Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times by Carmen Callil - review by Piers Brendon

Piers Brendon

George & His Wagon

Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times

By

Jonathan Cape 346pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

In this book Carmen Callil attempts to write the history of her dirt-poor English family during the 19th century based on almost nothing in the way of direct evidence. Lacking personal information such as letters or diaries, she relies on census data, parish registers, workhouse and criminal records, snippets from local newspapers and scraps of handed-down memory, like her mother’s recollection that one of their forebears was ‘the kind of woman who would take a whip to a cat’.

There are not even pictures of the main characters, though there is a description of one of them, George Conquest, a canal worker who in 1829, at the age of twenty-three, was convicted of stealing a piece of hemp and transported to Australia for seven years. He was a little

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