Rescuing The Past

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May 16, 2014
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June 20, 2014

Rescuing The Past

Victoire have recently completed work on a series of two history books. David Ball, local historian and co-ordinator of the project, talks in more detail about his passion. Find out why David was inspired and what interesting facts he unearthed.

Ringstead books produced by Victoire Press smIt started with my family tree. A cousin had researched my mother’s side of the family so I looked at my father’s side. They had all come from a small village in Northamptonshire called Ringstead. I came to a full stop with my main line and searched around trying to pick up the thread from cousins of the last person in the direct line. I soon found that the other families were more interesting than my own and I gradually moved from distant relatives to people who had no links with me at all. I wanted to try to write the stories of ordinary people not the landed gentry who usually fill up the pages of village histories.

The internet and the ability to search across the world with a few words meant, as never before, that I could follow villagers whether they moved to Manchester or Canterbury or to America, Australia or South Africa. Often nineteenth century books have also been digitised and are searchable so I could do much of the research from my own home although supplemented by visits to Northamptonshire Record Office and Northampton Central Library. I kept broadly to the nineteenth century as the records are most available for that century although sometimes straying earlier or into the early twentieth century. I also named all individuals so skeletons might be revealed but no recently buried bodies.

It is important to realise that the ordinary people had little written about them except the Censuses from 1841 and the Parish Registers. The British Newspaper Archive is now online and searchable and this has greatly helped flesh out some people but unfortunately newspapers tended to be more interested in sinners than saints so the village can seem a place where only criminals lived.

I wrote up the life stories trying to put in some context of the place and the jobs and professions. I told of many lives, including:

  • The three boys caught in a storm who sheltered in a barn and lost their lives.
  • The young man who kept a diary of his last years as he died of T.B.
  • The families who found new lives after braving the perilous voyage across the Atlantic
  • The young schoolmaster who started his career one snowy morning in January and quickly found his world unravelling so that he was forced to leave his post in May.
  • The ancestor of Margaret Thatcher who killed a fellow worker with a scythe in the harvest field.
  • The local butcher whose heavily pregnant mistress disappeared immediately after she was heard shouting at him that he meant to kill her.

It is amazing how extraordinary most ordinary lives are. I tried to present the facts as best I could rather than making tenuous imaginative leaps of interpretation.

After the first few short biographies my son set up a cheap blog type website and I started posting the stories on it (http://ringstead.squarespace.com). People from all over the world contacted me with corrections and additions and sometimes with thanks – and I continued to amend the stories. I tried to find  images to help bring the text to life and this was the source of some problems because the law of copyright is complex and costs for some images can be a big expense (especially if you have  a large number in a publication). Oddly enough it was the large national museums which were often the most possessive and expensive. Most people and organisations, however, were very helpful and generous.

There came a time when I had a large number of stories and I felt that it was not finished until I had the stories in book form. Even with Kindles there is nothing to rival a well-produced book for readability and to show off the images to their best advantage. Also many people who were interested in the stories were elderly. I determined to produce as good a book as I was able to afford and then price it at a rate which I thought people could afford, even if this meant a loss to me. I found it an enjoyable and stimulating hobby and I was prepared to pay a little for this pleasure.

I had the book professionally typeset by Natalie White, who was very helpful and often picked up mistakes that I had missed. (Proof reading your own work is one of the worst parts of the process – you tend to read what you think you wrote and I, certainly, get engrossed in the story rather than the typography.) I had already spoken to Adrian Williams at Victoire Press and got a quotation and, again, he was very helpful and concerned to produce a good quality book. Although really not his job he also picked up a few errors which were corrected. I felt that we were working together to produce the best final product that we could.

The book, Ringstead People, was a perfect bound paperback in A4 size on good quality paper mainly to ensure that the images of maps and people were as visible as possible. I only printed 50 copies originally with a further 50 more in a reprint run. With digital printing the number in a run is not as critical to the copy price as it was in the past. All I have spoken to have praised the quality and feel of the book.

I have given some of the books to my family but I have also sold copies to Canada, Australia, and Europe. I am most pleased when people in Ringstead buy a copy. I believe that having a pride in your past is part of a healthy community.

I have now published Ringstead People 2 and would recommend the idea to anybody whatever their interest, who is willing to give time and some money to such a project. One of the characters I have written about was a rogue Baptist preacher, who spiralled down into drunkenness and debt. He tried to write booklets (one was of his time in Leicester prison) and articles to support himself and his family but he also turned unsuccessfully to fraud. When brought to court he agreed that his booklets did not sell well and admitted:

I have to keep my books; my books don’t keep me.

You may be lucky and have a bestseller but you should look on it as a hobby to which you allocate a certain amount of money. You will get years of enjoyment and hopefully give enjoyment to others now and in the future.  Who should ask for more?

David Ball

The two books are both £18 each plus postage and packing of £4 from David Ball, 1 Fenton Road, Warboys, Cambridgeshire PE28 2SD. E-mail david@warboys.com.