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.
Here then is Hobnob’s 2016 output in a little more detail (for the bibliographical information see the relevant pages). First up, in May, was Nick Cowen’s novel, Trust Harrison, about a rights-of-way officer and his maverick assistant. I had published Nick’s trilogy of spoof letters of a 19th-century pedestrian antiquary, for which he has earned a devoted following, so this new work was irresistible. Quite apart from excelling as a musician, artist, amateur archaeolgoist and writer, Nick is himself a maverick rights-of-way officer, but this wacky (and occasionally rather rude) book is entirely a work of fiction, he assures me. Although I hope that his bosses don’t see it.
Next, in June but after gestating for several years, was the most ambitious of my collaborations with the admirable Wiltshire Buildings Record. Together we’ve done tollhouses, dovecotes and village reading rooms, and now almshouses and their founders. This is a substantial and important book, by Sally Thomson, originating in her thesis on the subject, and my first foray into print-on-demand colour. We associate almshouses with the larger towns, perhaps, so it comes as something of an eye-opener to discover worthy foundations in villages – West Lavington, Kington St Michael, Great Wishford, for instance – and to find out about their benefactors.
Another novel next, a request out of the blue by a former colleague – now retired – who is well known around Calne and Devizes. Sue Boddington spent her career as the much admired Calne librarian, and now runs its literary festival. Her historical novel, set in Wiltshire in 1589 and expertly crafted, is a retirement project. For me, it was great fun to try out setting the text in a favourite typeface, Doves Press, an Arts & Crafts creation which is a pleasure to work with and to read (and which has a quirky history – try Googling it).
After that, out of the blue Cheryl Nicol approached me. Some years back we had communicated about her work on the Long family (South Wraxall, Rood Ashton, and all over Wiltshire). She had been let down by a publisher and was despairing of ever seeing her work in print, but she had a website of Long devotees, and (most important for me) she was clearly a skilled writer and editor. Within a few weeks of the initial approach her book was in print – oh, and did I mention that she lives in New Zealand, and (so far as I am aware) I have never met her.
And now comes the autumn rush (although all four of my ‘Christmas’ books have been long in the making). I have known Barbara Fuller for many years, as a stalwart of the Wiltshire Family History Society, and I knew that she had worked at Devizes hospital and written about it. Until she contacted me I was not aware of how much historical research she had done on it, both as hospital and before that as union workhouse, so it has been a pleasure to see her book into print for her.
Likewise Julian Wiltshire, long a near-neighbour in south-west Wiltshire, a fellow classical music enthusiast, and thoroughly good company. His retirement project, which will entrance everyone in the Deverill valley as much as it has him, is his village history of Kingston Deverill. It sometimes amazes me, and doubtless others, that such a small village can trail such a long and absorbing history. I hope that in designing his book, I have done justice to his infectious enthusiasm.
All of which brings me to the two largest Hobnob projects that have come to fruition during 2016. After the archives of Gloucester Rugby Club were received by Gloucestershire Archives a team of fans and enthusiasts, led by the larger-than-life Malc King, set to work cataloguing them. The first-fruit of their labour has been this comprehensive history of the club and its ground, Kingsholm, which – with some trepidation, I confess – I suggested could be published in full colour by print on demand. The result has vindicated my confidence in the project, and the book is becoming the must-have for the club’s supporters this Christmas. Deservedly so!
Julie Davis is a librarian, specializing in local studies, at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. She has been quietly beavering away researching World War Two in Wiltshire for several years. Any archivist will tell you that the war generated a cornucopia of documentary material, printed, typed and manuscript, and much of it still waiting to be discovered and exploited. Julie has done just that, with spectacular results. Don’t be put off by the book’s doorstep appearance – it is a real page-turner. And I feel enormously privileged, and somewhat humbled, to have been asked to publish it. Julie is a real scholar, not just a collector of facts and figures, and her book is testament to her dedication and scholarship.