When I asked to look at it in more detail, I received doubtful looks; ‘OK but please take care’ was the reply. And when I asked if I could borrow it, there was blank refusal’ ‘it’s our only copy and we can’t loan it out’ was the reply. After spending some time looking through the pages during my time there, I understood why they were so careful; it is a book of real quality in both presentation and content that deserved to be preserved with care.
I was also sad to hear on that visit that John Painter had passed away since the book was published in 2017 but I was later able to contact his widow Janet who was able to lend me a special copy, nicely bound and laminated to prevent the likes of me damaging or marking any of its pages. This enabled me to make a more detailed assessment of its content and its contribution to local history.
The book only contains 50 pages but these are A4 size and packed with content, each page telling a story or featuring a particular theme. It is well structured and reading is surprisingly easy, the text being broken up and complimented by lots of maps, pictures, charts, photos and diagrams.
The level of detail is extraordinary and referencing meticulous, making me feel guilty that my own writings have not been so perfectly researched and cited. It provides a nice balance to the content of our own website which has initially focused on the 20th century; by contrast, the majority of John’s coverage is on the 1900 years leading up to the present day, starting with the roman coin, believed to date back to the first century, found in the garden of 4 Wilstone Green. This confirmed earlier evidence of Roman pottery found in Wilstone Reservoir.
Although the Roman finds confirm that people were living in what is now known as Wilstone from pre-historic days, the first recorded reference to Wilstone was apparently as late as 1220, when it was known as Wivelstorne, the first of 24 different variations before it settled on the name of Wilstone. The coverage of the Middle Ages includes coverage of the various owners of the ‘Manor of Wilstone’ and shows a remarkable research ability on the part of the author.
It perhaps reflects my own preferences and interests that the book becomes more interesting and engaging as it moves towards the last few centuries when numerous photos give you an idea of what life was like in Wilstone at each stage. There is also a very good use of different themes, for instance how the landscape changed, how farming developed, the growth of schools and churches, the importance of families. It was interesting to hear for instance that the ubiquitous Gregory family goes back as far as 1530.
The more recent coverage reveals that Wilstone has long been a rollercoaster of village life. In the 16th Century it was wealthier than Puttenham, Wigginton or even Aldbury yet for the first half of the 20th century it was dying, ‘wearing an aspect of departed glory’. The author then goes on to describe the stages and the reasons why Wilstone bounced back after the 1950s, quoting the impact of new housing developments, the opening of the Glasser Mill and the improvement of facilities, all of which made the village a much sought after place to live by the end of the century.
The only criticism which could be made of the book is perhaps one of balance, and this depends of course on each reader’s preference. I would have preferred more on the nineteenth and particularly twentieth centuries, the latter only having one page of analysis that left you looking for more. But overall this is a superb book that deserves to be read more widely. I understand that copies are hard to come by because owners, like the Museum, are reluctant to share; but a request to Janet Painter might lead to a chance to borrow that special copy.
Since completing this review, we have been informed by Janet Painter that it was John’s intention to include more content from 1800 onwards but this had to be cut short because of his final illness. Janet has kindly given us access to some of the research materials and we hope to include content based on these on our website in due course