6 ISSUES FOR JUST £6 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today CLICK HERE

Amanda Vickery - Preston's history woman (with audio)

19:28 31 January 2010

Award-winning historian Amanda Vickery. Picture: Sarah Turton
Dress courtesy of Nocturne

Award-winning historian Amanda Vickery. Picture: Sarah Turton Dress courtesy of Nocturne

Amanda Vickery rummaged through Lancashire's historic archives and came out with a brilliantly entertaining look at our Georgian ancestors. She spoke to Roger Borrell

Click the picture on the right to start playing the audio

This recording is courtesy of Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Talking Newspaper service

The charity costs 300,000 a year to operate and is entirely dependent on donations. To volunteer, or help the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Talking Newspaper service with sponsorship or donations, contact 01253 362692 or go to www.bfwsb.co.uk

The sweet, wilting and, occasionally, witless women who grace our Georgian costume dramas seem the perfect accompaniment for men seeking wives. Not so, says Preston historian Amanda Vickery.

What a man really wanted, I suspect, was a sexy battle-axe, she laughs. They wanted Venus but they wanted Minerva, too - an attractive woman who was tough enough to run an efficient household.

While most historians chart great events which changed the lives of millions, Amanda specialises in the minutiae of domesticity. But you would be mistaken if you thought this strand of research was in any way inferior.

My aim was to look at the small things, things considered boring or humble and set them in a much broader historical context, adds Amanda. Having a stove or a fireplace might not seem important but it can be as significant as victory in a war.

The crucible for Amandas passion was Penwortham Girls Grammar School, the spark lit by history teacher Angela Gibson. It set her on a path to letter and diary archives, initially at the Lancashire Records Office in Preston, and then across the county and into other parts of the UK.

What lay buried beneath the dusty pages of generations long dead turned out to be gold nuggets of fascinating, lively detail. Initially, they were used to form her first book The Gentlemans Daughter: Womens Lives in Georgian England, which picked up prestigious awards. Her latest work is Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, a book which helped to spawn one of the BBC Radio 4 hits of 2009.

The History of Private Lives ran for 30 weeks and took us through the keyhole and into the dining rooms, servants quarters and bedrooms of Georgian life. It received rave reviews and demands for the series to be released on CD.


I was taken aback and thrilled by the success. Ive always been interested in old diaries and letters but you worry that things which interest you wont interest others,

The truth is she has produced highly readable books brimming with wit and wisdom.

Amanda was born at Sharoe Green Hospital, where her mother was a nurse and she was brought up in Longton, where her father still lives. Research for her doctorate took her to many archives. She hit the jackpot with the 18th Century diaries of Elizabeth Parker Shackleton, of Alkincoats, near Colne, and with the help of the Parker family, of Browsholme Hall, she pieced together love letters and diaries to paint a vivid picture of life in a Lancashire household.

She was able to get a picture of the intimacy of marriage and to examine what men got from domestic life. I was interested to discover what binds couples together, says Amanda, who is the professor of history at Royal Holloway University, London.

A lot contained humour, the banter of any close relationship. One husband writes, describing his wife as a big bottomed baggage and a hussy. On paper it might sound less than flattering, but it was mocking humour of a 50-year-old amazed to find love later in life.

Another writes in one breath that he is missing his beloved and in the next asking: How are your piles?

Many marriages were not so happy, with severe husbands backed by a cruelly biased legal system. For instance, when former governess Ellen Weeton, of Upholland, was driven from the family home by a violent, loveless marriage, she paid a high price by being denied all contact with her daughter.

There were also stories demonstrating the indomitable human spirit. A widow, almost demented by grief, writes that she has found the power to go on because she dreams her husband is in bed next to her each night, willing her to go on. Its extraordinarily moving, says Amanda, who spent many happy childhood hours in Prestons Harris Museum, which she regards as one of Englands finest.


The importance of the past lies as much in the history of relationships and private rituals as in public institutions like universities and parliament. I am fascinated by how people lived their day-to-day lives, their secret struggles and their longings. And what researchers heart would not lift at the words ... please burn this letter that no mortal eyes may read it?

A surprisingly large number of love letters survive simply because people treasured them.
In the archives, she found one young man seeking advice because he lost control of his arms and legs when in the company of women, worried he had bad breath and feared impotence on his imagined wedding night. Another bemoans the fact he had proposed to nine women and was rejected by the lot.

Future archivists might not be so fortunate. Email and texting have largely rendered the art of writing love letters redundant. Ive asked my students and hardly have ever written a love letter, she says. Its tragic!


Weavers wanted

The maternal side of Professor Amanda Vickerys family were weavers from East Lancashire and her next project will examine womens experiences in the Lancashire mill towns of the 50s and 60s. If anyone has material which might be included in her research, they should contact her at a.vickery@rhul.ac.uk

Her hardback book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, is published by Yale University Press, priced 18.99

0 comments

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

Marc and Michaela Verite (left) and the team; Josh Thong, Sean Arslanian, Caitlin Ogden, Daniel Simpson, Connor Branigan, Michael Angelucci, Adrian Slee and Darren Booth

If dining out in this Lancashire village is good enough for Albert Roux, it’s good enough for us

Read more
Wed, 00:00
Nicky Nook

Blink and you’ll miss the turn-off to this lovely little village which has great walks and no less than three excellent watering holes. John Lenehen reports

Read more
Bowland Walks
Tue, 00:00
Derwentwater Sunset - Ron Sutton

The Lake District is blessed with beautiful scenery, steeped in literary history and culture, and there are plenty of things to do to take your other half on a short trip

Read more
Lake District
Tue, 00:00
Hawkshead village

The Lakes village will play a big role in this year’s 150th anniversary celebrations of Beatrix Potter’s birth

Read more
Beatrix Potter
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
'Ashness Jetty' © Andi Campbell-Jones, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From the dramatic skies that cover Hardknot Pass to the chocolate box village of Chapel Stile, we pick 13 times the Lake District was more beautiful than a postcard.

Read more
Monday, February 1, 2016
Snowdrops at Lytham Hall by Louise Dobson

There are few sights as magical as a carpet of springtime snowdrops. We’ve pick a few of our favourites across the county this month

Read more
Things to do in Lancashire
Monday, February 1, 2016
John Bishop with World Horse Welfare Amara and Mable

We visit Penny Farm, a centre in Blackpool that rescues and rehabilitates horses and gets them galloping back to health. Emma Mayoh reports

Read more
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
BPXAYW Sir Robert Peel statue and the church of St Mary, the market place Bury Lancashire England

Bury is seldom out of the headlines and invariably for all the right reasons. Roger Borrell and photographer Kirsty Thompson took a tour

Read more
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
The author, Andrew Griffiths, searching out trout in the Irwell

Seventy years ago it was slick of filth. Now a five star hotel is arranging trout fishing trips on the River Irwell. Andrew Griffiths finds out what’s gone right

Read more
Peter Charles competing on Dauphin

World-class riders, champagne, fire breathers... there was so much to see at the inaugural Liverpool International Horse Show

Read more
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Flooding in Billington © WARREN SMITH 2015.

People across the North West showed tremendous community spirit in the face of unprecedented floods

Read more
Floods
Monday, January 18, 2016
Red Squirrel

A revival of traditional skills, red squirrels and beautiful butterflies are predicted for this corner of old Lancashire. Mike Glover reports

Read more
Monday, January 18, 2016
Matthew, Hannah, Stuart, Kirstie, Cameron of The Family Adventure Project

Sue Riley meets some of the characters who make this small Westmorland community tick

Read more
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Rob Heys at Accrington Stanley FC

Accrington is not your stereotypical post-industrial town, as Martin Pilkington discovers

Read more


Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job Search in the Cotswolds



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search