Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Series in parallel

Let's hear it for series now. I have already mentioned that I am a voracious reader of tomes such as Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and his successors' famous Buildings of England (Penguin and/or Yale University Press, various dates). But I value even more the outstanding county Village Books produced by the Federation of Women's Institutes in Lancashire, Northumberland etc. These are real classics, a sort of highly unpredictable Domesday with the character of each village defined by the woman or women entrusted with the task of describing it. Pevsner has his moments, revealing intense dislike of some pastiche architectural feature, or ecstasy at a touch of 1960s modernism. But he has nothing on the Women's Institutes when it comes to characterful writing. I have gleaned so many curious facts and anecdotes from the Northern WIs - perhaps my favourite being the story of the Japanese chicken-sexers of Cowling (pronounced Coaling), the village above Airedale on the road to Nelson and Colne, where Viscount Snowden was born. I revel also in the Aspects of... series published by Pen and Sword books. These have excellently detailed and well-researched essays on such subjects as When Buffalo Bill Came to Barnsley. And look! There are seven volumes on Barnsley alone! Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Hull and other fine Northern cities also figure in the list. If you can get hold of copies of The Yorkshire Journal, published in the 1990s and early 2000s by Smith Settle, they have some very good original historical articles too.

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