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For the historian or passionate hobbyist, Harwoods of Darwen is an insightful resource on rural English life.

Michael Harwood’s Harwoods of Darwen is a book with extraordinary detail; every sentence reflects dedication. Harwood traces his familial history from the late sixteenth into the twentieth century, combining family stories with the larger social conditions that his ancestors experienced to provide a unique insight into English history.

The book first focuses on the Harwoods’ world, tracing social evolution in areas such as industry and education in England’s Darwen region. Essays take deep dives into their subjects and provide a staggering amount of information. The book then provides the family trees of roughly four hundred years’ worth of Harwoods. Those familiar with consulting genealogical histories will find it easy to navigate these chapters, which are full of charts, names, dates, and the stories of highlighted Harwoods from the past.

Throughout, Michael Harwood’s in-depth research is a defining feature of the work; this research shines. Generational family trees that stretch back over three hundred years are carefully pieced together from a wide array of sources. It is apparent that the same depth of research was undertaken for essays on what life was like in the rural communities of Lancashire. Their attention to detail imparts expertise on subjects as specific as nineteenth-century cotton cloth production.

The fact that this is primarily a genealogical project means that records of names, dates, and other similar details are given precedent over a unified, driving narrative. As a result, Harwoods of Darwen is not a book that one reads while curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, but it does become a unique and distinctive reference resource on rural British history. When it’s approached as a reference book, Harwood’s skills as a storyteller come more into light, with the final product offering potentially dry but useful historical detail made compelling by comfortable, almost anecdotal, writing and a wealth of contemporary records.

In his epilogue, Michael Harwood promises a second volume and coyly hints at a potential familial scandal that will feature in this upcoming work. This second volume may prove particularly relevant to those who enjoy a more novelistic narrative than this names-and-dates-focused volume is intended to provide. For the historian or passionate hobbyist, Harwoods of Darwen is an insightful resource on the evolutions and social mobility of a family not otherwise recorded in our history books.