*** DEBUG END ***

One Fine Day: A journey through English time by Ian Marchant

12 May 2023

Colin Heber-Percy finds much to enjoy in this story of the Marchants

I HAVE SPENT a few days in the company of the Marchant family; and it’s been a riot. One Fine Day by Ian Marchant isn’t a book so much as a gloriously eccentric meander through an entire library. Following a cancer diagnosis and the discovery of the diary of his “seven-times-great great-grandfather”, Marchant mulches us into the roots of a family tree that grows and twists through the history of England since the 17th century. And it is not always pretty. Marchant steers us away from an England that he thinks is in danger of becoming “a boutique festival sort of place, an artisanal gin Michelin-starred pub, Airbnb Country Living place, a defanged, disenchanted landscape”. Instead, he offers us something much weirder, deeply enchanting, and fully fanged.

The story of the Marchants, from immigrant Belgian smelters to yeoman Sussex farmers to naval surgeons and bakers, also incorporates wildly entertaining digressions on subjects as diverse as the benefits of feeding faeces to fish, the history of iron production in Wallonia, the genesis of the smallpox vaccine in early-18th-century Istanbul, the birth of empirical science, and instructions on how to weave your own pants out of flax.

© Julian Dicken, Moonshake Design 2023One of Julian Dicken’s black-and-white illustrations for the book under review

One Fine Day reminded me a little of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s pioneering 1978 work of “Annales School” history, Montaillou. In both cases, the example of a rural community casts light on much wider and deeper historical forces at play. In One Fine Day, Marchant uses his ancestors as a lens through which to observe, from the grass-roots, as it were, the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, dynastic geo-politics, and religious dissent: a bit like Montaillou, but much funnier. Marchant’s book made me laugh out loud in many places. He also moved me to tears.

Marchant’s closing chapter could come across as a pubby panacea, but it is done with such verve, wit, and good grace that he is able to carry the reader along with him. Whether he is describing 17th-century women’s undergarments, turnips, or Brexit, Marchant is often caustic, always compassionate, polemical, and not always polite. He is humane, invigorating company, and a joy to read.

The Revd Dr Colin Heber-Percy is a Team Vicar in the Savernake Team Ministry. He is the author of
Tales of a Country Parish (Short Books, 2022) (Books, 1 April 2022Podcast, 14 April).

One Fine Day: A journey through English time
Ian Marchant
September Publishing £20
Church Times Bookshop £18


Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)