Friday 6 May 2022

Local History - Celia Rees

Publisher: Amberley Books
 (Images Jamie  Robinson)

I was very excited recently to be able to go to a real, live event hosted by wonderful Warwick Books, my closest Indie bookshop. I went to hear Warwick writer, S. C. Skillman, talking about her latest book: Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire. This was the first live event I'd attended since before the pandemic, so it was nice to see the author in person talking about her book, answering questions and engaging with an audience. Zoom is a poor substitute, especially as the event took place in the Visitors' Centre of Hill Close Gardens, a rare survival of original Victorian gardens once used by Warwick townsfolk to escape from the crowded town. Once under serious threat from development, these gardens have been lovingly restored and still present a haven of birdsong, peace and quiet. If you are ever in or around Warwick, they are well worth a visit. 

Author - S. C. Skillman (Celia Rees)

I'm Warwickshire born and bred and I love local history and local stories, especially of the spooky kind. S. C. Skillman's previous book was entitled Paranormal Warwickshire, so it is not difficult to locate where her interest also lies. I have used local stories in my writing. The notorious St Valentine's Day murder of agricultural labourer, Charles Walton, on Meon Hill in 1945 was inspiration for my third novel, Colour Her Dead. The crime is unsolved to this day. Surrounded by a wall of silence, accompanied by whispers of witchcraft, carried out in a place with its own strange and sinister legends, the story has a prominent place in modern Warwickshire folk lore. I blogged about it here in 2012 and it is well covered in Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire in chapters, Tales of Warwickshire Witchcraft and Rural Crimes, with accompanying photographs of Lower Quinton, Charles Walton's home village hard by Meon Hill, and the hill itself.  

Meon Hill (Celia Rees)

S. K. Skillman covers many of my own favourite places and stories. Some I already knew, others I didn't know at all. I had no idea, for example, that J.R.R. Tolkien had an association with Warwick town and may have referenced Warwick Castle in his work. Neither did I know that the Old Coffee Tavern in Warwick was haunted and I've never noticed the carving of Old Tom in the Market Square. I'll look out for it and other apotropaic carvings next time I'm in Warwick. 

Old Tom, Swan Street, Warwick (S.C. Skillman)

Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire ranges across the whole county and covers all sorts of fascinating local stories and legends, some from the deep past but others happening as recently as 2018 with a big cat sighting on the golf course of the Ardencote Manor Hotel.  The author covers Warwickshire notables, from William Shakespeare to Larry Grayson. Some famous, like Daisy, Countess of Warwick, others not so famous like traditional toymaker, Cyril Hobbins. 

I'd like to thank Warwick Books and Sheila Skillman for a fascinating evening in a magical place. I'm from Warwickshire, so I'm biased, but it was good to be reminded of the rich and varied history of this ancient county. The evening ended with a performance from a local Morris Side, Plum Jerkum. My family come from Warwickshire and this was what my brother called slivovitz, or any plum based schnapps,  Sheila explains that it was the name for a plum cider - something I've never tried. The cider was made from a local plum, the Warwickshire Drooper. My dad had a tree on his allotment and they are still dotted all over local allotments. I've never tried plum cider but they do make the most delicious jam!

Warwickshire Droopers
Plum Jerkum Morris Side (Terence Rees)

Celia Rees
Insta: celiarees1
Twitter: @CeliaRees

1 comment:

Ann Turnbull said...

Thank you for this fascinating blog, Celia. I love that name, the Warwickshire Droopers!