On Monday 19th November Wheatley Local History Group had a very good turnout including a number of welcome guests. The speaker for the morning was Martyn Johnson, who would enlighten members about the writing of the best-selling book, ‘Black Diamonds’, subtitled, The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, by Catherine Bailey.
Having established that very few members of the group had actually read the book, he proceeded to tell them a bit of his life’s story leading to how and why he became involved, starting with tales from his school days in the small mining village Darfield where he claimed to be less than academic. When he left school at 15, and not wanting follow his father down the pit, he ‘fell into’ a job as an apprentice blacksmith, where he loved hammering red hot metal. At the youth club he met the local vicar, who submitted an application to join the police force for him. He raised many laughs in his audience as he recounted not only the recruitment process but his early ‘beat’ days in Attercliffe, one of the toughest parts in the east end of Sheffield City. His stories of ‘action’ on the beat in the mid-1960s, before Health and Safety took over were in some cases gory or risqué as well as humorous. After a spell in CID he returned to the beat as his life revolved around grassroots policing. He just loved people.
He has been a long-time resident of Wentworth and one evening in the local pub he met a chap who was trying to write a book about his great grandfather, Lord Milton of the big house. The young man had such a posh voice and city dress sense that the locals would not engage with him. Martyn helped by quizzing his local friends and the book was written.
Sometime later the same guy met a lady in London, Catherine Bailey, who was trying to write a book about the family at Wentworth Woodhouse. She too was struggling with her research as many records had been burnt, so the young man suggested she contact Martyn. Members heard tales of working with the estate gamekeeper, and the sunbathing ladies of the training college in the big house. Also, a very old locked box in the stables, which was opened by a former prisoner who left jail as a born-again Christian. Martyn knew him from his police days as one of the best criminal lock pickers in the business. Then when Catherine visited Martyn with a list of people, the top of the list was erroneously marked as deceased. Martyn suggested that they visit him but not to tell him he was dead. There followed three-and-a-half years of work, including more visits by Catherine, who became a good friend. So the book was produced with much input from Martyn’s local knowledge and contacts. Amongst them was a 96-year-old working butcher who produced a special flavouring for his dripping sandwich by scraping his working apron with his knife.
The tales of his visits to London for the book launch and award ceremony were also very amusing. His gift of signed copies being the only payment except a jar of pickle in a Fortnum and Mason’s wicker basket which he produced from a plastic bag! As a result of Martyn’s involvement in these books he was encouraged to write his own and he has now published several books recounting his days in the police and also a book of postcard picture based on Wentworth village and house.
The group’s next meeting will be on Monday 21st January at 10.00am in the Village Hall. It will be their annual ‘round robin’ of little stories from the members. These can include family research, local heritage, and even school day memories or artefacts. It is thought by many to be one of their best meetings of the year. It is an ideal opportunity for new members or visitors to come along and get to know members and what they get up to. For details call Dave on 01427 880934 or Alan on 01427 884147.