A Very British Ending by Edward Wilson (Wimbledon Village Reading Group)

For its July 2016 meet, Wimbledon Village Book Group chose to read Edward Wilson’s A Very British Ending.   WVRG 16 07 Very British Ending Edward Wilson

The book, which most members thoroughly enjoyed even if they did find the premise quite chilling and disturbing, resulted in a fabulous discussion & exchange of views on topics as diverse as spying, the cold war, Brexit, the Gun Powder Plot and family life. Wilson’s style was thought to be quite cold and remote, distancing the reader from events, adding to the sense of exclusion and powerlessness of the ordinary individual and thus fully fitting for the narrative.

Votes up as a great read, with a good balance between pace and intrigue and a great book club choice as it’s very thought-provoking and rewards a bit of research and reflection.

Wimbledon Village Reading Group is a book club that’s been meeting on the last Thursday of each month since 2012.  If you’re interested in joining in, check us out and join here.

To get a flavour of the sort of books we read, check out our Pinterest Board of book covers



Wimbledon Village: A history told through its street names


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Regular blog followers will know that, as well as being unhealthily obsessive about book history and literary curiosities, I also have a more than passing interest in Wimbledon’s local history.  So imagine my delight when, last weekend, I discovered something which brought both these things together!  A new book about the history of Wimbledon Village, spotted whilst on duty at the Museum of Wimbledon.

Cover Ransome Wimbledon Village Street NamesNeal Ransome’s Wimbledon Village: A history told through its street names is exactly what the title says it is. It explains how and why some 140 streets in the village acquired their names, and charmingly admits that in just a few cases, the origins of a street name remain elusive.  It is a admirably thorough and has enough fascinating detail and colourful stories to draw in even those with only a passing interest.  Who can resist the speculation that the famous Crooked  Billet inn, on a street of the same name, was once owned by Thomas Cromwell’s father, or the romanticism that its name harks back to the days when shepherds tended their flocks on the nearby Wimbledon Common with the aid of their crooked billets, or staffs?  Or the amusing anecdote that Kinsella Gardens is an erroneous name – it was intended to be Kinellan Gardens, in recognition of the fact that the road lies upon what were once in the grounds of Kinellan House, the former home of the 1887 Wimbledon champion, Herbert Fortescue Lawford.  Lawford, Ransome tells us, had Scottish connections and may well have named his London home after the picturesque Loch Kinellan in the Highlands.  But when the road was laid in the late 1990s, the developer got the spelling wrong and Kinsella replaced Kinellan. The origin of Wilberforce Way is obvious to anyone who knows that it spreads over the grounds of the former Lauriston House, once the retreat of the 19th century anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce.  The real joy of this book, though, is that it goes so much further, weaving the stories of local people and local events into a narrative web which tells the story of Wimbledon from a perspective that has a tangible link to today.

JNM Leopold Road

Leopold Road Street Sign.  Ransome identifies Leopold Road as one of the three streets in Wimbledon Village to be named after royalty. One of my own photos, 2009!

Fellow literary lovers may find it particularly appealing that at least two streets in the Village are named after once popular novels.  Windy Ridge Close recalls Willie Riley’s 1912 story, Windy-Ridge, which tells of a young lady who escapes London for the Yorkshire Dales.  Cranford Close, which came into being in the 1960s, was so named because it ranges over ground once occupied by Cranford House, itself named for Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1851 classic novel Cranford.  And here’s an example of where Ransome goes further: he tells us of two links between the novel Cranford and Wimbledon, which may have been in the mind of whoever named Cranford House.  Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughter, Marianne, lived in Wimbledon after her marriage to her second cousin, Edward Thurston Holland.  But even more intriguing is the direct link with the novel.  Hugh Thomson, one of the foremost book illustrators of his time (who designed and illustrated the famous ‘peacock’ edition of Pride and Prejudice) provided the drawings for one of the most enduringly popular editions of Cranford. These portrayed the fictional village of Cranford, which is identified with Knutsford in Cheshire, and attracted much praise.  This amused Thomson greatly, and Ransome relates his retort: “as a matter of fact I had never seen it, having really done my country sketches from the studies I made on Wimbledon Common”.

The directory-style entries of street-names are preceded by a general overview of the history of the Village, from its earliest hill fort settlement which, despite being called Caesar’s Camp, appears to have no connection whatsoever with any Caesar, through medieval times and 18th century Wimbledon’s gentrification, the era of grand houses, its transformation from village to railway suburb of the metropolis and on into the 20th century.  An  illuminating and engagingly-written book which quietly showcases the author’s deep knowledge of the locality and solid research.

Neal Ransome’s book, Wimbledon Village: A History Told Through its Street Names, can be purchased from The Museum of Wimbledon (where you can order on line) and, I guess, any good bookshop, using the ISBN 9780957615199.  It was published by the Wimbledon Society Museum Press in June 2016.



Charles Dickens speaks out on Brexit?


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Sometimes, when the world feels bleak, I make the deliberate decision to lose myself, forgetting all pains and woes for a while, in a book.  And because, in these circumstances, I want to be sure that the book is good enough to get lost in, I turn for comfort to an old favourite which can be guaranteed to freeze out a cold world, at least for while.  I don’t mean to provoke, but the EU referendum results that emerged on Friday morning and the responses to it since then, have left me saddened and feeling in need of a good comfort read.  So this morning I picked up a dear old friend, Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, which I have loved since I first came to know it as a O’level text.  And on page one, this is what I found:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

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Lost at Sea? (Stacking the Shelves No. 2)


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Rummaging around local charity shops often rewards with a wee gem or sought after book but the this morning’s find turns out to be a little different.  I’m very fond of reading vintage crime fiction and Freeman Willis Crofts is one of my favourite authors in the genre.  His books were published largely in the early part of the 20th centre and are rarely reprinted, so finding one his books that I haven’t read being offered second hand makes for a good day and I almost always snap it up.  And this one comes in the lovely green and cream bands of classic Penguin mystery and crime, so was irresistible.  It is a little battered and dog eared but I don’t mind books like that if their just for reading, so long as they are not smelly, brittle or falling apart.

But its turns out that this copy has another twist which appeals in particular to that part of me which wishes I was a book collector as well as a reader.  When I got it home I found it had a bookplate in it.  When I find bookplates, I always google a bit to see if I can find out a bit about the previous owner – often they turn out to have been local or had local connections.  Turns out though that the Anne and  F G Renier, whose names appear on the bookplate,were themselves book collectors of some note.

Fernard Gabriel Renier (1905-1988) was a Dutchman, born in Flushing, who as a young man settled in England around 1918, studying languages at London University in the 1920s.  It was here he met his future wife, Anne Cliff (1911?-1988) through a common interest in collecting match box labels.  After university, Renier worked for the BBC World Service but he also translated several works from his native dutch and from German into English and produced various Dutch and German grammars and learning aids among other books,  at times working in collaboration with Anne . Together they built up an enormous and in elements important collection of books, illustrations and popular printed materials.  In 1970, they donated their collection of children’s literature to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The Renier Collection was subsequently transferred to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and more recently to Blythe House, where it is now known as the Renier Collection and comprises some 80,000 books, games and printed materials. Two delightful colouring books from the Renier Collection were recently featured in a V&A blog post, Colour Our Collections.

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Am I a published author?


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Advice needed: Am I a published author?

It’s been a particularly exciting week for my inner geek this week, with the arrival this week of an ‘author’s copy’ of Parliament: Legislation and Accountability (edited by Alexander Horne and Andrew Le Sueur, Hart, 2016).  All those hours, days, weeks, spent slaving over drafts, with my dear friend and colleague, Helen Kinghorn, of a chapter examining the ways in which Parliament considers draft legislative, and the impact it has on the shape of legislation which hits the statute book and ultimately affects people’s lives, now seems so worth it.  (Those who read my blog closely will probably know that Parliament is my day job and a long-term obsession.) Of course, a niche publication of this sort is only likely to interest a small cadre –  those who are nerdishly interested in the inner workings of legislatures and the practices of law-making. It’s not going to reach any best-seller list or be talked about in reading groups but I am nevertheless ridiculously excited.  The book is officially launched later this week but is already available on Amazon (hardback and kindle) and, of course, from all good bookshops! I have a lovely hardback in my hands, complete with an elegantly stylist dust jacket which gives my words more credibility and authority than I felt while drafting.

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