Who what when where and how

May 27, 2017

If we’re not curious, we’re not having any fun. If you’ve ever wondered how old your house is, who built it, how and why, and who’s lived there, you’re not alone. There are endless mysteries to solve in city streets and straggling villages, company histories and – of course – families. Researching any these things is time-consuming, but after weeks and months of it you’ll start to worry that a list of names and dates isn’t enough.

I love fossicking about in archives and libraries, but the best part is weaving my discoveries into a readable history with plenty of social background. And political, and material background – these things are nearly always relevant. I’ve been working off and on for years with a set of original nineteenth century journals. They are pencilled notes made by an ordinary London woman on her travels up and down England. She lived through the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution. She doesn’t write directly about these things, but obliquely; at first reading, it seems she simply met new people, and observed the life around her.

I admit that her notes are lacking in sex and violence (Not entirely. You have to read between the lines). But flood them with the brilliant light of research, and a whole new world appears. We see the stuff of life between 1799 and 1835: manners and morals, railways and mail coaches, commerce and trade, and even food and drink which are completely foreign to us. We find families rising and falling socially, cities changing out of all recognition, and life very slowly becoming safer and more comfortable for most people.

History enriches us. It is never irrelevant. It adds meaning to our own world, now.

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