Launch event 'Legends of Wood & Ink'

with printmaker Shona Branigan 

The Lodge, Blackhill Park, Consett

Saturday 26th October

To attend the presentation, please reserve a place.

Click the image for more information


The riches of the Land of Oak & Iron lie not only in fertile soil, mineral wealth, invention, industry and a history that goes back to the Romans.  Its greatest wealth lies in its people, and people love stories. Teeming with devils, boggles, witches, giants and marauding moss-troopers, the Tales of Derwentdale conjure the magical mysterious past of our farms and villages. In setting down these myths, legends and anecdotes in 1902, James William Fawcett drew on centuries of traditional tales, many of them passed down by word of mouth. 

But it turns out the man himself was a mystery, and some of his best stories were about himself. Traveller, adventurer, naturalist, linguist, historian and writer he certainly was.  But was he also an intelligence officer working closely with Lord Kitchener?  Did he really enter Khartoum immediately after the murder of General Gordon?  Was he shipwrecked three times and rescued by gunboat?

Last published in 1902, this new edition of the Tales of Derwentdale, now illustrated by the wondrous woodcuts of Thomas Bewick, will thrill and entertain a new generation of readers.  And then the extraordinary story of James William Fawcett is told for the first time, along with extensive extracts from his wonderful work on the natural history of the Land of Oak & Iron.

Researching a life

When I'm working on a novel, I rely mainly on secondary sources:  someone else has done the primary research.  When we decided to republish the Tales, I thought I'd do a short intro about the author, and I wasn't prepared for what we found or how gripped I would get.  If it hadn't been for David Butler's census and archive research, I'd have been too daunted to try to piece the story together.

Once I got going, there were so many strands to the research that sometimes I felt like one of those dog-walkers you see with twelve hounds on tangled leads! The biography I've produced is just a start.  I never did get to the bottom of the Kitchener connection, but I have an intriguing theory; I don’t know how to find out whether Fawcett was really shipwrecked three times or picked up in a gunboat; I can’t go to Australia to read the fragile records from a part of his life that will really surprise you; the National Archives is bound to have information I haven’t found; if you’re a genealogy buff, you might be able to find him on more passenger lists, and you might even be able to find out whether he has any living relatives; you might have documents or photos in your loft... The possibilities are endless.

If you fancy picking up one of these strands of research, please get in touch.  When the 200 copies we've printed sell out, we can make a revised second edition as more information comes to light. There are endnotes in this Life & Works: I’ve listed the resources we used and included transcriptions of articles. You’ll also find more information in the Appendices; there are some useful links below.
Let’s find out everything we can about James William Fawcett: not only does he deserve it, but we’ll also find out more about our own history along the way.

Links and documents

J.W. Fawcett - Research document by David Butler, including census information and complete list of works.

List of the subscribers to the 1902 edition of Tales of Derwentdale 

Consett and Vale of Derwent Naturalist Field Club

The Late J.W.Fawcett by Madeleine Hope Dodds, in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne 

Timber Trees of Queensland in the Queensland Agricultural Journal 1st October 1899

Dendrological Notes on North West Durham from the Transactions of the Royal Forestry Society 1885.

Heroes & Villains - feature by Mike Amos in Northern Echo based on interview with Ray Thompson

Satley's Forgotten Son - an article by Ray Thompson published in the Lanchester Village Voice Sept 2008. P.5.

Black Thatch

John Robson by R.A.Baker and D.S.Gill in the Northumbrian Naturalist Volume 83, 2017, pages 12-23

Malta Blue Books

Complete scan of the Narrative of the Terrible Cyclone and Flood in Townsville 1896 Courtesy of Townsville City Library

John and Rosemary Gall

Consett Magazine - A Few Local Myths and Legends

Billy Costello, The Pitman Photographer - a website by Joe Mallon.

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