1958 [1960]: Lindisfarne or Holy Island, by Frank Graham

Frank Graham’s first history book was Lindisfarne or Holy Island: A Short History and Guide, published by his wife Vera Graham in 1958. This is the second edition, published by Harold Hill and Sons in 1960. Harold Hill had been established in Newcastle since 1915, the main part of their business being as a wholesaler selling to libraries. Several of Frank Graham’s early books were issued under Harold Hill’s imprint in the early 1960s.

Lindisfarne was a buff-covered pamphlet with a sketch of the ruined priory on the front cover. Card covers and bright colours would come later. In structure it is more formal than the later Graham guidebooks, being divided into numbered chapters and not the continuous text with section headings familiar from subsequent books. Illustrations are credited more consistently. There are also two colour plates, one a reproduction of John Speed’s map of the island and the other a map drawn for the 1958 edition by Frank Graham himself. Both are strikingly lurid compared to the dull card and greyscale photographs elsewhere.

Frank Graham later emphasised that this guide was written to fill a gap. While teaching, he’d been unable to find a satisfactory guide to Holy Island, its priory, castle and village. Graham always stressed that his guidebooks were free of advertising; it’s possible that Graham was thinking of W. Halliday’s Holy Island (formerly Lindisfarne) first published in Newcastle by Andrew Reid in 1907. I’ve seen the second edition, issued in 1909. It was not likely to endear itself to Frank Graham. Pages and pages of advertising, mainly for cafes and shops in Berwick, frame the text to the point of smothering it; and the book proper begins with portraits of the lord of the manor and his predecessor, both of the brewing Crossman family, and of the author, who goes on to praise the Crossmans and depict the locals as loyal folk grateful for their beneficence. History is not especially emphasised, the author being more excited by the idea of the island as a spa for genteel invalids and its potential as a golf or shooting resort. This approach was of little use to Frank Graham or for the lower middle and working class with increased leisure time, some with their cars, who came to the island and might want the sights explaining to them. The official guide to Lindisfarne Priory, from the Ministry of Works, was newer, but focused on one site and its architecture.

Frank Graham’s guide concentrates on the island and its inhabitants, with an emphasis on the monastic community of the monastery and its successor priory, and the soldiers of the castle. Without fanfare, the other residents of the island are depicted not as grateful dependents on a lord of the manor, but as a struggling fishing community who had surrendered their rights as freemen and burgesses under the Enclosure Act of 1793 in return for small plots of land and a nineteenth-century herring fishery boom which had faded by the dawn of the twentieth, as had an industry based on its lime kilns. Professional genius is admired, nevertheless, as in Sir Edwin Lutyens’s restoration and sympathetic conversion of Lindisfarne Castle as a home for the publisher Edward Hudson. Bird life is described briefly without any expectation that the visitor will want to shoot the brent geese or eider ducks.

The work of the monastery is central to Graham’s account. He is distrustful of miracles, but respectful of communal life. The centre pages show two pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels, which Graham contextualizes as part of the island’s history even though the gospels had not been on the island for ten centuries. There are insights into the precautions the monks had to take: “It was in 1348 that the monks started buying armour for their defence, but by 1362 there was only complete equipment for one man and limited armour for five others.” Warrior monks these never were. The final chapter is a list of extracts from the monastic records, as translated by the Reverend James Raine whose history of the island Graham considers the most important. They suggest the cost of manintaining monastic life, including the clothing of servants, the stocking of the priory estates, entertainment (“minstrels of our courtesy”) and inventories of the library, which in 1367 seems to have been unimpressive other than the gospels, which the monks then knew as “The bok of St Cuthbert which fell into the sea.”

The 1979 and 2005 editions of Holy Island

Lindisfarne or Holy Island was a success. The Berwick Advertiser (22 May 1958) praised it and was particularly taken by the records of monastic expenditure. It went through several editions and was thoroughly reworked in the 1970s, with Frank Graham adding new illustrations by Ronald Embleton and shortening the title to Holy Island. This edition was taken over by Butler Publishing in 1986 and reprinted frequently thereafter. A new edition, updating the prose and modernizing the layout for the digital age, including new maps, followed in 2005, also from Butler Publishing.

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