Social history in a Staffordshire village

A Rural Revolution by David R Roberts

065 COVER - A Rural Revolution.

Reviewer: Harry Arnold

AS THE publicised theme of A Rural Revolution, The History of a Staffordshire Family and Their Village is the story of a family involved in boating moving from Cheshire to Staffordshire – something which my family did – I approached reading it with some enthusiasm.

Another factor being that I know what are collectively called ‘the Haywoods’ (the villages of Little and Great Haywood and Colwich) very well; I even have friends who live there.

In waterway terms it also held great promise as it traces the history of the Sproston family from being boatbuilders and boatmen in the Middlewich area in the 1760s though to them moving into Staffordshire and becoming innkeepers/landlords of a canalside pub in Haywood. Perhaps I was misled, as the author does say: “This book offers an alternative model for presenting both local history and the broader history of one of the greatest periods of economic and social change that our ancestors lived through.”

So in effect the author uses the genealogy of the Sproston family in little more detail than family researchers can extract from census records and contemporary newspapers to place their lives in the wider history of the industrial revolution in Britain, a period covered in more detail in many other books.

The three villages were seriously affected in this period by being in effect spread along main arteries of transport; each subsequently following the favourable geography of the valley of the River Trent. First the main road south – so Little Haywood was a coaching stop – then the Trent & Mersey Canal, to be superseded by the railway. Fortunately the road has now been bypassed but the latter two are still very busy.

So in the terms of local history – although well written – the book did not come up to my expectations. Among his historical sources, on the canal, the author quotes ‘British Waterways pamphlet, Trent & Mersey Canal’, undated and on railways, a popular TV programme. Quite astounding in considering the amount of material already published, plus unpublished archive material in local and national records on transport in the Haywood area.

Also, much can be gleaned from the village’s history by just standing and studying the structures.

One feels that the author has never contemplated the beauty of the arch of the well-known Great Haywood Junction Bridge. Most of the sites referred to in the book can still be seen.

The Navigation Inn, which lost its licence in 1912, still stands in a beautifully kept private residential building group by T&M Bridge 72. There are a few good historical illustrations including a great one of working boats in the village; but again quite a few more photographs exist.

So if you want an account of how a rural village is affected by wider national issues, such as elementary education, trade unions and women’s rights, this book may be for you. As a Staffordshire waterway enthusiast I did find it rather unsatisfying on the local transport history aspect and was somewhat irritated to see a family of skilled boatbuilders described on the cover as ‘itinerant boatpeople’.

A Rural Revolution by David R Roberts is published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd in softback, priced £13.95. ISBN: 978-1-78462-520-7