Hoops and Signals

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Thomas Ireland, an ancestor of the author, spent his whole life in the mid-Sussex village of Balcombe. From the early days of the London to Brighton railway line Thomas was a signalman at Balcombe tunnel, but long before that he had followed his father and other relatives into the woodland craft of the barrel hoop maker. Alongside his duties with the railway company he continued to be very active in this trade for the rest of his life. In joining the railway he made a quantum leap from the life of the rural workman into the industrial world. But what marks out this member of the nineteenth century rural working class is that he was highly literate. People from the village frequently came to him to have their letters read or written. Probably to a large extent self-taught, he read voraciously and – most significantly – wrote down what he learned in a series of thirty or so pocket note books. In most of these he kept a journal. John Ireland, who has known Balcombe all his life, inherited these diaries, and his book uses them to provide a prism through which the varied aspects of Thomas’s life and character are revealed.

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John Ireland








210 X 148mm


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