Lifting the Latch - Sheila Stewart
Banburyshire Family History

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Sheila Stewart

Lifting the Latch

This book has been mentioned many times on the Banbury newsgroup, and it deserves a review. I'm not sure whether any copies are still available, but if they are, then grab one and settle down for a satisfying read. It tells the story of Montague Abbott, born in 1902 at St Clement's, Oxford, but who spent most of his long life in Enstone. Read the book for several reasons.

'Old Mont' spent his whole life in farming, and you will discover how farms were organised and operated during the transition from labour-intensive to mechanised farming, narrated in the words of a participant. You will learn and understand farming methods; how and when different implements were applied; and the hierarchy of labour within an Edwardian farm. You will witness the instances of rural tradition and ceremonies now lost; and appreciate how external events such as the European wars effected village life.

Another reason for reading the book is that it tells the life story of an individual you will come to know, and feel to be a personal friend. I'm not ashamed to admit that I wept when reading of the loss of his lovely Kate. Old Mont comes through as a very genuine individual, of a type I can't but feel has disappeared from today's somewhat blasé world. This is a tribute to the writing skills of Sheila Stewart, who collaborated with Old Mont and recorded his story for posterity.

In addition to a glossary of farming terms, genealogists will particularly value an appendix of people and places. For anyone whose family tree involves the Enstone or surrounding district this book is a must.

Reviewed by Smokey

A most memorable story unparalleled in richness of characters, time, and place. Provides that most rewarding of experiences: laughter and tears.

Spanning the twentieth century, it is a remarkable piece of social history with a rich cast of characters, most notably a protagonist who earns permanent residence in the hearts of readers. I first read Lifting the Latch four years ago and it continues to resonate. I have given copies to many friends as gifts, and one of them described it as being " a rich dessert, to be savored slowly to fully appreciate every bite."

Hopefully, readers will urge a film producer/director such as the talented Charles Dance in England to adapt it to film!

Reviewed by R. Hale

'Lifting the Latch'
by Sheila Stewart
Day Books
ISBN 0-9532213-3-4

This book can be obtained from Day Books:

Day Books
Orchard Piece