Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I Knew My Place

Cover Photo: Horse Fair at Kirkby Stephen
Copyright Kendal Library, Cumbria County Council
Edward Short's book about Warcop, entitled, "I Knew My Place" is a must-read for anyone who lives in the village. It is not particularly easy to find a copy, even online, but there is a copy in the Warcop Archives (The Gregson Collection) and a comfortable sofa on which to read it!

Ted Short was born and grew up on Brookside, Warcop. He became Postmaster General in 1967 and then Chairman of Cable & Wireless. Now Lord Glenarama, he is the second oldest peer in the House of Lords and his political career has been illustrious. He will be 100 years old next December.

The back cover blurb reads:

Warcop in the Twenties was still a feudal pyramid with the Lady of the Manor sitting on the top like a cock on a farmyard midden, and the tenant cottagers at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. Everyone had his place in the structure and knew it; few aspired to to change their place and even fewer were successful in doing so. But we were an independent lot, everyone regarded himself as being as good as, perhaps better than, the next one, not in an arrogant way but with a fierce belief that what he did was as important in the village as what anyone else did. Jack Watt, the rabbit catcher who came down from the fell each morning (when there was an 'r' in the month) with his bicycle festooned with rabbits, was as proud of his calling as the vicar and a good deal more successful with rabbits than Mr Shaw with sinners.

The frontispiece reads:

In this deeply-felt but clear-eyed description of his first ten childhood years in a remote Cumberland village during the First World War and the early twenties, Edward Short evokes with exceptional power his reactions - then and now- to the place and the rich variety of its people.
At a time when wireless and motor cars were still toys for the wealthy or greatly adventurous, such a village depended for entertainment and amusement almost entirely on its own efforts and perceptions. Those perceptions were keener if sometimes narrower, idiosyncracies had freer rein, the infrequent fair or local celebration stood out from everyday working life with a sharpness few events can parallel today. Above all, the power of the class system still dominated people's lives, with its careful stratification into "gentry", shopkeepers, farmers and labourers.
All this and more - people and their relationships, rural scenes, much-loved animals, personal pleasures and terrors - Edward Short conjures up with intimate understanding and a sympathy always warm if occasionally wry. Later Postmaster General, Secretary of State for Education and Science and Leader of the House of Commons, he looks back today, as Lord Glenamara, on these early influences that moulded him into schoolmaster, painter and Labour politician, not only finding them good but conveying to the reader the full depth of his pleasure in them.

Published by Macdonald, if you can get hold of a copy, it is a great insight into this village during the last century.


  1. I got a copy on Amazon and went to visit the village as a result.