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22nd May, 2022

Feature: Stitching together a story of life in our industrial history

Ross Crawford 21st Jan, 2020

A SNAPSHOT of the life of a mid-19th century Redditch and Studley needlemaker has been unpicked and published by Studley historians.

And it’s thanks to a connection in faraway New Zealand that it’s all come to light.

Diary of a Studley Gentleman – The Private Journal of Rowland Hill, Needlemaker of Studley and Ipsley tells of the life and love of the author who together with his brother Jabez Hill, a well-known ‘beacon’ at Studley Baptist Church, ran J&M Mills of Ipsley.

It was discovered thanks to the Studley Village Hall Needle Heritage Project in 2017 and the re-printing of an updated edition of local historian Arthur Cooke’s ‘Needle Making in Studley – Transformation of a Small Craft Industry’ to coincide with it.

Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web a Lisa McNee in New Zealand who was researching her English ‘Hill’ family tree had uncovered a ‘Redditch needle factory’ connection and seeing the book advertised on the internet, got in touch.

Karen Cording of Studley Local History Society takes up the story: “Much of Lisa’s key information had come from a collection of family effects, made up of all the usual items like a family bible, photographs, postcards and other pieces of ephemera which her father Neil had inherited from his uncle Alfred ‘Jum’ Hill, of Whangarei.”

“In a fortunate stroke of serendipity, nestling amongst these family treasures was a hand written diary. Lisa told us: “The diary has sat in my great Uncle’s box of possessions probably since around 1956 when his Granddad died. I doubt anyone read it: I was probably the first one.”

“Several pages had been torn out from the back of the diary, but those for the period 1847-1849 remained intact.”

Lisa sent a copy of the diary to Karen who together with colleague Joy Pegrum carried out the painstaking work of transcribing mid-19th century copperplate handwriting.

She followed this up with a visit from New Zealand, bringing more information and to say where her ancestors had come from.

A photograph of Rowland was also discovered.

“Back in those days there wasn’t much of a boundary between Redditch and Studley, it was all regarded as the ‘needle area’,” added Karen.

“We spent several hours transcribing it and managed to work out every word except what looked like ‘dumpling’ which didn’t fit in the context.

“We put out a request for help and someone else suggested it was indeed ‘dumpling’.

“Was it a term of endearment? It just didn’t fit, so we did some more research and discovered it was an old Baptist word for full immersion at a baptism, and we had it.”

More research followed to flesh out the entries, put them in context and build a better picture of the life and times of Rowland Hill.

These have now been compiled and published as Diary of a Studley Gentleman – The Private Journal of Rowland Hill, Needlemaker of Studley & Ipsley.

It’s a fascinating insight into one man’s life and features photographs of the diary pages and an explanation on the facing page as well as photographs and illustrations.

It’s published by Show and Tell Publications and is available from Karen for £5 plus postage. Call 01527 69150 or email for further details.


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