Dec 072018

I was reading Janet Few’s book, Barefoot on the Cobbles, on the train recently. It is a work of historical fiction based on true events which involved people from one of her study places (Bucks Mills, Devon) and adjacent places. It is interesting to read her descriptions of the way of life in a community very different from my place.

Her novel got me thinking though. I wonder if anyone else is studying a place which features in works of art of any nature?

Now Bucks Mills isn't a large place by all accounts but is larger than Springhill's 12 houses. Thinking over life in my place, I don’t think that the major landowner having his name taken in vain in an attempt to procure some rabbits is going to form the plot of a blockbuster. Neither is a novel based on the two nieces of the said landowner’s wife disputing the terms of her will all the way to the Chancery courts going to win the Man Booker prize, though it did lead to some very interesting Chancery documents and (praise be!) a map showing who lived were in 1898. This confirmed that there were indeed two different Cross Cottages within 100 yards of each other... great. Similarly is 'the bad character of Francis Pilling' in the 17th century worth more than a couple of hundred words (he left his wife in labour and moved in with another woman)? My place has its usual share of small town news - reports of inquests, drunken behaviour, failing to maintain highways and the like, but nothing earth shattering. They were mainly solid Churchmen or Godfearing Baptists with the odd Quaker thrown in.

Expanding to the wider community, I can't think of any nearby town or village which has featured in a novel. The murder of an elderly, allegedly cantankerous widow by a cross-dressing lesbian half a mile from here has been reassessed recently ("Odd Man Out" by Denise Beddows). Maggie "Bill" Allen was hanged in 1949 after a trial of 5 hours and a jury deliberation of just 15 minutes. She was one of the last women to hang in the UK.

Other than that, I’m struggling. For those who like smutty innuendo there is the "Rawtenstall Annual Fair" which takes an alternative take on 19th century fairground attractions. For those whose tastes are more spiritual then there is a hymn tune named after Waingate, the next village on the hillside.

Is anyone studying a place which feature in the arts? Alternatively, has anyone got any good stories of life in their place worth of a retelling?

("Rawtenstall Annual Fair" by Lee Nicholson is on YouTube for the interested)

Janet Barrie

  5 Responses to “Your Place In The Arts”

  1. Thanks very much for the honourable mention. If you want to check out if your places have appeared in fiction try

  2. My study place, Dunster in Somerset, has a few mentions in the arts. Castle de Stancy and the Village of Sleeping-Green in Thomas Hardy’s ‘A Laodicean’ were based on Dunster and its castle. I have a copy of the book but have yet to read it. I have also read that the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ was written by Cecil Alexander while sitting on one of the heather-covered hills over-looking Dunster, but it has also been claimed that it was written about the Usk Valley in South Wales. A scene in an episode of Poirot was filmed in The Ball, Dunster. Sadly no other novels have been set there. I read a fascinating book which was a fascinating mix of research and creative story-telling was ‘Fever’ by Liz Shakespeare. She noticed that there were a high number of graves from one year in the graveyard and set out to investigate why. Liz includes details of her own research and alternates between this and creating a story from her discoveries. I was inspired to read this book because I thought it was about one of my ancestral villages – Littleham in Devon – sadly for me it was the wrong Littleham, but it was an excellent read!

  3. I am fortunate to be studying a place near where Sabine Baring-Gould served as rector. Sabine is perhaps most famous for writing the hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ but was a hugely popular and prolific novelist of the latter 19th century. There is a still a Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society active today. In 1887, he wrote a novel called ‘Red Spider’ based in ‘my’ little parish of Bratton Clovelly, West Devon. Farm names are recognisable and apparently he even researched the parish registers to ensure appropriate names for the characters. It’s a brilliant little book with new insights into village life, freely available at — think I’ll go back and re-read it now having spent several more years studying my place.

  4. A local, Tony Rea, recently published a post-WWI novel set on Dartmoor and the local villages. Interestingly, Ivybridge as a place didn’t feature in the Search Engine Janet Few mentions in her reply but I’ll try again with author and title.

    Ivybridge is a modern construction, abstracted from four other parishes as it grew as a commuter town for Plymouth and Exeter. The history is scattered but may yet provide a framework for a book.

    We do have paintings of the Ivy Bridge, including one by Turner.

  5. My study place (New Fishbourne) features in a book by Kate Mosse and she has based some of her characters on real people who lived there from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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