Everyone in the local history world has had four years of World War One, and now it’s drawing to a close. Earlier this year I published for Swindon Libraries their homage to the fallen, and during the summer I was contacted by an old friend, Tom James, to see whether I could complete and publish a stalled project, to commemorate the war dead of Winchester, in time for Remembrance Day. He had been working on it with one of his students, Jen Best, when he fell ill and had to postpone work on it. Well, we have just made it in time. Debt of Honour offers brief biographies of all the 460 plus men from Winchester who died, and for whom there is no proper war memorial in the city, as well as a reprint of the Winchester War Service Record, listing everyone who served, along with various appendices.
For many years I was very much involved with Shaftesbury, so it was a pleasant surprise to be offered out of the blue an elegant biography of one of the town’s 19th-century heroes, John Rutter (not to be confused with the modern composer). Rutter distinguished himself – and stirred up the local community – in various ways, as author, printer, publisher, social and political reformer, public servant, philanthropist and lawyer. Central to his philosophy was his Quaker belief, and this gives the book its title, The Turbulent Quaker. The author, Sir John Stuttard, a former Lord Mayor of London, moved to Shaftesbury a few years ago, and has become heavily involved in the local history scene. It has been a pleasure to work with him to bring his fascinating biography to print.
Where is the best place to sell books about Wiltshire’s history? – the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, of course, where much of the research for Hobnob books has been carried out over the years. So, seeing the somewhat tired ‘books for sale’ table which everyone walks past, I asked whether I could try displaying face-up a range of my books, and they agreed. So far, so good – I’m displaying 35 titles at present, and they sold seven on the day I set it up, and another eight to the end of October, so I’ve restocked.
Apart from a week in France, much of my August was spent working on Hobnob projects. Two excellent new paperbacks have been published, three more are imminent, and I have taken the opportunity to reissue as print-on-demand titles a number of books which I published some years ago and which had gone out of print.
First the new books. Mark Everard, a distinguished hydrologist and ecologist, and also a seasoned angler, accomplished artist and north Wiltshire resident, approached me in April with a proposal, and by July he had submitted text and illustrations in finished form. The book brings together his monthly column, ‘Riverwatch’ published in a local magazine, Signpost, over five years and illustrated with his exquisite drawings. The pieces take us through the year from April to March, five per month, and cover a wide range of nature and countryside topics, many related to water – a great book to dip into. I first met Graham Lockwood several years at a Cheltenham garden party. He had written a history of the Cheltenham Musical Festival which was published in 2009, and was working on its ‘prequel’, a history of music-making in the town from the 18th century up to 1944, when the Festival was conceived. The result, Concordant Cheltenham, is a wide-ranging, comprehensive survey, packed with the names of great performers who played to Cheltenham audiences, as well as a tribute to the local musicians who promoted and performed the local musical scene.
As I write this, on 1st September, I am eagerly awaiting the first copy of The Vale of Pewsey. This is a book that was first published in 1991, with a second edition in 2000. It has been long out of print, and I decided on a fairly thorough revision, in full colour this time, with extra walks and almost all new photographs. I have spent a great deal of time on it, including some wonderful days out in the heart of Wiltshire in early summer walking and photographing. Close behind will be James Holden’s study of Wiltshire Gate Lodges, latest in a mini-series that I have been producing for the Wiltshire Buildings Record. It will be full colour throughout, and a very comprehensive and erudite study of a generally overlooked but surprisingly prolific class of building. Another unusual type of structure is the subject of Christina Richard’s The Grotto Makers, which looks at the work of Joseph and Josiah Lane of Tisbury, pre-eminent in their unusual but intriguing field. That will be along soon, when I have made the index.
The reissues are four of my own, and two by my old friend Rex Sawyer. When Rex lived at the old vicarage in Bowerchalke, near Salisbury, he discovered buried in the garden bits of printing paraphernalia, and uncovered the story of Edward Collett, a former vicar, who for forty years, 1882-1922, produced a weekly parish newspaper, a complete run of which, together with albums of photographs, was the raw material for an outstanding social history. His Collett’s Farthing Newspaper includes my favourite caption of the thousands I have typeset, regarding one Henry Butler: ‘A pillar of the Methodist chapel, he is reputed to have died aged 97 after falling from an apple tree’. A gem of a book – as is Rex’s Nadder, a gentle, ambling history of the eighteen communities along this south Wiltshire river, from the Donheads to Wilton. Both were first published nearly 30 years ago and have been out of print for some time. Of my own books I have transferred to print-on-demand three which were at or nearing the end of their conventional print run, and have produced a hardback edition of Endless Street, my history of Salisbury, which has only been available as a paperback for some time.
July is proving an excellent month for Hobnob Press. Philip Browne has won the first Hall & Woodhouse Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize, worth £1,000, for his The Unfortunate Captain Peirce, which Hobnob published in 2015. Much more than an account of a disastrous shipwreck off the Purbeck coast, Philip describes in vivid detail the workings of the East India Company in the 18th century, and the lives of the captains and crew who brought wealth to the company and themselves, but often paid the ultimate price. Philip beat 52 other entries, and was presented with his award by broadcaster Kate Adie at a ceremony in Dorchester on 12 July.
The previous weekend saw the publication of Frome Unzipped by Crysse Morrison. It made its first appearance at the annual Small Publishers Fair during Frome Festival, with more launches and celebrations to follow. The image shows Crysse and me having just sold our first copy. It’s been receiving universally enthusiastic reviews on Facebook and elsewhere. This for example, from writer Suzy Howlett: ‘Frome Unzipped is a real corker – packed with fascinating information which bubbles up on every page with liveliness, affection, and a good dollop of realistic warts-and-all humour. It is a love letter to Frome, but written by the sort of friend who can tell you when you are being a twit, as well as when (most of the time) you are the bee’s knees.’
Congratulations to both Philip and Crysse. And plenty more ‘corkers’ in the offing – I’m working on them now.
The principal Hobnob tasks during March and April involved emptying my store at Sutton Veny in order to vacate it on 1 May. With the help of a large hire van some of the back stock was taken to a cellar in Yorkshire, so that older titles can remain in print; large quantities were given and delivered to authors, museums and (in some cases) bookshops; and what was left over I donated to a literacy charity, Global Educational Trust, which gives books away. I’m pleased to say that no books were pulped and only damaged stock went in recycling bins. Having streamlined my operation and uncumbered (nice archaic word) myself of the rent on the store, I have been able to turn back to book production. Crysse Morrison (its author) and I have been having great fun with Frome Unzipped, from Prehistory to Post-Punk, her alternative history of an extraordinary place. We’re just putting the finishing touches to it, so that it is ready for the Frome Festival in early July. Next up should be Graham Lockwood’s Concordant Cheltenham: the making of a musical town, which traces the musical life of the town from the 18th century to 1945 (Graham has already published – in 2009 – its later musical history). And at last I have found time to return to one of my own titles, The Vale of Pewsey, which I wrote in 1990-1 for Ex Libris Press, who produced a 2nd edition in 2000. It has been out of print for several years, and needs substantial revision. Not the least of these revisions is visiting all the location of the photographs and retaking them, and many others, in colour. I’ve also been retracing my steps to check and add to the suggested walks. All thoroughly enjoyable. I hope to have the new edition in print before summer is over.
The first day of March (and Spring, though there are snowdrifts and a blizzard outside the window) sees Hobnob with already two 2018 publications in print, two more at the editing and typesetting stages, and another dozen or so that authors are working on. The favourable reception accorded to Katherine Cole’s Swindon Roll of Honour, cataloguing World War II casualties and prisoners, has prompted a second collaboration with Swindon Local Studies Library. Swindon’s War Record was first published by the Borough Council in 1922, and reprinted in 2017. The reprint quickly sold out, so Darryl Moody approached me to reprint again, this time so that to outward appearance the book was uniform with Katherine’s work. This involved some reformatting, but the result is a very substantial and important book – describing many aspects of Swindon during World War I, as well as a roll of honour – available again at an attractive price.
Everyone’s admiration for the appearance (as well as the content, of course) of Mark Hassall’s collection of papers, Roman Britain: the Frontier Province, determined me to use a similar format for the next academic title that came along. This has proved to be a new edition, with introduction by Robert Gemmett, of William Beckford’s first and little known book, Biographical Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters, a wonderful spoof originally published in 1780. Beckford, a maverick and extravagant figure associated with Fonthill in south Wiltshire and with Bath, is best known as an author for his strange Gothic novel, Vathek, published a few years later. Next up should be Graham Lockwood’s history of music and musicians in Cheltenham, and Tina Richard’s study of Joseph and Josiah Lane, the grotto makers of Tisbury. There is also a remarkable book about Frome on its way. And I must get round to producing new editions of some of the books about Wiltshire I wrote years ago.
Because all new Hobnob books have for some years been produced as print-on-demand publications (which do not require storage), my store at Sutton Veny is becoming unnecessary and I shall relinquish the lease at the end of April. Meanwhile I have been offloading the books that I have stored there for other organisations, remaindering much of the pre-2012 Hobnob backstock, and weeding files and papers. I propose to retain elsewhere a very small stock of older titles to satisfy one-off orders, and then to produce new print-on-demand editions of titles that remain popular.
A particularly busy few months for Hobnob has resulted now in five new titles and a string of launch dates all falling around late November and early December. First the community history of Sutton Veny, a Wylye valley parish near Warminster, where my store is located, which has been the joint effort of a group in the village. The local MP launched it, to great acclaim, in the village hall on 25 Nov. Next up was Mark Hassall’s collected papers produced over a lifetime of research on Roman Britain, and edited by one of his postgraduate students, Giles Standing, who was briefly a colleague of mine at Gloucestershire Archives. We gave that a good send off on 1 Dec. at the UCL Institute of Archaeology in London, surrounded by Mark’s colleagues and friends. Both titles had been in preparation for several years, as had the next, although it only came my way a few weeks’ ago. Darryl Moody and Katherine Cole, who run Swindon’s excellent local studies library, approached me for advice about publishing the World War II roll of honour for Swindon and district, which Katherine had been compiling. It was more or less ready to go, and has turned into a dignified and useful publication, thanks to Katherine’s meticulous research. Annette Burkitt’s fictionalized account, Flesh and Bones, of an episode in the reign of the Saxon king Athelstan in 934 AD, which is centred on Frome where Annette lives, is eagerly awaited (as I write) and should be ready for plenty of last-minute Christmas shoppers in this remarkably literary Somerset town. Last-minute, too, is the most ambitious (and tricky for the typesetter – me) of this batch, the second instalment of Malc King’s history of Gloucester rugby. Representative Rugby at Gloucester describes in great details, and with hundreds of illustrations, the international, county and invitation teams who have played matches at Kingsholm, Gloucester Rugby’s ground. This is part of Gloucester Rugby Heritage’s ongoing project to catalogue and derive publications from the extensive rugby archive deposited by the club at Gloucestershire Archives.
And if all this wasn’t enough to keep me out of mischief, two other publications which I have produced for others have been very well received. The latest Sarum Chronicle, no. 17, is the fattest to date, 200 pages, many of them in colour, and packed with interesting and authoritative articles on Salisbury and south Wiltshire subjects. And for the Dorset Record Society, Mark Forrest’s edition and facsimile of Ralph Treswell’s survey of Purbeck, 1585-6, with an extensive introduction by different experts, celebrates one of the star documents at Dorset History Centre, and a major landmark in the history of English cartography. The wonderful Elizabethan maps have reproduced superbly well and, despite the target audience being academics and specialists, it is becoming something of a local bestseller around the Swanage area since we launched it at Corfe Castle on 4 Nov. For details see the respective websites linked on the ‘Hobnob and Friends’ page.
The two August 2017 publications (A Grand Gossip and The Legacy) are now available and details appear below and on the relevant pages. I’m hard at work, as are my authors, to have the three other titles mentioned in my last post, on Gloucester Rugby, Sutton Veny and Roman Britain, ready in good time for Christmas, and I am very pleased to have accepted two new projects recently, which should also make it into print this year. One, on the notorious episode during the 17th-century interregnum known as the Penruddock rising, which was centred in south Wiltshire, is a scholarly and quite radical treatment by Professor Eric Jones, whom I have known for many years in connection with his work in a very different area, the Victorian writer Richard Jefferies. The other is an imaginative telling, in fact and fiction, of a little-known chapter in the history of Frome. when in 934 AD the Saxon king Athelstan held court at his royal palace there. The author, archaeologist and novelist, Annette Burkitt, is a long-term Frome resident, whom I met at the annual small publishers fair held during the Frome festival.
Ed Garman’s new book on Salisbury’s pubs is selling well, and my fellow editors are just putting to bed the latest annual issue of Sarum Chronicle, no. 17 and our largest so far, almost 200 pages, with many colour illustrations. One further new development for Hobnob – Philip Browne’s The Unfortunate Captain Peirce is now available to purchase as a Kindle download.
Despite thinking that I would do less, in fact my work for the Victoria County History in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire during the first half of 2017 has not left me much time for Hobnob Press, and I have been very selective in what I have agreed to publish. My usual pattern seems to have continued, of editing and typesetting titles through the spring and summer, and then publishing in the latter half of the year.
Apart from my work in producing volumes for the Wiltshire and Dorset Record Societies and the annual issue of Sarum Chronicle (see the Hobnob and Friends page of this website for links) I have so far five Hobnob titles planned for 2017, and the first is published on 8 July. This came to me out of the blue, when I was contacted by Ed Garman of Salisbury, who had just completed his labour of love, a comprehensively researched history of 270 buildings in the city that are or have been pubs. It has been a pleasure to work with Ed, and we are both very pleased with the result, a thumping 330-page paperback, set in double column, with a mass of interesting information. You will find detailed information below and on the Salisbury page of this website.
Next up will probably be A Grand Gossip, a diary written during the war at Bletchley Park by one of the ‘boffins’ sent there, a certain Basil Cottle, whom I remember from years later on the English department staff at Bristol University, where he was reader in medieval studies. The diary has been edited by James and Judith Hodsdon of Cheltenham, friends I have made through my VCH work. Then, also through a Gloucestershire contact, I am honoured to be publishing Roman Britain the Frontier Province, the collected essays on Roman Britain by Mark Hassall, a leading and respected authority in the field. His work has been meticulously edited by a former student, Giles Standing, whom I came to know when he worked with me in Gloucestershire Archives. Two more before Christmas will be a history of the Wiltshire parish where I have my store (warehouse would be much too grand a word), Sutton Veny near Warminster, written by a local group in the village. And following the runaway success of Malc King’s history of Gloucester Rugby Club last year, he is following it up with a second volume for this autumn, and more for the future. In addition, I am privately publishing, on behalf of her family, a picture-book memoir, The Legacy, by Sally Guise of Elmore near Gloucester, who died shortly after completing it but before overseeing its publication. One or two other titles may make it for 2017, but my hopes of revising old out of print titles of my own (see previous post below) remain a pipe dream – perhaps next year. I’ll give details of all these new books on the relevant pages of this website when they are ready for publication.
During the fifteen years that I have been producing Hobnob Press books I seem to have averaged about eight titles a year, and in fact eight is my tally for 2016. These days I tend to design and set books in conjunction with, or on behalf of, other organisations or individuals, so that of this year’s crop only two are standalone Hobnob titles. My criterion for publishing under the Hobnob imprint is now that the book must be rooted in the west country, especially Wiltshire, Dorset and (perhaps for the future) Gloucestershire, but it must also make a significant contribution to regional and national history. That is certainly true of both the 2016 Hobnob books, Cheryl Nicol’s scholarly study of the hugely important aristocratic Long family of Wiltshire, and Julie Davis’s magnificent survey of every aspect of Wiltshire’s ‘home front’ during World War Two. It is also a fair description of my two titles produced for other organisations, Sally Thomson’s history and gazetteer of Wiltshire almshouses and their founders, and Malc King’s comprehensive (and fully colour illustrated) history of a pre-eminent sporting institution, Gloucester Rugby Club – our next-door neighbour, as it were, at Gloucestershire Archives. All these projects have involved their authors (and to a lesser extent me) in very considerable effort, and I am immensely proud to have enabled their publication.
That is not to decry the other four 2016 titles, each the work of an old friend or colleague. Two are important histories of specific places: the workhouse (and later hospital) at Devizes; and Kingston Deverill, one of the most attractive villages in south-west Wiltshire. And then there are two quite different novels (not my usual fare), but both hugely enjoyable, by Sue Boddington and Nick Cowen. When they sell the film rights perhaps we shall all be rich. . . maybe.
So, it has been a bumper year for Hobnob Press, my spare-time activity set against the background of my day job with the Victoria County History in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire; and the publication in September of the VCH ‘red book’, Gloucestershire XIII, which since 2011 I have been researching and editing. For 2017, now that my VCH responsibilities have diminished somewhat, I am hoping to revisit a number of books that I wrote during the 1990s and early 2000s, and which have gone out of print. Nowadays, with affordable colour print-on-demand publication quite feasible, it would be gratifying to see my work on the Vale of Pewsey, Salisbury, Swindon and Wiltshire churches available in new editions, and I’ve been renewing my acquaintance with that eccentric 17th-century traveller, John Taylor, who was born, it turns out, a stone’s throw from my flat in Gloucester docks. I owe it to him to see his entertaining journeys back in print.
8 Lock Warehouse,
Please note that previous addresses in East Knoyle, Stroud and Sutton Veny are no longer applicable. Postal correspondence should be directed to Gloucester, but email is my preferred means of communication.