Joseph Ashby of Tysoe, 1859-1919 - A Study of English Village Life - M K Ashby
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A Study of English Village Life

M K Ashby

In his introduction to this book, E.P. Thompson sets the scene as ".part biography, part auto-biography, part historical reconstruction (from many deftly-concealed sources), part imaginative recreation."

Joseph Ashby of Tysoe, 1859-1919 - A Study of English Village Life

The book explores the lives of members of the Ashby family, but centres upon Joseph - born out of wedlock to Elizabeth who never alluded to who the father may have been. The narrative weaves through their lives, the influences upon them and their influences upon life - particularly through education. The book introduces topics of rural English life: Methodism, "big house", servants, agricultural work - all are dealt with or lightly touched upon through to the War. What the book lacks totally, and highlighted by Thompson, are references: yes, the foreword does point us to parish chest items, newspapers and the like - but there are no specific documentary references. But then this book draws on oral history, enhanced by diaries and other ephemera, as some would call such personal and family items.

That said it is a good read - the characters become real to the reader. You appreciate life as it was then: the effects of illegitimacy, rural unemployment, migration, itinerant preachers.yes, they are all included with many more!

This book is a must if you have any connections with the area around Tysoe or with agricultural workers of the second half of the 19th century. It is perhaps best not to read this book - or any other of a biographical nature - in total isolation: alongside Joseph Arch's autobiography it sits well. Add in a smattering of "Larkrise to Candleford" and even some rural writing from East Anglia of a slightly later period from George Ewart Evans' pen, and you will have a good "feel" for rural life particularly on the Warwickshire edge of the Cotswolds.

Copies can be found on second-hand booksellers lists, possibly in some library local studies sections: it is worth finding a copy. My late mother had a copy on her shelves (her interest being agricultural as her roots were firmly Cheshire!) and it now resides on mine, getting rather well-thumbed!

Published by The Merlin Press Ltd 1974
First published by The Cambridge University Press 1961

Reviewed by Jacqui Simkins