By Christine Verguson, Huddersfield Local History Society
Inspired to write by stories she heard during her nursing career, Beverley Norris has won Huddersfield Local History Society’s Edward Law History Prize.
Beverley wrote ‘The Peaker Sisters’ which tells the stories of three sisters who, in 1901, were all servants in the same Edgerton villa.
The competition for the Edward Law Prize – awarded in partnership with the University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield Exposed, Kirklees Libraries and the Historical Association – is open to anyone who has not previously published any historical research.
Beverley joined Huddersfield Local History Society in 2016 and as a result of attending the society’s talks and reading its Journal, she wanted to learn more about those who lived and worked in Huddersfield.
She says that her varied career in nursing allowed her to hear many personal stories and that the “most interesting and inspiring are not usually recorded, yet their hidden influence continues to shape people and places.”
It was reading a review of David Griffiths’ book on The Villas of Edgerton which not only suggested that such houses could not have functioned without servants but that this was a subject also worthy of investigation that provided Beverley with the starting point for her research.
Beverley said: “I am truly thrilled that my article has won the prize. It is important to me to try and do the servants justice.
“I expect others researching people from history feel this sense of responsibility but with the servants being women, working class, and with their remit to unobtrusively facilitate the lives of others, it feels especially important. I want people to know about Annie, Amelia and Eliza and I hope this will encourage more people to read their story.”
Huddersfield Local History Society chair, Cyril Pearce, agreed and said: “One of the purposes of local history is to remind those who presume to describe a ‘national’ story that what happened here is important too and that it shouldn’t be ignored.
“By the same token, local histories must also be sensitive to the stories of the ignored and overlooked.
“Beverley Norris has shouldered that responsibility brilliantly. Her essay tracks the late nineteenth and early twentieth century lives of three young women who, at a time when more than 40% of British women worked in domestic service, were servants in Huddersfield’s wealthy suburb of Edgerton.
“Their story is told through the skilled use of numerous original sources and will have echoes in many family histories.
“As a piece of original work it is a worthy winner of this year’s Edward Law prize but, more than that, it helps rescue Huddersfield life stories which might otherwise have been forgotten.”
The society’s recently published 2021/2022 Journal includes Beverley’s article. Editor Robert Piggott said: “After something of a hiatus, the prize this year saw three excellent entries.”
He pointed out that with archive offices being closed due to the pandemic, most of the writers contributing to this year’s Journal have had to make greater use of online sources as has been the case in the past.
Steve Challenger reflects on a year in the life of a Marsden corn miller’s daughter; Richard Hobson looks at the popularity of cycling in the Huddersfield district in the 1890s; Christine Verguson focuses on Lindley ‘coal master’ and Huddersfield councillor, Edward Waterhouse, who profited from the labour of children in his mines and Mavis Curtis discusses the experience and costs of setting up home in 1933.
Using two surviving letters, John Rumsby describes the role played by the West Norfolk Militia stationed in Huddersfield in 1812 during the Luddite disturbances and Don Gardiner, who served in the RAF in the immediate post-war period, provides a personal account of his time in India.
Two articles focus on fire: Chris Smith, tells the story of fireman Tom Johnson who worked for Huddersfield Fire Brigade at the time when horses were being replaced by motor vehicles while as we approach its 80th anniversary Richard Heath looks back at the Booth Factory fire which claimed the lives of 49 workers.
Information about the Edward Law History Prize 2022 as well as Huddersfield Local History Society’s 2020-2021 season of recorded talks can be found on the society’s website at https://www.huddersfieldhistory.org.uk/
The society’s 2021/2022 Journal is available at £4, plus £2 P&P, from https://www.huddersfieldhistory.org.uk/publications/journal/ or by post from HLHS, 24 Sunnybank Road, HD3 3DE, or from local bookshops.