A retired sawmill operator, David Shopland looks back on his family’s long history in the business, all from the same small town in the west of England.
Shopland starts by setting the scene in seaside Clevedon, Somerset County, before narrating his great-grandfather’s arrival, mid-19th century, carrying just a few tools and a violin. He then traces the humble beginnings of Clevedon Sawmills, describing the gradual technological improvements it underwent through the long Victorian era.
The author strikes a particularly proud note explaining how his grandfather Edmund (the family “visionary”) kept the firm going through hard times in the early 20th century. Those included a sweeping nationalization of industry during WWI, the “Terrible Worldwide Slump” of the Depression and finally the huge privations experienced by besieged Britain during WWII.
With the sawmill still in operation, currently by David’s son James (Shopland even gives the business number and address), the emphasis on the nitty-gritty of lumbering is understandable, if unlikely to carve out a big readership. But more accessible material does appear, in the form of historical nuggets of general interest.
For example, Shopland gives an unvarnished, and very British, survey of harsh working conditions pre-WWII, when “wages were minimal,” days were long, and, most shocking of all, “tea breaks were unknown”! He also recalls that, in economically shattered post-WWII Britain, new domestic cars were earmarked for export abroad, and the only adequate vehicle the firm could find to buy was a retired airfield fire engine.
Sawdust and Splinters is niche, to say the least, and rather rough-hewn. The book could do with another layer of editorial finish, as the text sports some distracting errors and, equally distracting, a tendency to randomly capitalize common nouns.
But for readers who share the author’s interests—pride in his family’s long-surviving business and in the town where it’s based—this book should inspire as much affection as went into its writing.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.