Writing this just as ‘Draconian’ isolation measures are introduced – which has led to the cancellation of everything I was worrying about getting prepared in time for – may mean that I can catch up with all the promised/ started/ half-finished Hobnob projects that my authors keep politely asking for progress reports about. Royalty payments for 2019 are almost sorted, and now there are at least ten books to work on for other people, as well as three of my own and a volume for the Wiltshire Record Society that I am editing. (Draconian, by the way, for those of you suffering from pub quiz withdrawal, describes the ancient Athenian law code devised by Draco in the 7th century BC, so harsh that stealing a cabbage was punishable by death – hoarding loo rolls would have been even more severe, if they had been invented.)
Four new books published since Christmas. First to appear – in February but launched in early March – was the third (of five) in the Gloucester Rugby Heritage series of large profusely illustrated hardbacks; this one describes every cup match the club has played. Much shorter, but great fun (and much easier to typeset and lay out) was the collected poems of Sue Kemp (aka the Bard of Bratton), Stuff the Bustard, which derives from her regular contributions to BBC Wiltshire’s breakfast show, with a foreword by its presenter. This appeared at the end of February. Eagerly awaited as I write are the first copies of Swindon photojournalist Richard Wintle’s first helping from his Calyx Picture Agency archive of millions of press photographs, covering events and celebrities around Swindon, A Picture is only the start of the story . . . I don’t think I have ever been involved with fitting so many images (must be getting on for a thousand) in just 125 pages, and the first time my Hobnob logo has been printed at a jaunty angle.
For me the highlight of the last few months has been working towards and seeing to fruition the publication of a new edition of my Salisbury, history around us. This culminated in a launch party on 13 March, just before such events became impossible. We held it at Jo Boyles’s excellent new indie shop in Salisbury, Rocketship Bookshop, and was attended also by the two artists, Helen Look and Anne Cardew, who created the beautiful mosaic which forms the front cover (and which is now hanging on my wall). See the picture above (left to right) Anne, me, mosaic, Jo, Helen.
In these difficult times please support our independent bookshops. I know that they are devising ways of keeping trading, including delivering books in person to customers’ addresses. After all, books are the perfect solace when you’re stuck at home (reading them, for most people, publishing them in my case).
Two more titles have slipped in before the end of 2019 – and plenty to come in the new year. The subjects of both the December books are extraordinary local characters, now largely forgotten, but who deserve a little limelight, and whose lives overlapped by about half a century. They may have met, since they lived only 30 miles apart, and probably had heard of each other at least. George Ewart Hobbs (1883-1946) was one of those indomitable Swindonians whose dayjob lives revolved around the railway works, but who really made their mark outside – self-taught polymaths who dabbled and enthused in everything. Hobbs wrote mostly for the local paper, the Adver’, on religion, philosophy, astronomy, spiritualism, engineering, and much more – poetry, current affairs, comic sketches, science fiction even. Part biography, part anthology, A Swindon Wordsmith celebrates this neglected local hero, brought to life by fellow enthusiasts, well-known Swindon authors Noel Ponting and Graham Carter. Very different, but no less remarkable, Walter Hadwen (1854-1932) came to Gloucester in 1896 as a family doctor, and established himself as a forceful presence in the local community, with strongly held beliefs, against vivisection, against vaccination, fervent evangelical Christian, and a fearless campaigner who was supported by his patients against the medical establishment of the day. Michael Till, his biographer, has written in his retirement Crusader with Compassion to celebrate the founder of the eponymous medical practice, now Hadwen Health, which he himself joined as a GP in 1969.
In 2006 I published a book by Geoffrey Brown, a volunteer at the splendid Dorset National Trust house, Kingston Lacy, about its last two chatelaines, Henrietta and Hilary Bankes. He called it To Partake of Tea, and he abbreviated himself when he contacted me to ‘T-POT Geoffrey’. The book was sold in the shop there and went out of print, and Geoffrey very sadly, and quite suddenly, died a few years ago. In the Spring I was contacted by the new shop manager at Kingston Lacy, Emma Bratley, to see if I would reprint it. Once this became feasible, and I had cleared it with Geoffrey’s widow Jean, I converted the book to print-on-demand, redesigned the cover, and now it is on sale again.
Another of my authors, and very much still alive, is Nick Cowen, who in August retired from his long career as rights-of-way warden in south Wiltshire. In 2016 I published for him Trust Harrison, the first of a trilogy of novels based on his experiences at work, extremely funny but rather rude about the hero’s employment by a fictional employer not so different from his own. I thought it might get him the sack but it didn’t. Now he has written the second part, This Way not That Way, just as funny and rude, but since he has retired it does not matter. When he returns in his camper van he’s planning a launch, perhaps combined with a gig (Hobnob doesn’t usually do gigs).
For several years my old friend Roger Jones of Ex Libris Press has been repping and distributing Hobnob books to the few remaining indie bookshops in north and west Wiltshire (The one depicted is not included in his rounds - it is a shed in his garden at Bradford on Avon). I have been really grateful to him for this. Now he has decided to call it a day (though I’m sceptical that he will give up publishing altogether), so I shall hit the road from time-to-time, and I am looking forward to meeting up again with my old contacts and making new ones.
And while on the subject of thanking people in the publishing world, I would like to pay tribute to Kirsty Woollis, my customer rep at the print-on-demand printer Lightning Source, who always responds with alacrity and enthusiasm to the little problems that sometimes occur when one is trying to publish or revise a book. Thanks, Kirsty.
Several more books coming to fruition – Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset. Watch this space.
for older posts see the Archived Posts page
NEW FOR 2020
A Picture is only the start of the story . . ., by Richard Wintle
A first selection of images drawn from the millions archived by the author during his career as freelance press photographer and owner of Calyx Picture agency. Based in Swindon, the images chronicle events of many kinds in the town and its surroundings, including factory closures, royal visits, music and film celebrities, military repatriations and major news stories. March 2020, 125pp, colour illustrated, square format paperback, £14.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-82-2.
NEW FOR 2020
Salisbury, history around us, by John Chandler
Since its first publication in 1992 this history and guide has provided residents and visitors with a succinct but highly readable introduction to one of England’s most interesting and attractive cities. A new edition published in a different format appeared in 2004 but has been out of print for several years. Now thoroughly revised, expanded and illustrated in full colour throughout, Salisbury, history around us provides a clear and fascinating explanation as to how the city, its cathedral, Close and surrounding area have evolved, and how they fit into the pattern of regional and national history. As well as following Salisbury’s story through time, it also offers guided strolls around the Close, city centre and eastern chequers, and a longer walk from Old Sarum through the city to Harnham, which can be undertaken separately or in combination. March 2020, 173pp, colour illustrated, paperback, £12.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-80-8.
NEW FOR 2020
Stuff the Bustard, and other poems, by Sue Kemp
Sue has been dubbed ‘The Bard of Bratton’ as a result of her regular contributions to BBC Wiltshire’s Breakfast Show, presented by Ben Prater – who has written a foreword to this collection of her poems. Her book is a record of the entertaining and unusual topics that have featured on the show over the past couple of years. Always light-hearted, it will rekindle memories for regular listeners, but the poems also stand alone in their own right to provide an accessible and amusing read. February 2020, 103 pp, paperback, £6.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-81-5.
NEW FOR 2020
Gloucester up for the Cup: Gloucester Rugby in Cup Competitions, by Malc King, with Jim Smith and Dick Williams
A comprehensive record of matches played by Gloucester Rugby in cup competitions – from the early 1900s, when cup rugby was rather frowned upon, to victory in the first national knockout competition in 1972, to the highs and lows, glory and despair, of cup matches up to 2019. Richly illustrated with photographs of these often epic encounters, this book will bring back memories of Gloucester competing in English, Anglo-Welsh and European Cup campaigns. The Club’s participation in Tens and Sevens rugby is also covered. This is the third book to have been produced by Gloucester Rugby Heritage, a charity run by volunteers, and supported by Gloucester Rugby and Gloucestershire Archives. February 2020, 212pp, illustrations (many in colour), large format hardback, £19.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-59-4.
NEW FOR 2019
A Swindon Wordsmith: the Life, Times and Works of George Ewart Hobbs, by Noel Ponting and Graham Carter
So-called ‘ordinary’ working towns sometimes hide their lights under bushels, but this book aims to put the record straight, to some extent – by paying tribute to one of Swindon’s forgotten wordsmiths. George Ewart Hobbs deserves to be remembered alongside fellow Swindon writers Alfred Williams and Richard Jefferies, particularly as his works tell us so much about the times through which he lived (1883-1946). Despite working full-time, for more than half a century, as a Great Western Railway engineer, George was a prolific writer, most of his works commissioned as weekly columns in Swindon’s local paper, the Advertiser. For the first time, this book republishes a sample of his works, including articles about many of the subjects that fascinated him – religion, philosophy, astronomy, spiritualism, engineering and more. But it also includes poetry, eyewitness reports on remarkable events of the day, pioneering comic sketches and even science fiction stories. As well as this literary legacy, George Ewart Hobbs’s vivid writing provides us with a unique and brilliantly observed insight into everyday and so-called ‘ordinary’ life in Swindon, a century ago. December 2019, 426pp, ill. paperback, £14.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-76-1 (also available as a hardback, £19.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-77-8).
NEW FOR 2019
Crusader with Compassion: Dr Walter Hadwen, Gloucester GP, 1854-1932, by Michael Till
Walter Hadwen (1854-1932) moved to Gloucester in 1896 as a family doctor at the request of the local population, to advise them following a disastrous smallpox epidemic. He engendered great loyalty from his patients and community. He fought for improvements in local housing conditions and schools. His views and popularity caused antipathy among his medical colleagues. He served his patients with understanding and sympathy but his enemies were intent on challenging his opinions. An opportunity arose to confront publicly his clinical judgement in court. He stood by his sincerely held principles which would not be shaken. His influence as an antivivisectionist and antivaccinationist were felt world-wide. He was a man of passion and conviction and, as a gifted orator, was able to convince the listener that his views were irrefutable. Michael Till was until retirement himself a GP working in the practice which continued after Hadwen’s death, and bears his name. December 2019, 192pp, ill. (some colour) paperback, £14.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-78-5 (also available as a hardback, £19.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-79-2).
NEW FOR 2019
This Way Not That Way, by Nick Cowen
Further adventures in the hilarious Trust Harrison series. A strange interdependence has been forged between local authority lifer, Victor Wayland, public rights of way officer, and the enigmatic Harrison, a young and streetwise volunteer. Harrison and his gang have torn up the volunteer’s rule book and are finding their own ways and means to sort out the thornier issues of public rights of way maintenance. Meanwhile Victor is really starting to feel part of something . . . he’s just not sure what that something is . . . and can a sedentary population really be persuaded to heave themselves up from the sofa and take their first steps towards walking back to happiness? They will if Harrison has got anything to do with it. September 2019, 271pp, paperback, £7.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-75-4.
To Partake of Tea: the Last Ladies of Kingston Lacy, by Geoffrey Brown
This is the story of life in a great country house, Kingston Lacy near Wimborne Minster in Dorset, during the last eighty years that it remained in private ownership, from 1897 to 1981. Times of glamour, bereavement, sadness and benevolence are recalled through the eyes of Henrietta Bankes and her daughter-in-law Hilary, the estate’s last influential chatelaines. Geoffrey Brown, a long-term National Trust volunteer at Kingston Lacy, describes life in the house and on the estate, which extended across Dorset to Corfe Castle and the Isle of Purbeck, with great sympathy and understanding, as its owners responded to the social changes of the twentieth century. To Partake of Tea will delight everyone who has enjoyed visiting Kingston Lacy since its acquisition by the National Trust in 1983, and anyone interested in the predicament faced by owners of other large estates as their role has changed and, in some cases, disappeared. July 2019, 94pp, illustrated paperback, £9.95, ISBN 978-0-946418-50-3 (reprint of 2006 edition with redesigned cover and minor changes).
NEW FOR 2019
The Origins of Photography in Salisbury, 1839-1880, by Anthony Hamber
This is the first comprehensive study of the rise of photography in Salisbury from its beginnings up to 1880. It includes the failed attempt to set up a commercial photography studio locally in 1846, through the nascent period of the 1850s, to the explosion in commercial photography during the 1860s, by which time there were twelve commercial photographers in the city. Profusely illustrated from his own and institutional collections, Anthony Hamber’s study includes an overview of image making in Salisbury prior to the introduction of photography, a case study focusing on Salisbury Cathedral, and an appendix that lists both the amateur and the professional photographers active during the period. May 2019, 144pp, illustrated (some colour) large format hardback, £20.00, ISBN 978-1-906978-73-0.
NEW FOR 2019
Swindon Photographers and Postcard Publishers, by Darryl Moody and Paul A Williams.
Early photographs have an undeniable power, providing a window to our past with an immediacy that is hard to match – documenting change and capturing history. Museums, archives and local studies libraries, therefore, continue to build extensive photographic collections to preserve this important visual record for the future. The Local Studies team at Swindon Central Library has built up over many years a list of local photographers, postcard publishers and others connected with the photographic history of Swindon and the surrounding area. Now, drawing on existing resources, librarian Darryl Moody and local historian Paul A Williams have created the definitive reference guide, including all known individual professional photographers, partnerships, firms, postcard publishers and a number of more notable amateurs working in the Swindon area. Published by Hobnob for Local Studies (Swindon Libraries & Information Service) May 2019, 125pp, illustrated paperback, £7.99, ISBN 978-1-906978-67-9.
NEW FOR 2019
Sidney Herbert: Too Short a Life, by R. E. Foster.
Christian philanthropist and patron of Florence Nightingale, Sidney Herbert was hailed in his own times as a statesman, administrative reformer and co-founder of the modern Liberal party. Strangely neglected since his death, this biography brilliantly recaptures, through its subject, some of the many paradoxes of Victorian Britain. At once both Irish landlord and ‘one of the most worthy Wiltshiremen who ever lived’, arguably only fatal illness deprived Sidney Herbert of the keys to Downing Street. March 2019, 528pp, illustrated paperback, £16.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-69-3 (also available as a jacketed hardback, £25, ISBN 978-1-906978-70-9).
NEW FOR 2019
Stourton before Stourhead: a History of the Parish 1550-1750, by Stuart A Raymond
The gardens at Stourhead in south-west Wiltshire are amongst the best known in England. But what was there before they were planted? This book aims to show that the parish of Stourton had a fascinating history long before Stourhead was conceived. For example, it is one of the few places in England which sustained a Roman Catholic congregation throughout the early modern period (and indeed until the 20th century). The author pays particular attention to the histories of Stourton families, both Catholic and non-Catholic – not just the wealthy Stourtons and Hoares, but also the small farmers and tradesmen, and the paupers. This book will interest everyone who visits Stourhead, or who has any connection with 17th and 18th century Stourton. March 2019, 284pp illustrated paperback, £12.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-68-6
NEW FOR 2019
A Celebration of Wiltshire in Poetry, by Amanda Hampson, illustrated by Sheila Haley.
A book of new poems by Pewsey author Amanda Hampson inspired by the natural history, landscape and heritage of this beautiful county, and each accompanied by an exquisite illustration by artist Sheila Haley. Wiltshire has a distinctive and ancient natural landscape, which is perhaps overlooked by travellers who pass through it, in search of coastal destinations further west. From flowers and trees to birds and bees, and villages and towns to hills and downs, this collection of forty illustrated poems will be a delightful read for those who know Wiltshire, and for countryside lovers alike. April 2019, 104pp, full colour paperback, £9.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-71-6 (also available as a hardback, £14.95, ISBN 978-1-906978-72-3).