Review of the reads – November 2022

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
November 2022

My Dearest, My Darling
By Lawrence and Millicent Bond (edited by Andrew Bond)

This collection of letters spans 1943 to 1945 and captures the lives of one Grantham couple separated by war. Architect Lawrence ‘Tommy’ Bond – later recognised for his designs for local churches and conservation work – was posted to India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar with the Royal Engineers, leaving behind his wife Millicent and their two youngest children, Simon and Sarah. The family stayed in regular contact, despite postal delays, and the correspondence – now compiled by son, Andrew – provides an affectionate, humorous and often stark picture of two very different worlds.

Tommy’s dispatches detail a life in the East, the surrounding cultures and climate often of more interest than the mundane responsibilities given to him. Venturing into local villages with sketchpad in hand, he provides vivid descriptions and drawings of life in the Raj. By contrast, Millicent reports on her struggles to make rations last and look after the family amid soaring costs of living, house moves, and unreliable home help. Still, there is an unfailing optimism, not only that the war will surely end but that the family can look forward to brighter days ahead together.

Millicent’s Grantham gossip, like Tommy’s tourist impressions, captures the social scene of the time, from Gonerby to Harlaxton, with a directness and wit. Even amid the privations of war, the threat of bombing and fears for the safety of loved ones, Millicent and the family were able to enjoy trips to the pictures and local parties on special occasions. While they awaited news of Millicent’s brother Tol from the frontline and of one Allied advance after another, there are important matters of clothing and Christmas gifts to sort.

There are all too clear parallels with the present but while this might be dispiriting for some readers, Millicent and Tommy’s constant dialogue and reassurances are also a heartening reminder of the perseverance, duty and hope that can sustain us in the darkest times.

Published by Andrew Bond Publishing, Price £24.99 pbk, £6.99 Kindle

Attired in Deepest Mourning
By Malcolm Moyes

Three 19th-century criminal trials, all involving Lincolnshire women found guilty of murdering family members by poisoning, are the subject of this new book. It provides an in-depth look at the particulars of each case, the legal proceedings that followed, along with a critical study of the coverage by local and national papers – notably the Lincolnshire Chronicle and Stamford Mercury – picking apart the folk tale stereotypes, or ‘crass piffle’, and revealing complexities.

Moyes shows the fabrications and inconsistencies of witness statements and press reports that characterised the trials of Eliza Joyce, Mary Ann Milner and Priscilla Biggadyke – and the three stories reveal how horrific domestic acts in small rural areas can throw up stark failings in larger institutions and raise wider social questions.

Each case is approached in a similar fashion, with helpful timelines and lists of key figures. The same Mr Miller defended two of the women, and hangman William Calcraft and prison Chaplain William Richter appear in separate narratives that had their own unique arc and impact on the criminal justice system; the suicide of Mary Ann Milner while awaiting execution and the refusal of Priscilla Biggadkye to admit to wrongdoing created considerable disquiet and debate. At the same time as the trials seek to establish the blame for the poisonings, there are attempts to attribute blame for systemic failures.

Its title evoking Dickens, Moyes’s book presents its own detailed social picture of the Victorian era, moving between the working classes, the representatives of the law and the manipulations of the press. It is a studious antidote to the simplistic treatment of the ‘female poisoner’ in morbid crime histories, and many of the themes of Moyes’ study, concerning truth and justice, will resonate with examples from our own day. Nevertheless Moyes also shows that with modern knowledge and insight we might gain a very different perspective on lives that were once so readily caricatured.

Published by Matador, Price £9.99

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