Review of ‘Around Longnor’, by Sheila Hine

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Sheila Hine
Published by Churnet Valley Books
ISBN 1-904546-47-1 (2007)

'This book means a lot to a lot of people ... it's full of surprises for me. I'm 84 and still learning something new every day.'

'It's fascinating to discover the history of the old properties.'

'How different things were - the characters in the villages are no more. I wouldn't like to be born today!'

Just a few condensed comments from the local readership of Around Longnor. This is the third 'Around' title compiled by Sheila Hine, who harnesses wonderful memories of country life from almost 30 contributors. Septuagenarians and their elders pass on stories they were told, interspersed with historical detail from the indefatigable Claude Fearns. It is Claude who describes how cattle urine used to be stored in stone troughs at the farm, to be transported in packhorse barrels for various early industrial uses. And he surprises us with the fact that Reapsmoor cheese factory was the first genuine farmers' co-operative in the world.

One octogenarian begins his rich memoirs with a mention of Gorby Day. Though before his time, this was the New Year's Day hiring fair at Longnor, when lads stood on Longnor Market place waiting to be hired. One colourful yarn centres on a poacher and Owd Bony the gamekeeper, who "got 'im 6 months in jail on the treadmill ... a belt where they used grind corn an' yer 'ad keep walkin' t' keep it goin' ... Thee were buggered be nate, I'll tell thee!" Then there is the inventor of the family who made money in the literal, illegal sense.

Many memoirs centre on hard work on the family farm. One lad was only eight when he milked his first cow - and one farmer's wife still helps with the milking aged almost 80. Children grew up familiar with pig-sticking, pole-axing, fetching water from the springs, and quite legally collecting curlew and peewit eggs for sale at Leek market. Pigs were fattened on whey from Hartington cheese factory, the neighbourhood bull 'performed' at half-a-crown a time, and one farmer treated himself to a pair of horn trainers for his shorthorn bulls ('you liked them just on the curve forward and slightly up'.) One chap, now nearly 80, learnt the mysterious secret of horse whispering from the blacksmith. Talking of old secrets, there is the spinster school teacher who "used get canned up ... 'Er'd still be tiddly on Monday", the neighbour with a forbidden coal shaft in his hencote but no hens, and the headmaster who refused to go on strike but was promised physical protection by 'the lads' - i.e. the local tug o' war team.

Sheila leaves several narratives in their natural, relaxed dialect, giving readers the real pleasure of 'hearing' voices that come to life on the page. Regional words (chelp and cad for example) may not make the dictionary but make perfect sense in context. Let the lady who brings the book to a close have the last word: ' I've known these families since year one. I am thrilled with it and have bought eight copies, mainly for presents.'

Review by Julie Bunting

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