Review of the reads – April 2024

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
April 2024

Yusef Sayed’s review of the reads.

If You Build It, He Will Come
By Simon Curtin
Cranthorpe Millner Publishers, price £10.99

As wildlife in the UK faces ever-growing threats from the changing climate and the impact of development, consumerism, countryside sport and industrial practices, it is heartening to read this story of one project to encourage the breeding of osprey.

Supported by the Belvoir estate, local farmers and the Rutland Water Osprey Project, author Simon Curtin and his wife Julie embarked on a years-long endeavour to attract an osprey pair to nest using an artificial platform. As Curtin explains, this was inspired by several factors: a chance encounter during a trip to Scotland, memories of an illustration by Lincolnshire artist George David Lodge seen in a bird encyclopedia, regaining an interest in birds following a move to Belvoir, and searching for reorientation during a period of bereavement. As family members are sadly lost, there is some consolation in helping new life emerge – in this case for the first time in 200 years at Belvoir.

Curtin traces the months and years of waiting, monitoring and the exciting signs that the ten steps to successful breeding were progressing. The main character in this story is known simply as 4K. The system of naming the birds and the technology used to track their activities puts one in mind of a sci-fi futuristic vision seemingly unconnected with such ancient nature. Yet today’s tools and gadgets allow an extraordinary insight into the behaviour and in particular the migratory patterns of the birds – the final section of the book follows 4K to a single tree in Guinea. The book is illustrated throughout with stills from specialist camera equipment and computerised maps.

The book may be an account of one very recent local, and personal, undertaking but at the same time it opens up a wide knowledge of Great Britain’s natural history and the lives of osprey spanning vast distances and different continents. It confirms the benefits of sustained collaboration, volunteering and mutual respect. It also provides plenty of useful advice for those wishing to make their own individual contribution to helping with conservation in the region.

Dispensing Death and Destruction for Only a Few Pence
By Malcolm Moyes
Troubador Publishing Ltd, price £9.99

The case of Elizabeth Vamplew, a 13-year-old living in Alvingham in 1862, who admitted to poisoning a child in her care, is explored in this new book by Malcolm Moyes, an author with a special interest in Lincolnshire crime and literary history. The means by which Vamplew killed Kate Mary Taylor was a popular household solution for infestation produced in Lincoln: Battle’s Vermin Killer. But as Moyes shows, this single, fatal use of a domestic product in a small village and the trial that followed allows us to gain an insight into the wider social history of the 19th century.

Filling in the background on the rapid proliferation of similar vermin killers, their commercial success and use not only in the home but for agricultural purposes, Moyes then turns to the human uses to which they were put and the darker side of local history. These cheap, accessible products were used as a method of suicide, especially among women in domestic service, and a way to ‘off’ others.

The book is full of short case histories and a detailed inventory of the products and their advertisements – which the reader and researcher can take in whatever dose they choose.

When the focus turns to the Vamplew case, Moyes provides a thoughtful and clear insight into related subjects that expand beyond the particulars of the case: the concerns of coroners, the rhetoric of newspapers (notably The Lincolnshire Chronicle and Stamford Mercury, who had journalistic concoctions of their own ready when reporting), and the interests of shopkeepers to avoid responsibility in these criminal matters.

As horrible as the incidents described are, one cannot help but be struck by the wonderful names that appear throughout the book: Mildred Pepper, Septimus Lowe, Utterby Boles – enough to capture the reader’s attention. The book’s title and subject might not seem the most digestible to the general reader, but there is a wealth of fascinating historical material, touching on perennial questions about media influence, criminal responsibility among the young, and the conditions of life for the poorest.

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