A Short History of Wilstone by A.R. Gomm

There is good news and bad news with regard to this review. The good news is that the book is available in digital form on the Internet; the bad news is that this makes a fully considered review more difficult because it is not possible to see the book bound, in colour and complete form. This is in contrast to our earlier review of John Painter’s beautifully presented book on the same subject.

The main thing in common with Painter’s book is the exceptional amount of research that has gone into the subject and the quality of writing. This book also complements Painter’s book by having the majority of its content covering the last 200-300 years whereas much of Painter’s focus was on earlier times.

There is also an interesting difference in structure. Whereas Painter diligently followed a century by century timeline, Gomm’s book deals with content issue by issue in no obvious sequence, starting with the recreation ground and, after 12 more sections, ending with the famous Witch Hunt. There is also a curious reference to ‘Great Farm Wages Sheet’ for which content is stated as ‘to come’. This issue by issue structure has the significant advantage of saving time and effort if one of the topics happens to be the reader’s focus but it makes you less inclined to read it as a book. This feeling is enhanced by the separate pagination for each section.

However, despite the lack of continuity – for instance at one stage we move from Deans Lane to Straw Plaiting and back to the Parish Council – the range of content is excellent and the depth of information outstanding. There is regular and helpful quoting of dates which became our source of first choice when developing our website timeline. Gomm’s writing style is engaging and so much easier to read than many similar historical books. And there is so much small but charming detail that is attractive to the reader; for instance how Mrs Goodson who ran the sweet shop in the early 1900s, sold sausage rolls and ran a dress making business upstairs. There is also a clever linking of places to events; for instance that Ruth Osborn, Hertfordshire’s last witch, was held with her husband in the Half Moon while a suitable pond was found for her ‘ducking’.

This ease of reading only falls down to some extent in the section on the history of Tring Rural Parish Council which extends to 17 turgid pages. I know from reporting on modern TRPC meetings that it is challenging to make such content interesting and that broad overviews are better than details of every item in the minutes. For instance the news that a salary of £8 per annum was paid to the Parish Clerk in 1902 could perhaps have been edited out!

Though there are a few footnotes, there does seem to be shortage of references compared to most similar books, including Painter’s. It is of course possible that the actual bound book could have contained some kind of bibliography at the back which is not available in the online version.

However, any criticism of the limitations of the online version must be overruled by gratitude that it has been made available to anyone who is interested. This appears to have been provided by John Evans of Wilstone Sticks and the link is https://wilstonesticks.com/wilstone—a-short-history.html. We should be grateful to John for making it available and to the late Dick Gomm for the time and effort that he put in and the quality of his research and writing.

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