Alan Crosby's blog: The value of parish magazines

By Jon Bauckham, 17 March 2016 - 5:22pm

In this week's column, Alan reveals how delving into a cache of parish magazines helped him unravel the story of a Lancashire community during the First World War

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 17 March 2016
Alan Crosby
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Reverend E A W Topley parish magazine living room table Gett Images

A lost art? The Rev E A W Topley and his daughter setting and printing the local parish magazine on their living room table, 1935 (Credit: Getty Images)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at some parish magazines dating from the period of the First World War.

They give a fascinating insight into the community activities that supported the war effort – knitting and sewing, gathering eggs and blackberries, knitting socks and mittens for the troops, and joining patriotic war savings schemes.

The area I’m researching is a very rural and quite remote part of north Lancashire, and reading the magazines we can see how the war gradually impinged on this farming community.

Initially, in the second half of 1914, there was (not unexpectedly) fervent patriotism and an absolute conviction not only that this was a just war but that it was a Christian war against a barbaric and evil foe.

Slowly, the tone changes. Reports of casualties are published, and there are poignant obituaries for young men who had been at the little village school, sung in the choir, and worked on the local farms.

The schoolmaster joins up and goes off to France, only to return a few months later having been invalided out of the forces with trench foot – the hideous infection and rotting of the feet that resulted from prolonged immersion in mud and wetness. It could also lead to gangrene and amputation. But unlike others, the schoolmaster was lucky, making a full recovery and returning to his post.

Towards the end of the war there’s a tangible sense of exhaustion and utter weariness. Although the magazines are silent on the next catastrophe, the school logbooks do report the epidemic of influenza (the “Spanish Flu”) which struck just as the war was ending in November 1918.

It’s been a really revealing exercise: parish magazines are an underused source for local and family history.

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

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