Sunday, 1 May 2011

Ladywood Day By Day by Norman Bartlam

Book review by Pete Millington

Ladywood Day By Day is an unusual new local history book by Norman Bartlam, whose previous books have included Britain in Old Photographs: Ladywood and it's follow up, Ladywood Lives - two excellent books packed with photographs and detailed captions.

Whilst most local history books tend either to follow a century-by-century or decade-by-decade chronological history of a specific town, community or neighbourhood, or else have chapters divided into subject headings such as schools, pubs, workplaces, shops, etc., Ladywood Day By Day is quite a unique book in presenting a day-by-day collection of events and happenings in Ladywood covering the last 200 years, with every single day of the year included rather much in the style of the It Happened On This Day In History features you more commonly hear on radio or read in a newspaper.

Only when one begins to read the book, starting naturally with 1st January and working through each day, week and month to the 31st December, does one realise the remarkable feat that the author has achieved. A feat which might have been difficult enough to accomplish comprehensively if the same approach was taken to the life and times of a whole city such as Birmingham, but to do it successfully for an inner city area known largely to outsiders for it's legacy of canalside industry and densely populated working class housing is all the more noteworthy.

Norman Bartlam's successful formula is in his mix of events and happenings of both national, citywide and local significance, so the opening of the International Convention Centre by the queen on 12th June 1991 is juxtapositioned between a newspaper report of a labourer, John Swain, fined 10 shillings on 11th June 1890 for driving a lame horse at 10 miles an hour down Ladywood Road and a school logbook note from 13th June 1902 referring to Coronation Medals coming to the school (St Mark's) from the Mint.

What is most striking throughout this fascinating journal of 'days in the life of' Ladywood past and present, is both the sheer enormity of Norman Bartlett's research into newspapers, magazines, logbooks, photographs, engravings and advertisements, but also how well he has selected, edited and set out his material. Rather than being a single narrative about Ladywood, this is literally an anthology of 365 very short stories - each one as fascinating as the ones before and after.

Any book about Ladywood is always going to be a winner as far as I am concerned. My dad was born on Garbett Street, my parents met in Ladywood and married at St Peter's RC, my uncle's family ran a pub called the Vesper Bell for generations on Ledsam Street, I first met my wife in Ladywood and we married at the Oratory church. Even as a child growing up in the 'posh end' up the road in Harborne in the 1960s, my grandparents still lived on Monument Road and I was brought up with the stories of old Ladywood conveyed to us by my parents' generation, so the wealth of references in this book to places like the Palais de Danse, Kunzles and Bulpitts pull at my heart strings even though I have no personal recollection of even seeing any of these places.

My dad often claims that Ladywooders and Lee Bankers are to Birmingham what Cockneys are to London, I'm not sure all Brummies would agree with that but I know what he means in terms of how the character of both communities and individuals were affected by living so close to a rapidly expanding and changing urban centre. Indeed, this notion of the rapidly changing environment of Ladywood is the theme of Norman Bartlett's introduction to the book, in which he compares the imagined conversations of groups of Ladywood citizens in three time divided images from the area. The point he makes is that change itself ends up being the only certainty for people in an area like Ladywood, therefore adding weight to the importance of recording local history whether through photography, the written word or other media.

A man after my own heart... and a large part of that heart being down Ladywood!

A fabulous book with both personal, local and general appeal. I know a fair bit about Birmingham history but I learnt about half a dozen things I didn't know in the first flick through this book.

A great approach to local history, insightful throughout, an entertaining read and extremely well researched.

Published by The History Press

ISBN 978-0-7524-5971-4

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to the book and great publisher. I love the www!

    Had a response from my blogspot, saying they knew my Grandmother, growing up in Ladywood, as her parents were friends and worked on the trams. She sent me a photo of my Gran's marriage to a Polish Catholic immigrant in 1949 which was at the Oratory.
    I think the Internet is used for more good than wickedness don't you?