A taste of something different

From unassuming, dull acorns grow...

I’m trying to work out how best to do something I’ve wanted to do here on the Brownhills Blog for a while. Many of you will know that I’m very keen to share with readers formative things from my youth, be they maps, photos, old music fanzines or items of local ephemera. One of the things I’d really like to share is a long out-of-print book that I still treasure to this day, and first discovered, unloved, in the corner of my school library.

I first picked up the dusty, faded copy of ‘Staffordshire: a Shell Guide’ by Henry Thorold in secondary school in the mid eighties, just as I was starting to explore the county by bike on my first ‘real’ bicycle. It’s essentially a gazetteer of Staffordshire, and features an alphabetical list of villages and towns, arbitrarily selected for interest. Each entry features a short appraisal of the place, concentrating on the church and any interesting architecture. The reviews are utterly arbitrary, quite snobbish and written in a stiff but flowing way that could only be carried off by an English gentleman of a certain period. Scattered throughout the guide are pictures of notable features of the county, all in atmospheric black and white.

When I came upon this fascinating work, it was dusty and unloved. It hadn’t been booked out since 1979, presumably when it was first procured. The publication date is 1978, whereupon  it cost the princely sum of £4.50. It’s a hardback, and is over 200 glossy, monochrome pages long. I devoured it. I used it with an old map to plan rides to places that sounded romantic or strange – Ingestre, Ipstones, Croxall, Clifton Campville. I learned from it about church architecture and the halls and history of my beloved county. That’s the old lost one, not the modern, truncated Staffordshire. The coverage stretched from the Black Country to the Moorlands. I was young, nosey and eager to explore, and in the absence of a human guide, Henry Thorold took the lead and I followed him around this fine shire.

I’m not afraid to say that after coveting and borrowing the book repeatedly, I nicked it. I think the librarian knew, and was glad it went to a good home. I read it over and over, and still do. My original stolen copy was lost in a bad loan, and I was bereft for a while, but in he mid nineties I came upon another copy at a fete at Shelfield School, whose library it had clearly just been released from. It was similarly unloved and unloaned. I was reunited with my spiritual Staffordshire guide.

The book was published as part of a sponsorship deal with the Shell Petroleum Company, who were big on tourist guides at the time. Henry Thorold wrote several for them, and indeed, has quite a cannon of work, yet I know little about the man. I suspect he may have been a member of the clergy of some kind, but the book doesn’t say. His knowledge of Church Architecture is stunning. I want to share it – and the book – with readers.

To scan the work in one section is out of the question. The .PDF file would be huge at a respectable quality, and I don’t want to degrade the pictures if I can help it, so I’m going to do it in short sections. I’ll put up the first one next week, but for now, I’ve included a random page to show you what it’s like. It’s a very significant, formative work for me, and it shaped much of how I think about rural Britain and it’s architecture. I can’t emphasise enough just what an effect this book had on a teenage BrownhillsBob. I was, and still am, a very strange child indeed.

Please stay tuned, and do contribute. Henry Thorold’s work may soon be lost like so much of this type of ephemera, and were it to pass into obscurity unrecorded it would be a terrible crime.

Just revel in the author's description of Clifton Campville. This is very much rock and roll to him. It pretty much was to me, too. Click on the image for a larger version.

This entry was posted in Churches, cycling, Environment, Features, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Local History, Local media, Shared media, Shared memories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A taste of something different

  1. Rich Burnell says:

    I hope nicking old books two and a half decades ago doesn’t come under looting. You’d get 7 years for it under current sentencing policy!

    • Damned fine point there, old chap. There’s nothing for it, I’ll just have to stand for parliament and claim it as a second house or something.

      Sounds like a plan!



  2. pedro says:

    Hi Bob,

    I will look forward with great pleasure to your uploads. As you know I have wandered a few miles in Staffordshire, and any information adds to the remembered pleasure.

    Here I see Clifton Campville, a place where we have similar photos, and a place that deserves Thorold’s description!

    I think that under current law, and you being a babby at the time, that you could nick a whole library before you got any kind of punishment!

    Thanks again Peter

  3. steve says:

    We live in sight of St Andrews, right opposite Church street, and travel through the churchyard twice every day to access the millenium green.

    Of all the headstones in the graveyard I have to say one cannot fail to impress due to the name of the deceased

    Chatfield Blood

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