Review of ‘Claude - White Peak Memories’, by Claude Fearns

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 Claude Fearns
Published by Churnet Valley Books
ISBN 1-904546-04-8 (2004)

If ever anyone had a book in him it's Claude Fearns, all the more remarkable for a man who was nearly seven years old when he first went to school and who left unable to write. He found time to master that particular skill only when he was coming up for fifty. A lesser man might have kept quiet about it but this is not Claude's way.

He has too many tales to keep to himself, not only his own memories of life in the White Peak but glimpses of the lives of previous generations. Some stories are recalled through the eyes of a child from the late 1920s onwards; others are observations of changing times as Claude developed an abiding love of the landscape around him, its history, wildlife and people.

I know at first hand what a useful friend he is when it comes to local knowledge. Our acquaintance began with the return to life of an old lime kiln at Longnor for a television programme. Thanks to Claude the almost forgotten process of lime burning was re-enacted while he added colourful anecdotes about the perils of burnt lime. Few men in the Peak can claim to have used a lime kiln, or to have perfected mouse catching as a hobby, or to have enjoyed driving the first tractor in his village - something of a sensation in Wormhill, where the Fearns kept the Bagshawe Arms.

Some wonderful characters have been set down for posterity by this son of the soil, not least 'Ma', his mother, whose very close encounter with a boar trapped in the privy has passed into local folklore. Claude's ear for local dialect and speech is perfectly matched to his tales, none better than the story of the chap who took a razor to his throat for the sixth or seventh time. With the doctor out of contact, the midwife was sent for: 'A big, heavy lady ... she calmly got out a darning needle and some good strong black thread, ... greased the thread with lard, then putting one knee firmly on the man's chest to hold him down, she proceeded to sew up his throat like a cotton bag. "This will stop your suiciding!" she said.'

Most impressively of all, Claude Fearns has recorded in detail a way of life all but forgotten, from farming and quarrying to the military. And his best bit of advice? - '... be careful of the thick-looking old farmers, you do not know what they actually know or where or what they have been in the past. In fact, if you want to see a fool in the country, bring one with you!'

Claude - White Peak Memories contains nearly 200 pages generously illustrated with rare photographs plus lovely sketches by Sheila Hine.

Review by Julie Bunting

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