Review of ‘Under the Heavy Clouds’, by Edwyn Hoskyns

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th February 2005, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

[Ed: subtitled 'The Church of England in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, 1911-1915'] by Edwyn Hoskyns
Published by Merton Priory Press
ISBN 1-898937-63-X (2005)

Between 1911 and 1915 Edwyn Hoskyns, Bishop of Southwell, undertook a parochial visitation of his diocese, which at that time included Derbyshire. The Bishop personally visited each parish to investigate the relationship between the inhabitants and their church. His detailed reports, brought together in this newly published volume from Merton Priory Press, also provide valuable glimpses of everyday life in the years leading into the First World War.

The Revd Canon Michael Austin, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, provides a clear and in-depth introduction. Thus we learn, for instance, that in July 1913 well over 3,000 people gathered in Bakewell cattle market to hear speeches from the Duke of Devonshire and a Welsh miner, opposing disestablishment of the Welsh church.

Bishop Hoskyns had visited Matlock, Bakewell and their surrounding villages the previous year. In most parishes he found that people came to church ‘in goodly numbers, even when a few beautiful days drove everyone into the hay fields.’ He observed a level of poverty in the Buxton Deanery but was pleased to note ‘an improved moral standard [and] much less drunkenness’. The inhabitants of Wirksworth Deanery proved hardy and industrious.

In the Ashbourne Deanery the observance of Sunday worship had to allow for a seven-day preoccupation with milk production, the Bishop writing: ‘ ... that which governs the whole of the life and work of your people is milk.’ Nevertheless, the population of one small village had come together to hear the entire ‘Messiah’ played through a gramophone, confirming to the Bishop that ‘country people think deeper than your townsman’.

On the wider scene Bishop Hoskyns lamented the ‘political upheaval and angry strife’ arising from unemployment and low wages, with the knock-on effects of poverty, child mortality and lack of decent housing. He also had to consider social change, from divorce and remarriage to the effects of excursionists and motorists on villages in the Peak.

‘Under the Heavy Clouds’ will be of interest to present-day clergy and church members, while opening a window onto life in Derbyshire almost a century ago.

Review by Julie Bunting

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