Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett


Hello, thank you for popping in.  I'm sorry that I've been away for longer than I intended.  Sometimes, things get away from me.  I hope the wind, rain and storms haven't swept you too far away.  I have been hunkering down with books and yarn and trying not to look outside the window.

Visiting Shipton a few weeks ago reminded me how much of Shropshire's traditional wealth was derived from the Medieval wool trade - Shipton means "sheep town" and there is a large hall there, built in the sixteenth century.  Returning home, I went to the shelf where I keep the books from my childhood and reached down The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett.  It has sat on a shelf unopened for about forty years and I felt the time had come to read it again.  A few years ago I culled my childhood books and sent some of them to a charity shop but this one survived the cull because although I only read it once, when I was about thirteen years old, I remembered that it was a good story and that I had learned a lot about the wool trade from it.

Do you know this book?  It is set in the Cotswolds in 1493 when Henry VII was on the English throne.  The central character, Nicholas Fetterlock, is fourteen years old, the son of a wool merchant who is a member of the Wool Staple and, in the best tradition of my beloved Famous Five and Scooby Doo and his gang, Nicholas and his friends have to outwit some villainous adults and save the day.  Along the way we learn a great deal about fifteenth century domestic life and how the wool trade operated.  Rather than being a straightforward children's novel, I think this is a history book aimed at children.  I enjoyed all of that as I reread it - well, the historical detail more than the plot, but after all, I am no longer a child.

However, having said all that, the thing which makes this book special is that it really is about more than the actual text.  Cynthia Harnett, the author, studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the artwork on the cover is her own.  I think it is perfect, scenes from the story in a restrained colour palette and simple style which evoke the fifteenth century setting.


If I take off the dust jacket (which is in almost perfect condition because when it came to books, I was a very careful child) you can see the cover with its image of a pack horse, laden with sarplers of wool, embossed into the front.


Open the cover and you will find a beautifully drawn map of the places involved in the story, tracing the route from Burford to Southampton and the Isle of Wight.  The same map is replicated on the endpapers, too.  As I read the story I found these maps very helpful.


Throughout the book there are simple but detailed line drawings which enhance the reader's understanding of fifteenth century life.  For example, have you ever wondered how men kept their hose from falling down before they had elastic (I'm serious, don't laugh!)?  Cynthia describes this as Nicholas gets dressed and then she gives us a little drawing.  I found these drawings delightful and at the end of the book, she tells us where she found the inspiration for some of them.


So, if you happen to come across a copy of this book and you know a serious child who is interested in history, I urge you to buy it for her or him - or if you are that grown-up child, buy it for yourself.  It's a bit of a gem.

See you soon, honestly.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

23 comments:

  1. That was rather nice. What an interesting book with beautiful illustrations. x

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    1. I think you've summed it up perfectly, Karen. x

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  2. This book was read aloud to us at primary school back in the 1960,s I have a copy on my shelf. The river Windrush is close to where I live. The wool travelled on rafts up to Witney where they made blankets until very recently. It is an excellent children’’s book.

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    1. You are the only person I've ever come across who knows this book - Welcome, it's lovely to see you here! I knew about Witney blankets but I didn't realise that the wool was transported on rafts, so thank you. x

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  3. I wish I’d read that as a child. I’ll have to look out for it. I’m reading the Librarian at the moment and it keeps mentioning books from my childhood. Rosemary Sutcliffe and Warrior Scarlet . Ah memories! B x

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    1. I don't know Warrior Scarlet but I remember The Eagle of the Ninth. I do love Salley Vickers. x

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  4. The Writing on the Hearth which is set in 15th century Ewelme, Oxfordshire by Cynthia Harnett rings a bell. Joan Aiken was another one of my favourite authors of children's historical novels. It's good that you still have an old edition of The Wool Pack with those wonderful illustrations. I only have a few picture books and annuals from when I was a child and non fiction history books with line drawings that are not published now, but are interesting to look through.

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    1. I think the books we read as children are history lessons in themselves now, the style has changed so much. I still have some Joan Aiken books - A Necklace of Raindrops, Black Hearts in Battersea, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Nightbirds on Nantucket - thank you for reminding me. x

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  5. Looks like my kind of book, I am a great fan of history and as a family read together so it might be one to find for then the Grandchildren visit.

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  6. It sounds like a lovely book with just the right amount of fact and fiction to entertain and inspire a young mind to think about history and how people lived in the past. the illustration are super too:)

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    1. The book probably says a lot about me, Rosie! x

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  7. I don't know the book but I do know Shipton. My lounge curtains are from Shipton Hall when it used to have a Stanway Fabrics outlet there! Not there now but one day I drove past because I working in Ludlow and there was a closing down sale and in I went and bought £400 worth of fabric for £98! Jo xxx

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    1. What a bargain! It was a bit of a treasure trove, and they did nice tea and cake. x

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  8. This looks like a fascinating read. Thank you for sharing it with us. Marie x

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    1. Thanks Marie. I am on the lookout now for Cynthia's other historical children's novels, I think there are five more. x

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  9. It's books like these which can instil a love of history in a child. I think it's important to bring historical facts to life otherwise they can seem irrelevant and misplaced today. It sounds like an interesting and well written book.

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    1. I agree with all of that, Jo, and I think that a love of history instilled in childhood lasts a lifetime. x

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  10. Certainly looks like one to keep. I will see if I can find a copy.

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    1. I enjoyed revisiting this one so much that I have decided to try and find copies of Cynthia's other historical children's novels, she wrote six altogether. It may take me a lifetime! x

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  11. such a fascinating book...
    have a great day

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