Sheila Stewart’s works as Local History

In a blog I posted on 6 May this year, I mentioned that the Oxfordshire writer, Flora Thompson was one of three writers worth considering as a context for Stewart’s work in local history: the other two writers being George Sturt from Surrey, and George Ewart Evans of Suffolk. In that earlier blog I wrote:

In her preface to Lifting the Latch Stewart clarifies her purpose in writing: “Some years ago I wrote a little book, Country Kate…. I wanted to record the richness of the spoken word of ordinary country people before the ‘media world’ had faded out their own lively observations and perceptions of the real world about us …” (xiii). Stewart allows something similar in her preface to Ramlin Rose (vii). Stewart evidently writes to preserve some record of the lived experience of the traditional agrarian societies of Kate and Old Mont, and the traditional canal community of Rose Ramlin. … Nowhere, is there any information to indicate that Stewart was anything other than self-taught. Yet it is possible that she may have been influenced in some way by an English tradition in local history[1] of romantic portraits of a “lost” era in autobiography, biography, and memoir which includes George Sturt, George Ewart Evans and Flora Thompson. …

Over the next few blogs I will consider these three writers in relation to Sheila Stewart and begin with a brief summary of my findings on George Sturt.

George Sturt

George Sturt is perceptive and sensitive. His works are socio-historical reports on his observations of the social, economic, and industrial changes he saw taking place in the traditional rural English village where he lived in Surrey. He includes himself in his works to describe and comment on the rural society, and give his opinions on the loss of tradition and heritage. Sturt mourns the passing of old customs and craftsmanship, and the change in spoken language. He analyses the effect of these changes on the rural society by comparing the contemporary situation to that of the past or the “old.” Sturt takes a sympathetic but unsentimental and objective approach in his work. Michael Bell points out that in Change in the village, and The wheelwright’s shop, Sturt “chronicled the period of his own lifetime” and described the changes “in a concrete way and not as an exercise in nostalgia” (Bell 1998, p. 115).

[1] That this is a tradition common to local history groups in the UK is implicitly evidenced by online sites such as Sounding Board productions http://www.soundingboardproductions.co.uk/suffolkvoices.shtml , (accessed 17 June 2013.)

Works Cited

Bell, Michael. F. R. Leavis. London: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Sturt, George. Change in the village. 1912. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U P, 2010. Print.

—.       The wheelwright’s shop. 1923. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U P, 1993. Print.

To be continued … 

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