That other history was produced 85 years ago by the Headmaster of Long Marston School, Gordon Savage, and his pupils. Though the two books cover much of the same ground, the 1937 version was inevitably an amateur effort in terms of presentation; whereas Margaret Vincent’s book – published in 1987 – has all the signs of being a professionally researched and presented publication.
This is quite surprising in some ways because, based on what I have heard of Margaret, she was not a professional historian. She was however deeply committed to Puttenham over the years and this book is clearly a labour of love. This love and commitment was also shown by the fact that, after she left the village to live in Long Marston, she specified in her will that the proceeds of the sale of her Chapel Lane house should be used to build Cecilia Hall.
It has to be admitted however that this book is not exactly bedtime reading. Though it is tidily presented, it is dense in parts and it would demand much commitment for readers to read it cover to cover. There are some maps and diagrams but not enough to make for easy reading and it would have been improved by some photographs of more recent times. For instance the biographies of the various vicars of St Mary’s would have been enlivened by a any photos that were available ; it would have been interesting to see for instance what the famous – or maybe infamous ! – Reverend Anthony looked like. Maybe these weren’t available or maybe Margaret just wanted to keep to the historical facts.
It is a reflection of Margaret’s attention to detail and meticulous research that more than half the book is made up of thirteen detailed appendices, comprehensive acknowledgements and an impressive bibliography. I know from my recent amateur efforts at house research, the time and discipline required to record and reproduce such records. And I am indebted to her for the research that enabled me to go back even further than before, in my efforts to trace the histories of Manor Farm and Dover Castle. This was possible because of Appendix 11, a good example of the research and attention to detail shown throughout the book. There we have a list of all the ‘proprietors’ and occupiers of every property in Puttenham after the implementation of the Enclosure Act of 1816.
The structure of the first fifty five pages is quite straightforward as indicated by the opening title – ‘The first thousand years’. We are then taken through the history, century by century, showing the monarchs who reigned over us, the events of each era, and the way these influenced the ownership and development of Puttenham village. For instance we read how the plague of the Black Death in the fourteenth century led to depopulation and, in the sixteenth century, the impact on the Church of Henry VIII’s split with Rome.
The coverage of the early nineteenth century focuses mainly on the Enclosure Acts, with two particularly enlightening maps, showing the residences around that time, complementing well the detail of the occupants mentioned above. There is however a certain feeling of disappointment in the history thereafter because the coverage of late nineteenth and early twentieth century is made up almost entirely of short biographies of nine vicars of St Mary’s. While these reveal much of interest, it does mean that there is a relatively narrow focus. Having talked to a number of residents of Puttenham, I know that there are lots of stories about the village between, during and after the two world wars that would have made even more interesting reading.
But any minor criticisms should be tempered by an overall assessment that this is a remarkable book, produced by, from everything I have heard, a remarkable person. I had to pay £7 to buy it from Christine Rutter at Astrope Folly but it has been worth every penny. Cecilia Hall is not the only monument left by Margaret Vincent, to show her commitment to the village.