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

00:00
Grey Seal Photo Martha Tressler

Marine wildlife expert Dr Emily Baxter urges urgent action to set up conservation zones off the north west coast

Read more
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Burscough Village

With a thriving community, you won’t be short of local places to shop in Burscough

Read more
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
No 4,  Henry Brooke on Stags Leap (yellow with black stars) crosses the finish line to win the FIRST Race

Guests of Lancashire Life spent a day at one of Britain’s loveliest racecourses - in the historic South Lakes village of Cartmel.

Read more
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Silverdale Sunset by Marie Savage

A place where lovers of art, nature and literature can all find something to interest them

Read more
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Blackpool Tower

A 64-day cycle ride taking in the entire coast of Great Britain is coming your way - and anyone can get involved

Read more
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Silverdale

It was in the news for the discovery of a Viking hoard but Silverdale is precious for many more reasons, as Sue Riley discovers.

Read more
Friday, June 12, 2015
Bowland Wild Boar Park

These wild creatures haven’t roamed free in Lancashire for centuries but that doesn’t mean you can’t see them

Read more
Friday, June 12, 2015
Knights will fight it out in a medieval tournee in Cartmel

Cartmel is famous for sticky toffee pudding and for having one of the country’s most beautiful racecourses but few people connect it with one of the great moment in our history - the signing of Magna Carta.

Read more
Friday, June 12, 2015
Muncaster Castle

If the Game of Thrones has given you a love of medieval fantasy, there are plenty of historic castles to visit locally. We can’t promise you any dragons and knights, but you may hear tales of witches and ghosts.

Read more
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The path to Darwen Tower

John Lenehan takes us to one of Lancashire’s high spots and ends where Crowmell’s troops feared to tred

Read more
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Shopping in the sunshine; Diane Parkinson, Lyn Dawber, Kimberley O'Brien and Alex Finnerty

The high street is cobbled and the town is served by steam trains, but this Rossendale community is looking forwards not back, writes Martin Pilkington. Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Read more
Monday, June 1, 2015
10 pretty Lancashire villages that you should visit

It’s a tough job to select just ten great villages to visit, but we’ve given it a go. See if you agree with our choices

Read more
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Amelia and Amanda feeding the bottle fed lambs at Mrs Dowsons Farm

They say never work with animals and children, but these magnificent seven farms are a great day out for the family

Read more
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The dramatic road to the school

Stonyhurst’s old boys include Tolkien, Conan Doyle, three saints and at least one president, Writer Julie Frankland and photographer Glynn Ward went behind the scenes

Read more

NEWSLETTER SIGNUP



Follow Lancashire Life's board Walks in Lancashire and the Lake District on Pinterest.
Lancashire's trusted business finder