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Archive for June, 2010

Shropshire Squire on the ShelfTHE very successful launch of A Shropshire Squire took place in Oswestry (17 miles NW of Shrewsbury and 190 miles NW of London) on Wednesday evening 9 June 2010.

Convened by the Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group (OBHAG), and held at Booka Bookshop and Cafe, Church Street, almost 40 book lovers honoured the debut of John Clavering Wood’s diary and letters, which were written almost 200 years ago.

This event would not have taken place but for a remarkable coincidence in Brisbane six months before and the impetus of Mrs Lyn O’Connor, a long-term local resident and wife of the late Professor Brian O’Connor of the Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital.

Oswestry Launch of Shropshire SquireThe event was all the more surprising considering that the guest speakers, the book’s editors Gerard and Gloria, were unable to be present. Undaunted, the OBHAG organisers declared that ‘the show must go on’. Mrs O’Connor, the only person in Shropshire who had met the editors, hosted a get-together two evenings before the launch to ensure that introductions began before the main event.

On the night, Booka Bookshop’s Carrie and Tim Morris arranged the venue beautifully with a superlative display and excellent food. As the guests arrived, many discovered that they had acquaintances and connections in common.

Following a brief welcome by OBHAG chairwoman Irene Milhench, Mrs O’Connor’s Speech outlined the Wood family’s Antipodean connections, and the chance Brisbane meeting between her daughter Tamsin and the editors who lived nearby. Derrick Winter chose the short straw of being Gerard’s stand-in for the evening and read Gerard’s speech that had been e-mailed from Brisbane a week earlier.

More from Oswestry Launch of Shropshire SquireLooming large in the book is the personality of the diarist’s close friend, John F. M. Dovaston, poet, musician and natural historian of West Felton (3 miles from Oswestry). As a result, an enthusiastic contingent of West Felton residents came to the launch, including Pat Mabe, the editor of the West Felton Magazine, and Kirsten Nicholas, Mrs O’Connor’s elder daughter. Perhaps the fresh glimpse of Dovaston which is offered by A Shropshire Squire will engender new interest in this ‘almost-forgotten romantic poet’.  Jessie Hanson, an historian and Oswestry-resident who attended the launch, expressed surprise that more work had not previously been done on Dovaston.

Other attendees included Derek Williams, librarian at the Local History Centre, Oswestry Library, as well as historian and author, John Pryce-Jones, who were able to correlate some events and names from the book with current locations and family connections. Other visitors had a stronger interest in J.C. Wood’s Marche estate (near Westbury) where Gerard’s Wood forebears lived from ca. 1800 to 1891, especially since the Hall and the Manor still stand.

Four extracts from the book were read. Jessie Hanson recited the story about the fumes from the Hanwood bleaching factory. Derrick Winter, being a former chemistry teacher, correctly identified the rogue substance as chlorine. Kirsten Nicholas read the piece about the death of Squire Wood’s faithful dog Tan-Terry which left everyone a little teary. Assuming Dovaston’s voice, in order to read two extracts from his letters, were Gwyneth Winter and Pat Mabe.

Making the journey from Shrewsbury were Laurence le Quesne and his wife Mary, both having previously had Australian sojourns. Laurence kindly penned the book’s Foreword.

SFHS Open Day on 5 June 2010

At the Shropshire Family History Society's Open Day on 5 June 2010, Chris Abram displayed pre-launch copies of "A Shropshire Squire".

On behalf of the editors, a copy of A Shropshire Squire will be presented to Oswestry School by Kirsten Nicholas (a former teacher there), in recognition of John Dovaston’s having been a pupil in the 1790s. In addition, Laurence le Quesne will deliver a copy to the Shrewsbury School where Dovaston finished his schooling (and where the diarist’s son John Wood may have done as well).

The editors are assured that the key players in Shropshire derived a great deal of pleasure from this interesting project. Sincere thanks to them all for their hard work in the weeks leading up to the event and on the evening itself. Needless to say, this comprehensive account would not have been possible except for the first-rate ‘go-betweening’ fulfilled by Tamsin O’Connor of New Farm, Brisbane, along with a report by Derrick Winter and photos from Tam Hazan and Chris Abram.

As for Oswestry’s Booka Bookshop, the consensus is that it is a great asset to the community, and long may it flourish!

Following the February debut of Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter’s Life, the launch of A Shropshire Squire completes the unique milestone of two books by the same-named John Clavering Wood (grandson and grandfather) being published in the same year.

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