Review of ‘A Brief Jolly Change’, by Edward Fenton

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11th August 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Edward Fenton
Published in hardback by Day Books
ISBN 0-953-2213-50 (2003)

'If all is well, we may jaunt forth into the highways and byways of the world, and for a brief jolly change let our daily life sink into insignificance while we revel in pastures new, and spend a fortnight in freedom ...'

An optimistic beginning to the previously unpublished diaries of Henry Peerless, a Victorian/Edwardian tourist who journeyed all round Britain and beyond between 1891and 1920. The very words 'jolly' and 'jaunt' give a feel for Henry's wonderfully entertaining travel tales as he makes excursions by horse-drawn carriage, steam train, steam-ship, the new- fangled bicycle and motor car. The impression is of a sort of cross between Mr Pooter and Mr Toad; pompous but charming, playful and with a mischievous eye for detail.

Front Cover

Henry finds one theatre audience 'a queer-looking lot'; he observes his wife having a 'washing bout' of gloves and stockings in Lux, noting 'wonderful stuff, Lux'; and describes a glass of healing water as smelling like 'a blend of rotten eggs and a country WC'.

The diaries celebrate the cycling craze of the 1890s, the new permissiveness of mixed bathing at the seaside, a declining 'never on a Sunday' attitude and the sheer joys of travel. In the summer of 1908 he stayed at Matlock House Hydro, undertaking 100 miles of coaching over three days to include Bakewell, Buxton, Chatsworth, Haddon and the beauty spots of Dovedale and the Via Gellia.

Our traveller is captivated by Whit Monday scenes in Bakewell - ' ... alive with people; hundreds of horses are in the square, cavorting about as their owners run them up and down and try to sell them ... cheap-jacks in parti-coloured raiment harangue open-mouthed rustic audiences to whom they try to sell shoddy knives and razors ... Altogether it is a kind of Babel.' Rustic audiences indeed!

Henry Peerless covered thousands of miles from Paris to Scotland and Naples to Penzance. His days in the Peak will naturally appeal to our readers but the other chapters are equally lively and entertaining.

Review by Julie Bunting

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