The Local Historian - Volume 46 Number 4 - October 2016

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1. 'Lancelot Brown and local history', 266-283 by Tom Williamson Show more → Show less ↓

Tom Williamson, one of Britain’s leading landscape historians, gave the annual lecture to the British Association for Local History in 2016, and this paper is the revised text of that presentation. It marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, perhaps the most celebrated of all British landscape designers, a man who was a legend in his own lifetime. The paper begins with an overview of the landscape design trends of the early eighteenth century, in the context of Brown’s own life and early career, correcting the notion that he was of lowly origins (his father was a prosperous farmer). It then charts the emergence of the features which define a ‘typical’ Brownian landscape, showing how Brown adopted and adapted elements, which already helped to characterise an ‘English’ design, so that his classic compositions emerged gradually during the 1750s and 1760s.

The paper emphasises that Brown was also an architect and a planner, that contrary to popular belief he was not averse to gardens, and that his designs were packages which very often included, for example, outbuildings, stables and other built features. But Brown was also a skilled publicist, and Williamson draws attention to the philosophy which underlay his design principles, and to the paradox of his carefully managed, engineered and contrived landscapes being presented as ‘natural’. He addresses a key point: why were these landscapes so remarkably popular in the 1760s and 1770s? Answers might include the sense of ‘abstract aesthetics’, but there were political and philosophical undercurrents, including nationalism and the desire for solid stability.

The landscapes, argues Williamson, should be placed in a broader historical context. They coincided with the massive and far-reaching change of rural Britain, with urbanisation and industrialisation, and with the rapid growth of the transport system. These landscapes were both in the spirit of the times but also provided exclusivity and privacy at a time of fast population growth and social and visual change. They benefitted from the enhanced wealth of older families and the ‘new money’ of the latest generation of merchants and industrialists. New fashions of polite society – shooting rather than deer-hunting, the increasing liberation of upper-class women in terms of outdoor recreation, new architectural and aesthetic tastes, and the changing technology of carriages and conveyances were among the many social changes which influenced the designs and in turn made the designs contemporary and attractive.

The paper concludes with a reflection on how all this relates to local history. First, landscapes by Brown and his followers and copiers are a major element in the wider landscape, the ‘spatial framework’ of eighteenth century Britain. Their creation was tremendously disruptive to traditional social patterns and economic processes in the community, and local historians are particularly well placed to research and measure those impacts. There is still much to discover, not so much about Brown himself but about the many people who followed his principles and copied his style, and local archives hold the key to this. Many of them, suggests Williamson, were talented and had real abilities, but are in the shadow of Brown. Local historians can shed light on their hitherto obscure contribution.

2. ‘Humphrey Ryddell and the Swan at Coleshill: a sixteenth-century small-town innkeeper and his inn’, 284-301 by Andrew Watkins Show more → Show less ↓

The original version of this paper was chosen as the winner in the ‘long article’ category of the BALH 2016 publications awards. It is based on a remarkable probate inventory of 1576, which itemises the entire contents of the Swan inn at Coleshill in Warwickshire. The paper begins with a brief overview of the role of inns in urban communities during the early modern period, and then focuses in detail on Coleshill, a small market town which stood astride key national routes and therefore had a busy passing trade requiring extensive accommodation and stabling. The history of the town’s major medieval inns is sketched, and in particular the well-documented development of the Angel, in the centre of the town. The discussion then considers the Ryddell family and the place of its members in local society, before analysing the Swan and its many rooms, their contents and furnishings, and the evidence for the innkeeping business itself, all based on the inventory. It is emphasised that the inn, though large and important, was only part of the wider business activities of the Ryddell family, including their agricultural estate, and that they had a high status in the local community. The later history of the inn, and of Coleshill as a coaching town, is outlined. The article finishes with a complete transcript of the inventory itself, occupying more than four pages of small print, and there is a very comprehensive set of references which will serve as a guide to further reading on this general subject!

3. ‘Recreating Calvin’s Geneva in sixteenth-century Ashby-de-la-Zouch’, 302-314 by Claire Cross Show more → Show less ↓

One of the country’s most respected ecclesiastical historians, Claire Cross focuses on the small Leicestershire market town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the middle decades of the sixteenth century, recounting the powerful role played by the local lords, the Hastings family, Earls of Huntingdon, in fostering evangelical Protestantism. The paper begins by setting out the background – the experience of the family in the later fifteenth century, and their dangerous proximity to the throne via the marriage of the 2nd earl to the great-granddaughter of the Duke of Clarence. The 2nd duke and his wife equivocated in matters of religion, but their son, the 3rd earl, was a fervent advocate of evangelical Protestantism, and shortly after his father’s death in 1560 brought Anthony Gilby to Ashby.

Gilby was a Lincolnshire man, was a prominent and influential Protestant clergyman, whose pre-Ashby career is recounted in the article, including his prolific writing of tracts and treatises. Claire Cross then describes the impact of Gilby as minister at Ashby, including the adoption of new liturgical and devotional practices such as the introduction of English psalms, the role of religion in education of grammar school boys, naming practices as increasing numbers of children were given Old Testament names, and the terminology of will-making. Special attention is given to the educational dimension to the new approaches to religion, with a detailed discussion of the grammar school in the context of Gilby’s religious writings and disquisitions. The final section of the paper looks at Gilby’s increasingly controversial role, and his outspoken attacks on the hierarchy of the Church, which to mainstream contemporaries marked him out as dangerously radical, and tending to nonconformity. The paper emphasises the wide connections of Gilby and his family, and the importance of the patronage and protection which the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon provided, and it also highlights the longer-term impact, since evangelical Protestantism flourished in Ashby for more than a century after the deaths of the two men. It provides an exemplar of how a local study, of a specific community, can illuminate wider issues, as well as be placed in the context of those broader trends.

4. 'John Pierpoint Morgan and the Wall Hall Estate during two World Wars', 315-326 by Marie-France Weiner and John Russell Silver Show more → Show less ↓

This paper is a detailed case study of how the Wall Hall Estate near Watford, Hertfordshire, was used in the First and Second World wars. It begins with a review of ‘the English country lifestyle’ in the second half of the nineteenth century, touching on such topics as the problems posed by agricultural depressions, the role of ‘new money’, and the influx of businessmen, industrialists and financiers to county society. A key element, the basis of the rest of the paper, was the growing involvement of American millionaires, who used their prodigious wealth to give access to the higher echelons of British society. The paper describes the Wall Hall Estate and its purchase in 1910 by John Pierpoint Morgan, one of America’s wealthiest men, in the context of such transatlantic social intercourse. Morgan and his wife enjoyed their place in the highest reaches of society and he sought to fulfil the role of benevolent landlord and patron of the community, including developing the agricultural potential of the estate.

His Anglophilia resulted in the decision to hand over part of the estate to the War Office in 1915, and the article explains the general background to this important but perhaps under-researched aspect of First World War ‘Home Front’ history. The buildings served as an auxiliary hospital, the medical and social aspects of which are described. At the end of the 1930s Morgan sold the Estate and left Britain; during the Second World War Wall Hall became a base for the War Office Selection Board, tasked with urgently recruiting officers and using he latest psychiatric and psychological testing to determine the quality of potential recruits. This pioneering work was planned and organised at Wall Hall, although there are hints that other more clandestine operations may also have been based there.

The final section of the paper provides a summary of the experience of country houses and landed estates which were used for military purposes during the two World Wars, including their roles as hospitals, temporary safe places for art treasures, refugee reception centres and places for tracking, code-breaking and experimental projects.

5. 'The Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society: past, present and future', 327-331 by Gillian Cookson Show more → Show less ↓

This short article outlines the challenges which have recently faced the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (founded in 1863) as a result of financial difficulties, the deteriorating condition of its headquarters building at Claremont in Leeds, and the problems of accommodating its large and important archive collection. The latter have now been transferred to the Special Collections of the University of Leeds, while the building was sold and the Society was renamed to accord more closely with its present role and function. The second part of the article provides an overview of the YAHS collections in the Brotherton Library of the university and highlights some recent acquisitions. The article concludes on an optimistic note: ‘The society is healthy, if not wealthy, as active as ever, and perhaps even more so. The prospects are exciting’.

6. ‘The organisation and records of the Palatinate of Lancaster, and their use for local historians’, 332-335 by Mike Derbyshire Show more → Show less ↓

This short article summarises the background to the creation of the Palatinate of Lancaster in the fourteenth century, and the organisation of its courts and administration, making comparisons with the national equity courts. It describes the records of the Palatinate courts, outlining the range and diversity of their contents, and explains how they may be accessed and used by local historians. The author admits that very little use has been made of these records because of the many logistical challenges posed by their arrangement and lack of finding aids, and draws attention to his recently-published guide as a means of unlocking their riches.


1. THE GRASS ROOTS OF ENGLISH HISTORY Local societies in England before the Industrial Revolution by David Hey Show more → Show less ↓

(Bloomsbury Academic 2016 272pp ISBN 978-1-4742-8-8164-5) £19.99

Professor David Hey, late President of the British Association for Local History, died while this book was in production. He saw the proofs but not the finished item—having read the book, it feels almost as if he was writing a valedictory: ‘the emphasis in this book is on the differing nature of the various local societies that were found throughout England’, he writes and, as such, it can be viewed as a summary of his ‘fifty years or so’ researching and writing English local history. Nobody who has read any of David Hey’s earlier work will be surprised to find reference to Penistone, and to Thurlstone, where he grew up, let alone to Myddle, Shropshire, where he undertook his doctoral work under Hoskins and Everitt back in the 1960s. Locality, family (including his own) and community were all important to David’s world view.

David Hey’s earliest published work was on communities in south Yorkshire, including the Sheffield steelworkers (1972), predominantly in the early modern period. He has never strayed far from this territory, but he has developed it considerably, and the underlying theme running through this book is the subject matter he made his own: community identity through surname analysis. Hey first learned about the significance of surnames for isolating families when he was in the Department of English Local History at Leicester in the late 1960s. Here he met Richard McKinley, who had arrived in Leicester in the 1950s to work for the Victoria County History, but in 1965 had become Director of the English Surnames Survey.

When David moved to the University of Sheffield in 1973, he began working with groups of extra-mural students and, to harness their enthusiasm for research, asked questions which could be answered only by painstaking construction of datasets. Initially his researchers began working through telephone directories to establish patterns of settlement on the basis of surname analysis. From these findings he developed the idea that for the great majority of people locality was not determined by county boundaries, but by ‘country’, a physically indeterminate area with which they identified and in which they lived, often for generations. It was a concept which reflected his own experience growing up in south Yorkshire. This early work was painstakingly slow, but modern technology—despite his initial resistance to such things—speeded up his work considerably. The telephone directories gave way to computerised indexes of the 1881 census and, once he was sure of the pattern he had found, he moved back in time by adding material from other sources, notably the hearth tax returns on which he became an expert, and the fourteenth century poll taxes.

From this work, much of it strengthened through working with his lifelong friend George Redmonds, David was able to confirm via careful analysis that families were for the most part ‘local’, and that this continued to be the case until well into the twentieth century. The great exception was, of course, London. These important, documented findings, were further developed, although with more limited results than he had originally hoped, through DNA testing, and outlined in the book that he and Redmonds, with Turi King, published in 2011.

The result of this work is demonstrated throughout The Grass Roots as David Hey sets out to demonstrate the significance of ‘locality’ as it was experienced by the great majority of people in medieval and early modern England. Core groups of families that remained rooted in these ‘countries’, often bearing distinctive surnames still in use today; they shaped local culture and passed on their traditions. The book emphasises the progress that has been made over the past forty years to locate ordinary people living in different types of local societies, often determined by landscapes, villages, hamlets, farmsteads, fields, woodlands, highways, lanes and houses. Using a combination of the documentary sources which he worked over since he first began research more than forty years ago, and adding in additional evidence from a range of other disciplines including archaeology, architecture, botany, cultural studies, linguistics and historical demography—as the modern local historian must expect to do—David demonstrates lucidly and coherently how pre-industrial societies worked in England.

Grass Roots as a title inevitably leads us to think in terms of rural life, and to my mind David was always a historian of the rural community despite having written extensively on Sheffield. This book includes chapters on towns and cities and on castles, cathedrals and great houses, but these lack the enthusiasm which permeates each page when he is writing about rural life, notably in chapter 1 (‘the countries of England’), chapter 4 on villages, farmsteads and hamlets, chapter 5 on earning a living, and chapter 8 on the houses of the lower social orders. Each chapter neatly summarises the current thinking about the topics being covered, such as John Blair’s important recent work on villages, but while Hey gives plenty of space to other historians and different interpretations, the final chapter takes us back to his favourite theme of family life, population and society. At the very end of the chapter he writes: ‘Before the great changes of the modern era, the English nation was composed of hundreds of local societies that had contacts beyond their parish boundaries as far as the nearest market towns, but which remained mostly unaware of the people in distant parts of the realm’ (p.190). We now know that this will be the last sentence of David’s last book. He did not plan it as an epitaph, but if one sentence sums up a lifetime of research and writing, this cannot really be bettered.


2. ENGLISH INLAND TRADE 1430-1540: SOUTHAMPTON AND ITS REGION edited by Michael Hicks Show more → Show less ↓

(Oxbow 2015 xvi+184pp ISBN 978-1-78297-824-4) £45+p&p from Oxbow Books, 10 Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford OX1 2EW or online at

This multi-authored study is a product of the ‘Overland Trade Project’ undertaken by the University of Winchester, based on the contents of the brokage books of Southampton, which itemise the town’s overland trade ‘with its principal partners nearby and as far away as Exeter, Bristol, Coventry, Kendal and London’. This overland trade arose from Southampton’s role as one of medieval England’s principal ports for both imports and exports. The brokage books record in extraordinary detail the tolls that were levied at the Southampton Bargate. The introduction by Michael Hicks and Winifred Harwood summarises their contents: the Bargate broker, answerable and accountable to the corporation, was responsible for collecting and recording tolls (brokage, local custom and pontage) paid on goods and carts as they entered and left the town.  Since only pontage was levied in inward traffic, outward traffic is recorded in greatest detail. A typical entry reads ‘John Walton carting to Salisbury with 2 pipes oil for William Hore, custom 8d, brokage 4d, and pontage 1d’. Thus the potential for extracting information about late medieval overland trade is obvious. There are no comparable surviving volumes from elsewhere and ‘not only are they the best source for English inland trade in the later Middle Ages, they are actually the best source for such activities until the eighteenth-century excise’.

The Project’s website makes available the database People, Persons and Commodities, a digest of the contents of some of the brokage books, which ‘can be interrogated by searching by place, surname and commodity over a specified time period (for instance by individual week, year or across the whole century)’. English Inland Trade exploits the material in the database and demonstrates its potential—the ‘Technical Foreword’ explains how the books were digitised.

In a brief review it is impossible to do justice to the subsequent chapters, written by experts in relevant fields, which discuss different aspects of medieval trade revealed by this evidence. Tom Beaumont James examines ‘the town of Southampton and its foreign trade 1430-1540’, outlining its important roles in international relations and national politics.  The population was not especially large but it fluctuated as overseas crews stayed while cargoes were unloaded and loaded. John Hare sets the brokage books in their economic context, considering maritime trade, the cloth industry and the geography of Southampton’s internal trade. Through the data it is possible to trace changing patterns of trade, some affected by war and international relations. Michael Hicks provides a fascinating analysis of the trading calendar—before industrialisation both the economy and trade were seasonal—and the brokage books reveal far more trade in autumn and winter than in spring and summer, although each commodity had its own calendar. These books are ‘a crucial source for the haulage industry of late medieval England’ and, as Hicks wryly notes, ‘then as now there was limited parking in the town’. On one hand they record whole cartloads of commodities, such as wine, lead or woad, being conveyed to specific destinations, where they would have been retailed and redistributed, and on the other they provide the names of thousands of carters, some with their place of residence. He analyses the data from 1447-1448, noting that these carters would have been employed or commissioned rather than performing tenurial carting services. He calculates, for example, that the ‘wandering carter’ Stephen Kyng travelled some 6000 kilometres over his 44 recorded journeys, but he actually travelled even further as 12 ‘missing’ return journeys need to be factored in: his destinations included London, Salisbury, Burford, Coventry and Gloucester. 

The next five chapters look more closely at the carters’ destinations by analysing Southampton’s trading partners: Salisbury, London, Winchester, the small towns of Hampshire and Wiltshire, and beyond the latter two counties.  These chapters demonstrate how the brokage books provide a unique picture of late medieval inland trade, not only over the period as a whole but also fluctuations within the period, thus providing local historians with much useful information that would otherwise be impossible to recover. Indeed the brokage books as sources for local and family history are discussed in chapter 11.

Of more general interest are chapters 12 to 16, which consider the commodities being transported, such as wine, luxury goods, spices and wax, fish and cloth. After London and Bristol, Southampton was the third greatest importer of wine, of which thousands of gallons were drunk every year. The distribution of wine has been plotted in maps, tables and charts and other tables identify wine merchants and inns in various locations. The trade in luxury goods was largely in the hands of Italian merchants: some goods only went to London but others were distributed regionally.  Winifred Harwood singles out for investigation specific commodities: the expensive dyes brasil (red), grain (scarlet) and orchil (violet); silk and camlet cloth; lemons, oranges and pomegranates; four particular wines; spices (including dried fruits, almonds and rice, as well as aromatic spices and sugar); and wax.  For nearly all these commodities the amount imported decreased over time, not because of falling demand but because trade shifted from Southampton.  Huge quantities of fish, a necessity rather than a luxury, were carried from Southampton; indeed 25 per cent of carts carried fish, which came from principally from the south-west but also from Ireland and the North Sea.  Over half the fish trade was in herrings—the curing process, crucial for preserving a bulky but low value product, is outlined—but over time the trade in herring declined, again due to a change in the port used. The brokage books enable identification of fish merchants and their trading patterns.

For the cloth trade, the imports received through Southampton were the raw materials used in the various processes to turn wool into woollen cloth: dyes (such as woad and madder); alum (a mordant needed for fixing the colour of dyestuffs); olive oil to oil wool prior to carding or combing and weaving; and soap for cleaning the wool, or for use during fulling, and gradually replacing the traditional mixture of urine and fullers’ earth.  Perhaps the most interesting miscellaneous commodity is bowstaves, for which the finest and most effective timber came from Spain and the Baltic. The year with the highest imports was 1461-2 and, as John Hare notes, civil war had resumed in 1461—the ‘participants and the military suppliers no doubt felt that this would go on for some time’.

The final chapter, by Hare and Harwood, provides an assessment of the brokage books, their usefulness and their problems. The books provide a vast array of information about Southampton’s trade in the later middle ages, but there are difficulties in categorising entries for the database: for example, ‘fish (non-specific)’ comprises the largest category of fish in the database after herring.  Measurements or capacities also caused problems: while ‘a barrel’ generally contained 32 gallons of wine or oil, on occasions it clearly did not, although the broker might indicate the specific quantity involved. It is argued that the information provided in the books is reliable—for example, there are many recorded journeys to Salisbury, which attracted a higher rate of tax than places a few miles closer which could have been named as cheaper but false destinations. As the authors note, ‘this book has merely scratched the surface of the source’s potential’, but it shows what can be done and suggests various ways forward.  It is copiously illustrated with tables, charts, pictures and maps. English Inland Trade will be useful to local historians of southern England in particular but it will also appeal to students of late medieval England in general.


3. SHROPSHIRE TAXES IN THE REIGN OF HENRY VIII The Lay Subsidy of 1524-1527, the Lay Subsidy of 1543-1545 and the Benevolence of 1545 edited by Michael A. Faraday Show more → Show less ↓

(author 2015 727pp ISBN 978-1-326-40104-7) £34 hb £29 pb from M.A. Faraday, 47 York Gardens, Walton on Thames KT123EW

Printed editions of primary source material are an invaluable reference work for local historians and academics alike, making key sources accessible. Michael Faraday is well-known for transcribing and editing documents held at The National Archives, having previously published the Westmorland Protestation Returns 1641/2, the lay subsidy of 1523-7 for Bristol and Gloucestershire, numerous documents relating to Herefordshire and Shropshire and an edition of taxes for Radnorshire in the reign of Henry VIII. This weighty book on Shropshire taxes, the latest outcome of many years work, provides transcriptions or abstracts of the surviving papers relating to the lay subsidies of 1523-7 and 1543-5 and the benevolence of 1545. It builds on vol.3 in the Shropshire Record Series: The Lay Subsidy for Shropshire 1524-7 which he published in 1999. It is rather ironic that while working at the Inland Revenue, the editor chose to transcribe the taxation records of our forebears! Lay subsidy accounts undertaken in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries have been widely utilised by demographic historians to estimate population size, social structure and the distribution of wealth prior to the hearth tax and the availability of other more modern sources. Produced for each county, they comprise a list of the names of those who were required to pay the tax. These can be analysed for comparison of the total value of tax paid and whether this varied geographically and chronologically. There is also potential for the study of surnames and occupations.

The introduction provides background detail on the various taxes covered, and the way they were assessed and collected. There is also discussion of the condition of the surviving documents. The reasons for the selection of documents are explained and editorial conventions are outlined. A series of summary tables provides information on rates and thresholds of taxation, the individuals commissioned to undertake the various assessments and collections, a useful chronology of the 1523 and 1543 subsidies, and a comparison by hundred, town, parish or township of changes in the value of taxes levied between the 1520s and 1540s. There follows the transcribed and edited versions of the various taxes, organised under the heading of those undertaken in the 1520s and 1540s respectively. I found the 1524 assessment of Shrewsbury particularly interesting as it lists the wide range of occupations in the town, including drapers, mercers, cordwainers, barbers, bakers, butchers, coopers, bowyers, fletchers, glovers, tailors, weavers, carpenters, tilers, smiths, saddlers, barkers and those ‘out of craft’. As would be expected, the importance of Shrewsbury and other market towns is evident in terms of the number of taxpayers, the value of tax paid and the range of occupations, contrasting with the typical entries of surrounding rural areas. The tax data is arranged by hundred and these are subdivided by town, parish or township corresponding with the original accounts, with modern and old spellings of names provided.

The formatting is clear with further brief explanatory details given in footnotes. Black and white photographs of the original documents are included as examples, giving the reader insight into the form of the original material. A map shows the hundreds of Shropshire in Henry VIII’s reign and a comprehensive index of persons (the editor points out that 11,000 are referred to), places and subjects allows the edition to be effectively searched. It will be of interest to genealogists and family and local historians concerned with a specific individual or locality, but also relevant to those researching economic and social history during the reign of Henry VIII, particularly historians of taxation. Shropshire is fortunate to have a considerable body of printed primary sources to which this present volume is a welcome addition, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of townsmen and villagers, albeit the more prosperous ones.


4. A HISTORY OF THE ABBEY OF BURY ST EDMUNDS 1257-1301: Simon of Luton and John of Northwold by Antonia Gransden Show more → Show less ↓

(Boydell 2015 xxxvi +349 pp ISBN 978-1-78327-026-2) £60

This is the second part of a two-volume study of the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, the first of which covered the period of the abbacies of Samson of Tottington and Edmund of Walpole. This volume focuses on the later thirteenth century, a crucial period in the abbey’s history when it faced pressing demands for taxation and fresh interest on the part of the Crown in its special privileges. Taking a relatively short time frame, the book is able to encompass a comprehensive range of issues, addressing life both inside and outside the cloister.   

A crucial theme is the multi-faceted relationship between the abbey and the Crown. This was sometimes characterised by chafing over the extent of the liberties which the abbey claimed to exercise and which elsewhere were in the control of the king. A consequence for the abbey of Edward I’s ‘quo warranto’ campaign—the  implications of which were potentially huge because St Edmund’s liberty was so vast—is shown to be the increased attention paid to record-keeping. The author reveals the key role played by Abbot John in standing up for the liberties of the house and on behalf of other franchise holders. Yet, the monks were loyal to Edward I personally in his war with Scotland and were cognisant of the matters at stake and of his requirement for funding. Edward was himself a frequent visitor to the abbey but the impact of his fiscal demands on the house, particularly after 1294, were serious.

The book further explores the abbey’s relationships with other powerful people, from the dispute with Richard de Clare over the manor of Mildenhall to the more cordial (but by no means cost-free) links with the king’s clerk Hervey of Stanton and Antony Bek, bishop of Durham and its complex interactions with the ambitious townspeople of Bury. Discussion of estate management policy reveals a switch to greater emphasis on a money economy, including manumission of tenants on manors which were at a greater distance from the abbey, but retention of labour services on manors closer to home. The financial pressures faced by the abbey contributed to its harshness as a landlord: Bury made efforts to maximise income by squeezing its tenants, even when this was counterproductive and apparently resulted in the non-fulfilment of obligations to pay rents and perform labour services.

The book is not all about economic and political concerns. The abbey was active in the promotion of the cult of saints, and in providing education, welfare and charity locally. Gransden deploys great skill in evoking, by reference to manuscript sources (since only fragments of the building itself survive), the elaborate decorations of the magnificent new Lady Chapel constructed in this period. She reveals the generosity of the people of Bury who, desirous of prayers for the dead, made benefactions for this purpose notwithstanding the sometimes uneasy relations between the town and the abbey. Worthy of special mention is the appendix about the monks’ diet, revealing the extent of the permitted relaxation by the thirteenth century of the Rule of St Benedict. This section includes delightful descriptions of particular dishes with such exotic names as ‘Jussel’, ‘Bunsewes’, and ‘Dalydewes’.

The book benefits from the inclusion of very clear maps and plans, showing the abbey’s estates and liberty, the banleuca, the town, the abbey and its buildings; and from well-chosen plates including images from the abbey’s chronicles and documents. This is a thorough, scholarly and comprehensive study by the foremost author on the history of Bury St Edmunds, whose command of the hugely rich and varied narrative and archival sources for the topic is unparalleled. It should be read by anyone interested in the history of East Anglia in the Middle Ages, in the thirteenth-century society and economy, in the standards of living of Benedictine monks, and in the experiences of a great Benedictine monastery in negotiating the fiscal and political challenges of the later thirteenth century.


5. THE CULT OF ST EDMUND IN MEDIEVAL EAST ANGLIA by Rebecca Pinner Show more → Show less ↓

(Boydell 2015 292pp ISBN 9781783270354) £60.00

The legend of St Edmund, king and martyr, has fascinated historians for generations. Rebecca Pinner's monograph is the latest study that looks at the martyr’s cult, covering (in a lucid and engaging analysis) the period from the saint’s death in the ninth century to the dissolution of the monastery of Bury St Edmunds in 1539. Part I surveys several hagiographies composed over a period of almost five hundred years. In particular, the use of Anglo-Norman verse Lives, Henry of Avranches’s Life of St Edmund, the copy of the Miracles in the Bodleian Library, and John Lydgate’s Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund brings to light material that is all too often neglected when scholars consider the evolution of Edmund’s persona. The main advantage to this extensive analysis is that various themes can be identified within the context of the development of the cult: one that is fruitfully explored is the portrayal of St Edmund as a saint ready to mete out punitive judgments. It is to be regretted, however, that Pinner cites Thomas Arnold’s nineteenth-century edition of Herman the Archdeacon’s Miracles, rather than Tom Licence's critical edition of the text (2014), which is listed in the bibliography.

In Part II, Pinner explores how the monks at Bury were aware of the need to attract pilgrims to St Edmund’s shrine, while also being conscious of the need to give due reverence to the saint’s incorrupt body: to show a lack of respect for the martyr was to incur his displeasure, as demonstrated by the punishment of the irreverent Osgod Clapa. A plausible argument is made for what imagery may have adorned the walls near the shrine, and evocative images (such as the abbey’s gleaming bronze doors) appear throughout the chapters, in conjunction with a description of the physical layout of parts of the abbey as experienced by supplicants. Taken as a whole, this section successfully captures what Pinner calls the ‘sensory spectacle’ of pilgrimage.

St Edmund’s cult in the East Anglian region is the subject of the final part of Pinner’s investigation. Material from a fifteenth-century churchwarden’s account at Snettisham is used to great effect, conjuring images of local devotion before and after the Reformation. The miracles are revisited, focusing on those that originated outside Bury (such as at Lyng, Norfolk) to highlight information being relayed back to Bury; and wall images, stained glass, and wooden carvings in various churches dedicated to St Edmund, ranging from Taverham (Norfolk) to Lakenheath (Suffolk) add to Pinner’s exploration of the cultic activity towards St Edmund beyond Bury. This section contains the most original research and is an important resource for anyone studying the local history of St Edmund in East Anglia.

The objectives of the book are clear from the outset, and the clarity of Pinner’s arguments is maintained as the investigation proceeds from one chapter to the next. Through a mixture of elegant prose and beautiful illustrations, this study manages to cover a vast array of material without overwhelming the reader, and provides historians with valuable insights into the cult of St Edmund, king and martyr.


6. THE INOCULATION BOOK 1774-1783 edited by Mary L. South Show more → Show less ↓

(Southampton Records Series 2014 x+222pp ISBN 978-085432-981-6) £30

The history of smallpox prevention in England has its own peculiar chronology, beginning in the early eighteenth century with debates around inoculation and reaching a triumphant conclusion in the early nineteenth. The parliamentary grants awarded to Jenner underpin his status as a medical hero. What is so often missing from this picture is the local movement towards acceptance of disease prevention and its practical effects. This book adds a valuable study, which delineates the implementation of prevention policy and in the process reveals something of the workings of eighteenth-century parish polity. 

By the early 1770s Southampton had long held a dual health function, as a centre for treating sick soldiers and as a destination for fashionable elites taking the water. In this way it hosted two transient populations at opposite ends of the social spectrum, at the same time as accommodating its own residents, with predictable consequences for the spread of epidemic diseases like smallpox. Mass inoculations were conducted in the town on three occasions in the later eighteenth century, in 1773-4, 1778 and 1783. These actions were naturally designed to prevent the spread of infection and save lives or spare suffering, but they also had an economic and social-political function. Inoculation served to maintain Southampton’s reputation as a health resort, since the act of inoculation could be construed as a fashionable pursuit. The timings also coincided with smallpox epidemics, the opening of a poor house to serve all the town’s parishes in 1773 and, after 1775, with the gathering of military men in the town embarking for service in America. 

The mass campaigns were charitable endeavours rather than being funded by either the Poor Law or directly by town government. These were ambitious projects, aiming for complete coverage of the compliant poor and automatically including all domestic servants. The surviving source, the manuscript inoculation book, contains the minutes of committee meetings, the names of subscribers to the charity, and the names of all those treated. In the process it also reveals a good deal about the campaign’s systematic approach to inoculation via the issue of tickets to beneficiaries. Collectively the information can be used to determine the motivations of campaign founders, the majority of whom were also among the Southampton paving commissioners. The drive for inoculation was clearly supported by the town’s surgeons, but may have been even more influenced by congregational and Corporation pressures: there was historic Anglican resistance to inoculation in Southampton spearheaded by physician John Speed IV, but a strong preference in favour expressed by the nonconformist community, and by upcoming men challenging the old oligarchical order.


This book makes the content of the manuscript source widely available, and does a good job of setting the material in its full local context. Particularly impressive are the wide range of influences traced to Southampton’s residents (which included returnees from Turkey and the Near East, who brought positive associations with inoculation with them) and some of the results arising from the campaigns (not least of which was the subsequent elevation of several surgeons to the role of mayor). It is not perfect; the author/editor occasionally falls into error in not using full sentences, but this is a minor stylistic point. There is much to enjoy in this work, and much to learn about the ideological influences on the uptake of inoculation in eighteenth-century England.