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REVIEW: Stoney Middleton Well Dressings

David Thorpe, Stoney Middleton Well  Dressings: An Illustrated History, Stoney Middleton Well Dressing Society, 2017.  Obtainable from Paul Fox, 2 High Barns, Middleton Lane, Stoney Middleton, S32 4UB; £6.50, incl. postage & packing.

At its annual well-dressing Stoney Middleton has a small shop selling souvenirs, including a booklet about Derbyshire well-dressings.  When it was realised that the stock of  the booklet was running low the organisers decided to produce their own account of the village well-dressing.  Thus Dave Thorpe, who designed many dressing between 1979 and 2005, has compiled this 48 page booklet.

Well-dressing in Stoney Middleton started in 1936 and continues to the present, when three wells are dressed each year.  Rather than producing a history which flows from 1936 to 2017 the author has adopted a rather less systematic approach.  Thus a section on the village’s first dressing is followed by one on the origins of the custom (‘speculations on the origins … is [sic.] rife’),  then follow sections on the preparation of the dressings, and different themes, before returning to sections covering different decades.  Each section is fully illustrated, but I, for one, would have preferred a chronological approach, so that the evolution of the dressings could have been more easily understood by comparing  photographs of dressings from consecutive years.

As a designer of wells Dave Thorpe is keen to attribute dressings to their designers and photographs are shown of the work of 23 designers.  It would have been interesting to know more about these people, drawn from a village with a population of less than 500, who have produced such talented work.  As it is, we know are told that the author has an ‘artistic background’,  Oliver Shimwell, who assisted his father Ted with the first dressing, was headmaster of the village school, and Ben Milner, who was active in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was ‘a driver for a local laundry’.

Summing up, yes, this is a worthwhile study of Stoney Middleton’s well-dressings, but I’m left wanting to know more: more about the people involved, more about the methods used, and more about associated events – from 1948 until the early 1950s a carnival was included in the celebrations.

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