I could only devote one day a week to maintaining their grounds.  That left about fifteen minutes a week for the tomatoes.   This method, by the way, only works for plants grown in containers.  Although they were grown in a greenhouse there is no reason why the same method could not be used for growing in pots outdoors although they are more at the mercy of the usually variable British summer weather (not variable this year, 2018!).

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Tomato ‘Golden Sweet’

All garden plants, whether grown in containers or in the garden border require good growing conditions and this starts with getting the soil or potting compost right.  Tomatoes are greedy feeders and books and articles always advise feeding the plants on a regular basis as soon as the first flowers show signs of turning into fruit.  That is far too time consuming for my fifteen-minute rule!  Instead, use a quality compost.  I used Carr’s potting compost which is made from composted farmyard manure; although not the cheapest it is well worth paying the extra cost for the results that are obtained.  There are, of course, other manufacturers that do something similar which, I daresay, will achieve similar results.  To this compost I mix in several handfuls of horticultural grit and double the recommended amount of water-retaining granules – these swell upon contact with water, and release it gradually thereby reducing the necessity for regular watering.

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Tomato ‘Cherrola’

Tomatoes are easy to grow from seed, sowing in gentle heat in February and there is a huge choice of variety.  For ease and speed, I purchased young plants from a garden centre once I had no concern of late frosts killing them.  The pots were filled to within a couple of inches of the brim with the compost mix which I had pre-moistened.  As a guide, the compost should feel damp but you shouldn’t be able to squeeze water out of it.  Plant three tomatoes in a 20/25 litre plant pot placing a sturdy cane by each plant.  Stand the pot on a watering saucer or tray and water well.  Gardening rules state that tomatoes don’t like standing in water but I found that by using the saucers I could leave them with a good supply to last them the week.  By the time of my next visit, the compost and tray were dry but the plants unaffected by either the standing water or the drought.

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‘Tigerella’, an heirloom variety of tomato with striped fruits

Tomatoes grow in two different ways depending upon the variety – bush or cordon.  With bush tomatoes you just leave them to grow as they will; with cordons it is recommended that you remove side shoots and tie the plant upright onto the cane.  Although the latter method sounds time consuming and fiddly it is a simple and quick task once it’s been mastered.  The secret is to remove any shoots that grow out of the union of the leaf stalk with the main stem – if done early enough they snap off with the fingers.  If you leave them they will need to be cut out with a knife or scissors.  Although it is possible to leave them in situ I find that the plants become very congested and difficult to manage which, in the longer term, means they are more time consuming to deal with.

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Tomato ‘Sungold’ – note how the plant has been ‘stopped’ when it had grown as tall as I wanted it to be.

And that’s it!  Just tie the plants to the cane as they grow and give them a really thorough watering once a week from the top of the compost until the saucer begins to overflow.  There’s no time-consuming feeding for the compost will provide all the necessary nutrients. And because the plants are growing strongly and healthily you are far less likely to be bothered by pests or diseases.  All the tomatoes in the photographs received no chemicals or other additives; all we had to do was to eat them.  If you’ve never tasted a home-grown tomato eaten the moment it is plucked from the vine then you’re in for a real treat!

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A photograph from 1979!  Tomato ‘Big Boy’, a beefsteak variety living up to it’s name!

Thinking Outside the Box(wood)

Over the years I must have hand clipped many miles of box (in the USA, boxwood) hedging and once the knack is mastered it can be quite therapeutic.  The main rule to follow is to remember that it has to be precise for there is nothing worse than a straight, level hedge that is clipped unevenly.  It irritates the eye as much as a picture hanging crookedly on a wall.

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Patience and plenty of time are key factors in ensuring straight lines

I can’t say that I feel quite the same about topiary.  I can admire the craftsmanship that goes into producing weird and wonderful shapes but it is so easy, in a lapse of concentration to, say, cut the ear off a teddy bear or the beak off a peacock.  As a consequence, I find it rather stressful.  Cloud topiary is far more forgiving but, again, it doesn’t really “do it for me.”

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You need even more patience to clip topiary

Perhaps the most rewarding design I have created was turning four rather scruffy and unbalanced squares of box into simple but elegant cubes.  Yes, it was topiary but to misquote Star Trek “it’s topiary Jim, but…”  To begin with, I was faced by the four squares each with a rather ugly and thorny shrub rose growing out of their centres.  A consequence of this design was that the box couldn’t be clipped properly and neither could the rose be properly pruned.

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The original design with roses always looked scruffy

To create the design the roses had first to be removed leaving a gaping hole in the centre of each square.  Fortunately, I had some reasonably tall box plants elsewhere in the garden that I could dig up and replant.  I soon discovered that it was impossible to plant them properly without damaging the existing plants.  My gamble of just standing them on the earth and then throwing topsoil over them to trickle through the branches paid off.  The soil covered the roots and probably much of the lower branches too*.  Given a good watering, the plants thrived.  Before trimming  all the outer edges needed to be marked with string lines for accuracy in cutting.

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Without strings for guidance clipping the box into perfect cubes would be almost impossible

I thought about all sorts of fancy designs for the tops of the cubes and, as is so often the case with design, I decided that simplicity was the key to a satisfactory outcome.  Two cubes would have a raised circle and two a raised square.  It was essential that these weren’t too high – I didn’t want them to look like a combination of wedding cakes and pimples!  I found that it was impossible to mark these designs out and so they were created without guidelines, relying on my eye to tell me where and what to clip.  By their second year of clipping they looked as if they had been there for ever.

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The design will look just as good in winter when highlighted by frost or snow

Box is such a versatile plant to use and it is well worth experimenting with them.  Below are three photos of how I have used them: the first is the classic edging to a border; the second to bring focus to a set of garden steps; the third a mini-parterre to link two levels in a garden.  Your garden doesn’t need to be huge or grand to use box in these ways – the parterre was suitably small scale for a tiny town garden.  Have a go at creating your own box design – and if creating a topiary peacock is your thing, that’s fine with me – just don’t aske me to clip it!

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The classic use for box – fronting a border

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Giving focus to garden steps

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Mini-parterre for a tiny garden

 

*This is also a good and easy way to create plenty of new plants for the buried stems will often send out roots.  When they do they can be severed from the parent plant to be grown on elsewhere.

A Forgotten Building in a Deserted Village

Tucked away in the fold of the wildflower banks where our horses graze is a small building that rarely gets a second glance if it is noticed at all. Semi-derelict and difficult to reach, its appearance offers no clues of its historic importance – important only to the history of the farm upon whose land it was built. Further up the valley the landscape offers some hints of its past use: a dried-up watercourse that only shows up after heavy rain; an old, crumbling pack-bridge that seems to lead nowhere.  It is only when the building is explored does its purpose become realised.Dornford Old Pump House watermarkDornford Old Pump House (21) watermark

The farm and its associated barns today seem isolated and remote by south of England standards, set high on the hill and away from roads. However, during the early medieval period it was a thriving community which had disappeared by late medieval times possibly due to the Black Death. By 1700 only a farm was left standing. In 1800 this was replaced by the present buildings although the 350+ year old dovecote and stable block both remain from those early days. All are now protected and their architectural features recorded. I can find no such protection or detail of the little pump house – for that is what this is – out of sight in the valley below. Yet it is a little gem!

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The seventeenth century stable block lies empty

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Arched entrance to the old pump house

Probably built at the same time as the new farmhouse, the pump house would most likely have provided power for the barns as well as pumping water. What is fascinating about the building is that it still has its paddle wheel and much of its mechanism in place.

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The wheel – made from iron – is still in place

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Some parts of the building look as if they were deserted yesterday

Visiting the site isn’t for the faint-hearted. At this time of year, it is necessary to fight a way through chest height stinging nettles and to crawl through narrow and low passageways. Once inside, however, the architectural detail is delightful with its chamfered chambers and arched entrance and exit. Like all deserted places it is important to be vigilant at all times and not just in case of falling masonry. It’s just as important to keep an eye on what’s happening at ground level – this old well shaft, its cover rotten, waits to trap the unwary.

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Tall weeds almost totally hide the entrance to the building

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The well shaft with its rotten cover

Spring Reigns Eternal

Alexander Pope’s hope springs eternal, is so often misquoted as hope reigns eternal that I thought I would take the misquoting one step further with the title of this blog post. Over the years, having witnessed more change of seasons than I care to admit to, the transition from winter to spring has to be the one that I long for the most. As the frosts and snows melt and the sun’s rays warm both the soil and the soul nature and humans alike are energised.

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A Comma Butterfly, fresh from hibernation, warms itself in the spring sun

There are so many aspects of spring that bring joy: the intensity of colour in the chartreuse green of new shoots; the translucency of the young leaves as they filter the strengthening sunlight before it reaches the forest floor. The first bluebells; the starry golden celandines; the skylarks tumbling song all vie with the myriad of new life crying out the same positive message.

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The intensity of spring colour feasts the eyes after months of grey

Autumn, of course, also gives moments of pleasure with the splendour of its glowing oranges, tawny browns and fiery reds but, compared with spring, these are but fleeting and only serve as a reminder of the dark, cold days of winter to come. Spring offers not just new life and beauty but also the hope of better days – perhaps this is why Pope is misquoted. Hope springs eternal is such a positive message.

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Bluebells and beech woods in spring – can there be a more joyous sight?

Richard Jefferies, the Victorian naturalist, wrote eloquently of the joy of watching spring move towards summer in his book The Life of the Fields. “…every blade of grass, each leaf, each separate floret and petal, is an inscription speaking of hope…there is so much for us yet to come, so much to be gathered, and enjoyed.”

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Poor-man’s-weather-glass, the scarlet pimpernel, opens its flowers on fine days

The cup of spring is never half-empty, neither is it half-full. It is always overflowing. Let us drink from it whilst we can.

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Ablaze in the spring, gorse hedges are at their very best

Growing Sweet Peas – the lazy person’s guide

Imagine it is mid-summer, the morning sun is warming the day and you are gathering handfuls of pretty, multi-coloured and fragrant flowers to bring back into the house.  If this sounds like a heavenly dream then read on.  The dedicated gardener will need no further encouragement to grow sweet peas but for those less keen on gardening or with little time, they are still the perfect choice.

So, even if your idea of gardening is to sit in it with a glass of chilled, white wine, there is a quick and easy way to grow sweet peas for, at this time of year, pots of young seedlings are available from garden centres.  They are usually grown in a single pot with a dozen or more plantlets crowded together.  They nearly always come as a mix of colours but it is necessary to check that they are a tall-growing and scented variety.  Avoid buying the scentless and/or dwarf types, both of which I dislike intensely – why grow these when they should be fragrant and elegant?

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Sweet peas grown informally on a ‘wigwam’ in the garden border

If the weather is reasonable and the soil not frozen, the seedlings can be tipped out of their pot, teased gently apart and popped in the ground about six inches (15cms) apart.  It is beneficial to make sure that the soil in the pot is moist so give them a good drink an hour or so before planting.  Sweet peas, being climbers, need something to clamber up: the traditional way are hazel sticks. These are ideal for the sweet peas attach themselves readily to the rough and twiggy stems.  If hazel cannot be found, bamboo canes also work well although the young plants may need a little helping hand at first to attach themselves – use any short twigs for this just to prop them up.  The canes, which are traditionally placed into a circular ‘wigwam’, need to be about 7-8ft long so that once in the ground they are about 6ft tall.  Apart from keeping them watered in dry spells and free from slugs and snails that’s it.  They will begin to flower in June and continue (providing you pick them regularly and never allow them to set seed) until the autumn frosts.  Incidentally, they grow well up fences too providing they get adequate sunshine.

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For more experienced gardeners and those that want to enter the local flower show try growing them as ‘cordons’.  With this method they are grown in straight rows on bamboo canes or strings to a height of 5ft.  A place in the vegetable garden is ideal as they can be readily accessed from all angles without treading on other plants.  The spacing is again six inches apart.  For the best blooms, remove the tendrils and any side shoots as they appear, also any flower stems with less than four flower buds. With no tendrils for self-clinging it will be necessary to tie the plants to the stakes with string or by using metal rings sold especially for the purpose.  When the plants reach the top of the canes and/or the flower quality diminishes, cut the plants free of their stakes and lay them carefully along the ground. Tie in the growing tips to their nearest stake and train as before.  The plants will flourish having been given a new lease of life.

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These sweet peas, grown as cordons, are now ready for layering

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The layering process

Sweet peas are readily grown from seed, either sown in pots or the ground in March/April or in pots in October.  I prefer to start them in individual pots regardless of the time of year and to protect them from the worst of any cold weather.  The seed does have a hard coating and many gardening books advise chipping the individual seeds with a knife.  Not only is this hard work and time consuming, I have never found it to be necessary.  The seed is both plentiful and inexpensive and if a few don’t germinate does it really matter that much?

The growing and exhibiting of sweet peas reached a peak in late Victorian and Edwardian times with many specialist clubs holding shows.  With patience and luck, who knows you may become a medal winner at your local flower show?  Even if you don’t, you’ll be rewarded by a garden full of colour and a house full of scent.

Book Cover

There is lots more no-nonsense advice for gardeners in my book “Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?”  To take a peek inside the covers, click here.

Far from the Madd(en)ing Crowd

The title of this blog is actually rather a misnomer for the picturesque village of East Hendred is, in reality, quite close to both London and Oxford.  Nestling at the foot of the Berkshire Downs, its charm and ancient houses give it the appearance of a place far from civilisation and today’s frenetic pace of life.

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A traditional English village centres around the ‘big house,’ the pub and the church and East Hendred can boast that its manor has been owned by the same family, the Eystons, for over six hundred years.  It has three pubs thereby bucking the trend in recent years of the many pub closures elsewhere that often sees the social heart of a community destroyed.East Hendred (18) copyright

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There has been a village shop for very many years for a book published in 1922 (English Country Life & Work by  Ernest C. Pulbrook) shows it in a photograph.  Today, the shop is still “thriving and well-accustomed” although it is doubtful if it now sells the wooden hay rakes that are lined up outside on the early photo!  The building has remained unchanged over the years although the village changed allegiance in 1974 and is now in the county of Oxfordshire.  The shop is easily recognisable in my photograph as being at the far end of the row.East Hendred (1) copyright

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The church, dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury, dates from the late twelfth century although its tower is later, built around 1450.  East Hendred (17) copyright

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At the other end of the village is the former Chapel of Jesus of Bethlehem also built around 1450 by Carthusian monks.  Now known as Champs Chapel, it houses a small museum dedicated to the history of the village.  It is opened and maintained by volunteers.

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Despite its historic past, the parish of East Hendred which is crossed by the ancient Ridgeway path (now a National Trail) is also firmly fixed in the modern day for it also houses the Harwell Science and Innovation Centre where the Diamond Syncrotron Facility is located.

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A Funny Old Year!

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that the posts have been somewhat erratic in their regularity during 2017. It has been an funny old year, to say the least, for I have learnt the hard way that my health – which I have somewhat taken for granted – is not infallible. An unexpected heart attack in January came as a complete surprise for I have always rather prided myself on my active, healthy outdoor lifestyle. The body’s fitness level from all the exercise that I take through my daily work turned out to also be its saving grace.  After surgery (which was carried out under local anaesthetic so that I could watch progress on a computer screen) and three months recuperation, I was back at work gardening and well on the way back to resuming the same degree of activity as before. Or so I thought.

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Enforced taking it easy with friends during fine weather in late spring. Every minus has a plus to balance it!

A silly accident in August saw me return to hospital.  A blow to the leg that seemed innocuous enough to begin with resulted in the threat of amputation. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, by the end of the five days of waiting for a decision to be made, I had designed (in my head, at least) a rugged ‘blade’ for hill walking as well as ski, fork and spade attachments so that I could holiday as well as continue to work. Despite the potential to make my fortune from this, I’m mightily relieved to report that the operation did not happen. After two months of enforced immobility and a further two months of gentle walking my legs are now as strong as ever – well almost.

Suddenly back in hospital where my leg changed from just being swollen to black in thirty minutes. I admit I was scared!

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The staircase in our old cottage is difficult to negotiate safely with two working legs and near impossible with just one!

Strangely, the leg accident affected me far more than having the heart attack but what both have taught me is that I’m not yet ready to slow down and take the easier option. I even managed short walks on crutches in the Lake District for being housebound was by far the most difficult aspect of the recovery. I have always spent as much time as possible in the great outdoors and long may that continue. A recent trip to Exmoor also helped to boost confidence in my ability to ‘get on with it.’  Now I’m up to regular five hour walks over rough country I feel life is returning to normal. Life in 2018, however, won’t be taken for granted!

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Exploring Watendlath in the Lake District National Park on crutches.

Back on two legs exploring my beloved Exmoor National Park recently.

Enough writing of ill health! Despite seven of the twelve months of this year being restricted if not written off completely, life remains pretty good. I’m not quite sure why, but despite the occasional traumas that everyone has over the course of time, I have always sailed pretty well through life for which I’m exceedingly grateful. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Life is good! [photo credit: Jane Stillwell]


So why, if life has been so kind to me this year, has there been such a blip with writing? I can only assume it is because I have had so much other ‘stuff’ to think about and sort out. Immediately before the heart attack I began to write the opening chapter to a second novel and it is time to move that forward. Immobilisation did give me the opportunity to carry out research for it so time has not been altogether wasted. And of course, it is also time to work hard at getting novel number one published. That is never going to be easy but I never anticipated my first book being published or getting such great reviews. I’ve also made two excellent recoveries this year which haven’t been a doddle either. I’m looking forward to the challenges 2018 will bring!Christmas 2016 copyright
With every good wish for the New Year and may 2018 be a great year for you too.

Going Round in Circles

Designing your own garden is, I think, far trickier than designing someone else’s. One of the problems is that emotion gets in the way. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be passion in design but far too often one is tempted to hang onto things that have no place in the new design, whether it is a plant or a pot – or in this example, far too many pots!Garden Makeover 3a copyright

The garden shown here was quite a good size but difficult for it was on a gentle slope and there was need for a central path to lead to sheds at the far, and lower, end. To avoid splitting the garden in half, large circular stepping stones had been randomly placed but the result was a confusing mish-mash of shapes and plants. The only place the eye focused on was the rotary washing line!Garden Makeover 1c copyright

You don’t need to be a great artist to design a garden. A simple method is to take photographs, turn them into black and white (for colour confuses the eye) and pencil sketch over them. Here, we were quite keen to improve on the circular theme.
The final result was a series of circles, each with a low retaining wall and a step down to allow for the change in level. Trellis was used to screen the sheds. Although the hard landscaping took up more of the garden than before, the remaining planting area was far more useful and could be crammed with plants. The little walls made perfect low seats.Garden Makeover 2c copyrightGarden Makeover 1b copyright

And what happened to all the pots? Most of these were discarded in favour of a large, custom-made, L-shaped timber box. This gave a better space for planting as well as making a feature in its own right. Water-retaining gel crystals were added to the planting soil reducing the need for regular watering.Garden Makeover 3d copyright

You can find more ideas on all aspects of easy, trouble-free design, plants and gardening techniques in my book, Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That?  To take a peek inside the covers click on the link here.

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Behind The Covers: a book’s hidden story

Like many of us, I can’t resist searching through a pile of second-hand books whether they’re in a shop, car boot sale or just an old cardboard box in a street market. If I want a modern paperback I will go to our local bookseller and buy new but when it comes to second-hand, it is non-fiction I’m after – and the older the better.
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There is something rather special to holding a book that has been previously owned, and hopefully loved, by someone else. It is even better when you find that they have written inside the cover. Sometimes it is the signature of the author with a personal note added or a birthday greeting from an aunt but it is the name of the unknown owner that really excites me. In those two or three words an imagined picture emerges of the man, woman, girl or boy that was also opening the covers with the same sense of eager anticipation.IMG_0741A copyright
Over the years I have picked up a number of these books, usually for no more than a couple of pounds and more often just for pence for they are of little real monetary value. Occasionally I have struck lucky: a book on cricket turned out to have been signed by Donald Bradman, the legendary Australian captain, and turned my seventy-five pence purchase into a profit of over ninety pounds within days. More often the book remains on my shelves forever.

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My interest in social and family history means that I can never resist carrying out a little research into my purchases. A book on Victorian garden design published in 1861 and presented in 1879 to Duncan Buchanan by the Paisley Florist Society slowly revealed its story. The Paisley Florist Society, the second oldest in the country and founded in 1782 , is still going strong. The fate of Duncan Buchanan’s Barshaw Gardens changed over the years: in 1912 the house and gardens were sold and turned into a public park which is still open to the public. After he won his prize he pencil sketched a delightful view on the back page which, for me, makes the book priceless.garden book agarden book 2
Not all books have such a happy story. A G Street wrote Round The Year On The Farm in 1941 and is a calendar of farming life and tasks supplemented with photographs. The signature Edgar Liversedge of Rawmarsh didn’t take a lot of research for in 1914 his mother Emily, in a fit of madness, cut his four younger siblings throats before cutting her own. Before she did so, she sent young Edgar, aged 12, downstairs to wait for his father to return home so that he could tell him what she had done. As it happened she and ten year old Doris survived and Emily found guilty of murder was sent to a mental home for life. How did Doris and Edgar fare after such a terrible ordeal? One can only hope that Edgar, who had perhaps turned to farming, found solace in nature and the great outdoors.

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Now, when I open my A G Street I find I am not only reading a charming record of the time of farming with horses but also a record of the sadness of the book’s owner. This is, I’m glad to say, an exception for most second-hand books have a happy hidden story just waiting to be uncovered.

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