Review of Ranters’ Wharf – by Rosemary Noble

Here are my thoughts on Ranters Wharf, which I have recently read. I hope some of you will find them interesting. For the first time, I learned what ‘ranters’ were, as I will explain later.

What is it about?

This is an unusual book, a mixture of fact and fiction, which tells the story of one man and his son, in a semi-biographical form, covering the period from the late Eighteenth to the mid Nineteenth Century. It is set mainly in the Lincolnshire Wolds and the town of Grimsby, places seldom visited by novelists. The book looks at the economic, social, religious and political challenges of the period through the eyes of the main characters. They experience external and internal conflicts as they try to reconcile personal ambition, family loyalty, Christian faith and political activism. They do not find easy answers.

What is Ranters Wharf like?

This is not a book for readers who like their history to be romantic and comforting. Poverty and social injustice, in both town and countryside, are always in the background, when not in the foreground. The period detail is fascinating, but without over long descriptions or intrusive pedantry. The historical notes at the end helped sift fact from fiction, but this is no history textbook: the characters and situations are real and engaging,  even the minor characters. Some of the incidents are quite moving.

What did I not like about it?

Inevitably, as being true to history, the story tended to be rather depressing. Perhaps the author could have created a little more ‘light and shade’, without losing the book’s sense of reality. A little more humour would also have helped.

I found it a bit slow to develop a theme. For several chapters at the beginning, I was looking for the plot. It began to take shape only when the main character encountered the Primitive Methodists, a group of which I knew little before reading this book.

Who were the ranters?

People used to call certain kinds of preachers ‘ranters’, because they were people who ranted, i.e. shouted their views. It was a derogatory term. The author appears to have had some personal experience of lively nonconformist Christianity. The book reminds us that not all preachers in those days were either naïve or hypocrites, and that not all expressions of the Christian faith have opposed social and political change.

Is this preacher a ranter?
Is this preacher a ranter?
What about the way it was written?

The language and style seemed appropriate for the period: easily readable, but not irritatingly modern.

What is my general opinion of Ranters’ Wharf?

Overall, I found the book fascinating and thought-provoking. A good antidote to the Merrie England type of historical novel.

Some of the most unlikely events are actually drawn from real life. You couldn’t make them up.

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