Christmas Reading (2016)

Amberley Publishing have published many books relevant to the region, and they’ve often featured in The Merseysider magazine and on our website. With another Christmas fast approaching, here are reviews of three recently published titles – books that are very varied in their content, but each of which would make an ideal gift.

Dave Joy: Liverpool Cowkeepers (Amberley Publishing, £12.99)

Vanessa Oakden: 50 Finds From Manchester And Merseyside (Amberley Publishing, £14.99)

Kipper Williams: Christmas Comes To Liverpool (Amberley Publishing, £6.99)

Dave Joy’s Liverpool Cowkeepers explores an unusual and largely forgotten aspect of local history. As Joy explains, for a hundred year period that continued until well into the 20th century hundreds of people in Liverpool kept cows, often in the backyards of terraced houses. The phenomenon took off in the mid-19th century, when the city’s growing population meant there was a huge demand for fresh milk (as opposed to ‘railway milk’ – milk brought in by rail, which could be two days old and had a tendency to go off). The call was answered by an influx of farmers and farm workers from the Yorkshire Dales, whose own local economy was struggling.

‘Cowhouses’, often no more than end terrace houses but later including purpose built dairies, became a common sight, especially in areas such as Garston. Cows would be allowed out to graze where there was accessible open land, and would be seen on the city’s streets (the book’s many photographs include a startling one of cows being herded along Lime Street in 1931). Milk was typically delivered by horse and cart twice a day, poured into the customers’ own jugs before the advent of glass milk bottles.

The Yorkshire migrants formed their own Liverpool community while maintaining links with their relatives in the Dales, often going back and forth between the two locations to work. The author traces the history of his own family, including his great-great-grandfather who followed his two brothers in making the move from Yorkshire to Liverpool in the second half of the 19th century. In the 1880s there were approaching six thousand cows in Liverpool, and by 1911 there were over a thousand cowkeepers and dairymen in the city. But the industry slowly became more standardized and was subject to increasing regulation. It became difficult for smaller businesses to comply with all that was required of them and still make a profit. By the 1940s the number of registered cowkeepers had fallen to around a hundred. The author’s family stopped keeping cows in 1955, and the last Liverpool cowkeeper left the city (moving to a farm near Lancaster) in 1975.

Dave Joy’s book is extremely well researched, and tells a fascinating story, one that will surprise and delight many readers. The numerous illustrations effectively complement the text, and include contemporary photographs of buildings (still standing in Liverpool) which once housed the city’s cows.

50 Finds From Manchester And Merseyside presents the reader with fifty historical artefacts discovered in the two regions. Some readers from our own neck of the woods may not be too happy at being yoked together with Manchester (and why are they mentioned first in the title?), but the feeling’s probably mutual and if we’re interested in the pursuit of historical truth we should of course set all regional prejudices aside…

All of the objects, selected and described by Vanessa Oakden, have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which means they have been found by members of the public rather than professional archaeologists. These range from metal detectorists to the passer by in Liverpool city centre who spotted a Roman coin at a construction site. The author makes a good point when she says that historical records tell us plenty about kings, queens and members of the aristocracy, but much of what we know about the everyday lives of the ordinary people who came before us has to be gleaned from the evidence they left behind, often in the form of objects lost, deliberately hidden or casually discarded.

The book is divided into two halves (Manchester and Merseyside, so you can ignore half of it if you want – only kidding), each of which has a chronological structure, with finds from five time periods, Prehistory (500,000BC – AD42) through to Post-Medieval (1540-1900). We learn that some of the first houses in Britain were recently discovered in Sefton, and see numerous finds, including a beautifully smooth Neolithic stone axe head found in Bidston, a flint arrowhead discovered in Greasby and a 17th century drinking cup uncovered by someone digging up a pear tree in a back garden in Rainford.

The stories associated with the finds add to the book’s appeal. A Roman bowl came to light when the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign in the Second World War meant previously uncultivated land was used to grow food.The finder kept the bowl in a powdered milk tin for 40 years before taking into National Museums Liverpool. His discovery eventually led to archaeologists finding evidence of an Iron Age settlement in Irby.

There are photographs – often beautiful to look at – of all of the objects, and the book is a pleasure to browse. If you know a metal detectorist it would make an ideal gift, and it might even encourage you to become one yourself.

Wirral-born Kipper Williams is a prolific and very talented cartoonist, whose work has appeared in many national newspapers and magazines, including the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Private Eye and the Spectator. His collection Christmas Comes To Liverpool is timed to provide readers with some seasonal cheer. While a drawing of the Liver Building appears on the cover, the cartoons are not specifically set in Liverpool, though as the title indicates there is a Christmas theme. Many of the cartoons are in colour, and the collection is both verbally and visually very witty. There are reindeer watching Strictly Come Prancing on TV, a pub called Bar Humbug that’s closed throughout the Christmas period, a department store floor guide that includes a floor devoted to ‘Stuff you don’t really need’ and a party guest from hell saying ‘Let me tell you about my default browser’. At £6.99 it’s a great stocking filler.

Happy reading!