Welcome to my website. It is called NORTH WEST HISTORY because I am a lover of history and because I grew up and live in the North West of England. Indeed, my enthusiasm for the subject blossomed in Greasby, Wirral, where I was attending the junior school in about 1965. I was not a bright pupil (and never became one). But one day, my teacher began to talk about ‘cavemen’, otherwise known as our stone age ancestors. I found her narrative to be rather interesting – it was the first time I was aware of someone talking about the past and it stimulated my imagination. I don’t really know why, but the fascination stayed with me. Thereafter, I was captivated by anything old – date stones on local buildings, pottery and bottles unearthed on waste ground, family photographs, farmyards and artifacts of any kind. I even used to dress in old things – the Army and Navy Stores in Liverpool being my favourite source of clothing and the size 7 British Army ammunition boots, dated to 1957, obtained therein in about 1971 (price £3), became my favourite items of footwear. I did not have an intellectual defence of the academic discipline of history, just a love for finding out about the past, which was fuelled by the reading of Ladybird Books and school texts written by such luminaries as the ubiquitous Mr Unstead.
Coincidentally and charmingly, I later discovered that the classroom in which my lifelong love of history germinated was situated a matter of yards away from a very ancient spot – Greasby Copse or Hancock’s Wood as we used to call it. During the 1970s, I and a friend called Paul Smith used to explore it and come up with archaeological explanations for the numerous shards of pottery and the earthworks we found in and around it. I always felt that it was a deeply atmospheric place with a profound sense of numinous. We knew that there was talk of a possible Roman road, running from Chester towards Meols and I even joined in a brief archaeological dig there in 1985 which uncovered some possible stones from a road of some sort. But, in the early 1990s, archaeologists from Liverpool Museum found something even more exciting – evidence of a middle stone age or mesolithic encampment, the seasonal home of nomadic hunters about 9,500 years ago. It turned out to be the oldest known habitation site in the north of England. So, I had begun to think about the past whilst sitting on a spot which had probably been walked over many times by stone age people just like the ones I had been learning about during that routine, unremarkable lesson – a jolly nice little coincidence upon which I often dwell.
Between 1978 and 1981, I studied history at York University and in 1985 qualified as a history teacher at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. I then went on to teach history in three schools and a college in North Wales, two schools in Essex, a young offenders’ institution in Lancaster, a school in Lytham St. Annes and finally a school in Kendal. I also taught evening classes, a weekend course and on a summer school for Lancaster University at various times between about 2002 and 2008. I gained an MA in History in Education at the Institute of Education in London in 1996 and am now working on a PhD as a part-time student at Manchester Metropolitan University. My subject is Wirral and the Great War c.1910-1925.
In 1982 I was at a loose end and used to do a bit of work for my grandmother, Mrs Gladys Roberts, of Greenbank Road West Kirby. One cold day in the March of that year, after tending her garden, I asked her about my ancestors. She informed me that many of them were buried in Hoylake Church Yard, so, before it got dark, I hastened over there on my bike and quickly discovered the grave of my great grandfather, Fred Roberts and a much bigger one containing his parents and younger brothers John Isaac who drowned off the Hoylake Lifeboat in November 1906 and Peter who drowned off the Smack ‘Daisy’ in 1914.
I was motivated to go to the archives and find more out about my these people. It felt good to be using many of the skills I had learned at university in order to gain a deeper understanding of my roots. Noticing that my ancestors were fishermen, I searched for more information about the lives of 19th century British fisherman, but could find very little. I realised that I would have to research them for myself and, in doing so, also discovered that nobody had written a proper general history of Hoylake either, so I took that job on as well and ‘Hoylake and Meols Past’ was published in 1992. Ten years later my ‘History of Wirral’ came out. I thoroughly enjoyed the research, the writing and the subsequent communication with readers of both works and began to look forward to the time when I could dedicate myself solely to the study of history.
During the 30 years in which I was a history teacher, I grasped every available opportunity to deepen my understanding of history and to enable students to practise it and to think about it for themselves. I was a frequent visitor to local archives, museums and libraries in pursuit of primary sources to use in the classroom. I had the privilege of working with the National Archives in London and teachers from other parts of the U.K. and the U.S.A. on two occasions. The first was a project about the Slave Trade, which included a field trip to Barbados; the second was about America under British rule. During the latter, I and several other British teachers were employed to help our American colleagues to explore the archives and to find documents and maps which they could use in class. A delighted recipient of my advice gave me one of the best compliments I have ever received in my life:
‘Thank you Stephen for all your help. You are a true historian.’
People have often asked me what my specialist subject is. I have usually found it very difficult to give a straight answer because I am interested in the histories of every place and every group of people during every period. I enjoy prehistory and archaeology as much as documentary history and I sometimes stray into anthropology, etymology and linguistics as well (albeit in a very amateurish fashion). I have found great pleasure in studying the Roman Empire, the Early Middle or Dark Ages, The ‘Middle’ Middle Ages, the Reformation, the English Civil War, India before and during the British Raj, The British Empire and 20th Century World History, especially the history of the two world wars. However, what I really enjoy is original research. There is nothing in the world as exciting as gaining new knowledge from primary sources and then making it understandable to a wider audience. It can be a lonely and exhausting pursuit, but, ultimately, it is always rewarding. That is my favourite sort of history.
During the 1990s, while teaching in Essex, I developed a fascination for the Great War. It was fuelled by readings of Robert Graves’s ‘Goodbye to All That’ and Lynn MacDonald’s ‘1914’ and visits to the National Army Museum in Chelsea and to Ypres in Belgium. I joined the Western Front Association and began taking my own visits to Flanders in 1994. Part of me did not want to become a specialist in a comparatively recent subject or to become an expert in death and destruction, but, finally, I gave in and admitted that the Great War was my specialist subject. It is indeed a grim and revolting topic, but it is also utterly compelling. I am not drawn to it by morbid voyeurism and blood-lust, but by a fascination with people. Often there is insufficient evidence to enable us to find out about people in the past; but war, and especially the Great War, has created and preserved masses of material about all kinds of folk from all classes and backgrounds in all kinds of situations. The War came at a time of unprecedented literacy rates in highly organised and bureaucratic societies and inspired a great deal of writing, an increasing amount of which is becoming available to the researcher. Everybody in Britain and the Empire was touched by the Great War and we are, in many ways, still trying to comprehend and get over it. That is why it is so absorbing and that is why it has become my specialist subject.
However, it is still not my only subject. I am perfectly capable of getting absorbed by any other topic and, of course, I remain committed to family, local, regional and landscape history. History is all around us. We see it everywhere and, apart from working in the archives, the best way of encountering it is by walking. Lumps and bumps, hedges and walls, holes and hollows are as important to the historian as are documents. I annoy my family to death by frequently commenting on them when we are out and about, travelling through Britain, but I have the feeling that, somewhere out there, there are kindred spirits who would like to share my enthusiasm or beginners who would like to know more about the clues to the past which are everywhere.
My dedication to Family, Local and Great War History is expressed in my current PhD researches into Wirral c.1910-1925 and by my two other websites – An Imperishable Record about the people of North West Wirral, especially those recorded on the Grange Hill War Memorial in West Kirby and Great War North West about anybody and anywhere in our region during the First World War. Please have a look at them in order see what kind of research and community history projects I am currently involved in.
As stated earlier, for many years, I have been looking forward to dedicating myself more fully to the researching and writing of history. The time has now arrived. I have become a self-employed historian and am offering the following services to you (in each case, you can follow the hyperlink to the page dedicated to explaining that particular service in greater depth):-
- Great War Genealogy: Every family in Britain and much of its former empire was touched by the Great War. Possibly as a result of stories, letters, medals or artifacts which have been handed down through the generations, many of us are aware of ancestors who served in that terrible conflict. You might have such an ancestor and often wondered what he or she actually did during the war, but have either lacked the time or the expertise to be able to carry out the research for yourself. I will carry out the research for you and write it up as a readable and fully referenced biography, which can go a long way towards bringing your ancestor back to life. Such biographies can be lovely gifts for other members of your family and act as starting points for more research into your family tree. Have a look at my dedicated page to find out more about this service.
- Genealogy: I will carry out research into any aspect of your family tree. You might not have any knowledge about your ancestors or you might have got so far with your researches and hit a brick wall. Whatever level you are at, I can help you out. I believe that I served a good apprenticeship in genealogy because most of my research was carried out in the pre-internet age when you had to work with the original sources in the archives. Of course, many of these sources are now accessible online, but not all of them. I have a good knowledge of what else is available and can visit the archives and other repositories for you. This might be particularly useful for you if you do not live in the U.K.. Have a look at my dedicated page.
- Historical Research: I am familiar with a wide range of primary sources, archives, libraries, museums and other repositories in the United Kingdom and am willing to carry out research for you into any topic. Of course, I am closest to archives in the north-western counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and Cheshire, but I will happily go anywhere which might be required in pursuit of the knowledge you want, which I will write up in a professional and accessible manner. Have a look at my dedicated page.
- Walking and Exploration: There is nothing quite like walking for enabling you to unwind, to get exercise and fresh air and to learn more about the landscape upon which we live. I will act as a guide on any walk you would like to do. I have many existing itineraries through fascinating parts of our region, but can respond to your suggestions as well. Again, you might be coming to the U.K. on holiday and be keen to discover the country on foot but not know quite where to go. I can create an itinerary for you based on your interests and either let you discover it for yourself or act as your personal guide. Have a look at my dedicated page.
- Great War Battlefield Tours: I have been taking parties of visitors to the battlefields of France and Flanders since 1994. I began by organising trips for my pupils and then started to take adults as well. I know my way around northern France and Belgium and have plenty of experience of arranging transport, accommodation and personalised itineraries. Please have a look at my dedicated page.
- Other Battlefield Tours: in addition to the Great War Battlefields, I am familiar with the areas relating to the Dunkirk Evacuations of 1940 and to the Normandy Landing Beaches of 1944. I have also studied many British battlefields, especially those associated with the English Civil War and with the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745. I will gladly organise trips to those areas too. Please see my dedicated page for more information.
- Education: I worked as a secondary school history teacher for 30 years. During that time, I tried to enable my students to think for themselves and to deal with primary sources and artifacts. I have built up a large bank of unique materials covering all sorts of topics. You might be a teacher who would like your pupils to be able to work on primary sources, to learn about prehistory, archaeology or local history, to engage with artifacts or to experience some living history. I can help you out by giving advice, sharing my materials, helping you to plan or by working with your children, whether they be in a primary or a secondary school. See my dedicated page.
- Living History: I have a growing collection of replica and genuine Great War artifacts and clothing and can offer exhibitions, displays, talks and parties. Please see the relevant page.
- Community History Projects: I have experience of working with community groups who are keen to explore their local history, especially with a focus on the impact of the Great War and can help you to consider and organise similar projects. See the relevant page.
Please be assured that I offer all of these services out of reverence for the discipline of history and a desire to help others engage with it. I do not claim to be a great historian or a leading expert on any of the above topics, but I do know that I am enthusiastic and committed to doing a good job and to providing you with what you really need. If ever there is something I don’t know or am unable to handle, I will be honest about it and either help you to find someone else or acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to complete your enquiry. I aim to charge you at a rate which is affordable but which makes the work viable for me.
Please go to my contact page if you would like to know more about anything. I look forward to hearing from you.
All the Best from,