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People, Places and Identities. Themes in British Social and Cultural History, 1700s-1980s

Edited by Alan Kidd and Melanie Tebbutt
Manchester University Press 2017, £70

This book is a collection of essays in social and cultural history written for and presented to Professor Mike Rose of Manchester University. Mike is a much-admired social historian who taught at Manchester University from the 1960s until 1999. He is best known for his articles and books on the history of the poor law and poverty. An unswerving supporter of many local history groups and initiatives he has also contributed to the history of Manchester with publications on the settlement movement and Ancoats.

The collection begins with a tribute to Mike by the editors describing his life and contribution to social history. The essays that particularly relate to our region are ‘Memorial mania: remembering and forgetting Sir Robert Peel’ by Terry Wyke which explores the reaction to the death of Peel, the man who repealed the Corn Laws, an event that allowed the cotton towns to celebrate their contribution to the triumph of free trade. In ‘Fifty years ahead of its time? The provident dispensaries movement in Manchester, 1871-1885' Martin Hewitt examines an overlooked aspect of social welfare history, the attempt to establish provision for working-class people who needed medical care. Manchester's experiment was a pioneer scheme looking forward to the emergence of National Insurance, in which John Watts, now remembered, if at all, as a historian of the cotton famine, played a key role. Peter Shapley’s essay, ‘The continuing tradition of civic pride: municipal culture in post-war Manchester’, provides a welcome review of the growth of civic culture in Manchester before focusing on the post-1945 plans for the city. Later projects such as the Arndale Centre are discussed against the backcloth of the decline of the region as a manufacturing centre. Manchester was by the 1980s increasingly dependent on the service sector including higher education and sport. The account also discusses the city’s responses to the 1996 IRA bomb and the rapid decision-making process that resulted in rebuilding major parts of the city centre, including the unloved Arndale Centre. An article by the author of this review focuses on the war-time cartoons of the dialect writer, Sam Fitton, images and verses which provide a quirky commentary on the home front in Lancashire. The chapter by Alan Kidd on ‘Local history enthusiasts: English county historical societies since the nineteenth century’ offers a careful survey of the major historical societies of our region, their origins being, unsurprisingly, among the curious and time-rich members of the middle classes in Victorian Liverpool and Manchester.

The other chapters in the collection do not relate so directly to our region.

Pat Thane’s chapter on the ‘The National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child’ looks at the campaigning role of an important pressure group that battled to shift attitudes and policy. Melanie Tebbutt discusses the advice offered in teenage magazines in the post-war years, many of whose title are now forgotten. Dilwyn Porter’s essay is also about advice but not to the booming youth culture of the 1960s and 1970s, rather the financial advice provided to the 5 million plus readers of the Daily Mirror. Finally, Alistair Mutch contributes the only chapter on the eighteenth century, an examination of what the administrative practices of parish officials tell us about the ‘middling sort’ in a group of villages in east Nottinghamshire.

This collection is a fitting tribute to a greatly respected social historian who has done much to bring history outside the walls of the academy. Its eye-watering cover price means that most readers will be compelled to borrow it from their local library.

Alan Fowler