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

Antony Gormley's statues look out to sea

With just under 560,000 eggs cracked, 273,889 pancakes flipped and 20 tons of Canadian maple syrup poured across three sites in 2015, it’s no surprise to find out Moose Coffee often has a queue of customers outside their front door.

Read more
Jessica with Princess Fifi at the stables in Altham near Accrington

A young woman based in Padiham is working hard to make the 2020 Olympic dressage team. She spoke to Roger Borrell

Read more
Equestrian
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Friesians in the stables at Myerscough Photo Sandy Kitching

Horse lovers from across the country will be heading to Lancashire this year to see animals from one of the world’s most striking breeds being put through their paces.

Read more
Equestrian Summer in Lancashire
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Berry Lane

There’s a lot of woolly thinking in this lovely Ribble Valley town, as Mairead Mahon discovers

Read more
Longridge
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Cartmel Racecourse

Whether you’re horse crazy or just along for the ride, equine related events are an important part of the summer season.

Read more
Equestrian Summer in Lancashire
Friday, April 15, 2016
The Coppermines valley

Heather Troughton, who was born and bred in Coniston, shares the things she loves about this former Lancashire village

Read more
Coniston
Thursday, April 14, 2016
The picture of donkeys on St Annes beach is by Lancashire Life artist Nick Oliver. See more of his work at www.smilecreative.co.uk or contact him at 01257 427465.

St Annes hasn’t lost its pulling power as a place to visit, as Emma Mayoh discovered

Read more
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Windermere Railway Station takes many first-time visitors by surprise.

Despite its name, Windermere village is more than a mile from the lakeside but this bustling community should not be overlooked, writes Mike Glover

Read more
Bowness Windermere
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Market Place and the Tilted Vase

Martin Pilkington heads back to his former home town and spots plenty of new things on the menu. Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Read more
Ramsbottom
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Lowther Rose Gardens

Lytham is now one of the season’s hottest tickets with sport, song and outdoor theatre

Read more
Summer in Lancashire Lytham
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Foulridge Reservoir

I should take my woolly hat off to my friend John Serjeant - he never gets it wrong when suggesting a walk. I had decided that my next outing would be around the moors of Haslingden Grane and I asked John to accompany me.

Read more
Monday, April 4, 2016
Amy and Claire helping kids get crafty at a party

Kendal is reinforcing its status as an arts centre. Sue Riley met some of the people behind creative schemes in the town

Read more
Kendal
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Ambleside Town Centre

Villagers have rallied together in the wake of the floods and have floated several new ideas, writes Mike Glover

Read more
Ambleside Floods
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Oak Royal Golf & Country Club, Withnell, Chorley

A boutique hotel and restaurant now complements a golf course and club set in lovely Lancashire countryside

Read more



Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search