The Annual W. G. Hoskins Lecture
The contribution made to English local history by
Professor W. G. Hoskins is widely recognised. As founder of the Department of,
now the Centre for English Local History, his achievements are commemorated by the
Friends each year in the annual W. G. Hoskins lecture. Following the lecture each year, Friends are welcome to
adjourn to Marc Fitch House for tea and to visit our bookstall, a treasure trove
of second-hand books donated by Friends that cover many aspects of local history
as well as other subjects.
The 2012 lecture will be given on 26 May 2012 by Dr Susan Oosthuizen.
The 2011 lecture was given on 4 June by Dr Angus
Winchester of the University of Lancaster, entitled 'Custom and Common Rights:
the management of common land in England and Wales since the Middle Ages'
The 2010 lecture was given on 12 June 2010 by Dr Michael
Wood who spoke about the making of ‘The English
Story’ which became a series of six one-hour television programmes
looking at the history of Kibworth, an apparently, undistinguished village on
the A6 between Leicester and Market Harborough.
The 2009 lecture was held on Saturday 16 May, when Dr
Rosamund Faith spoke on 'Exploring Anglo-Saxon Farms' and discussed some of her
research approaches to this topic. Dr Faith's interests extend across the whole
medieval period. She is perhaps best known for her book, The English Peasantry
and the Growth of Lordship, published in 1997. In 2002 she was awarded the John
Nichols prize for her essay on a South Devon estate in the Anglo-Saxon period.
She is currently working on a co-authored book for Oxford University Press about
A large audience in the Ken Edwards Building welcomed Dr Michael Wood who gave
the 21st Hoskins Day lecture. Introducing Dr Wood, Chairman of the Friends Frank
Galbraith, noted that it was hardly necessary to introduce one who is so well
known for a number of historical programmes produced for television, from ‘In
search for the Dark Ages’ (1979) to ‘History of India’ (2007). He has also
published a number of historical works.
Dr Wood first made reference to the works of W.G Hoskins and R. Hilton and the
influence they had on him in forming his understanding of history. Hoskins’
approach of looking at history from the perspective of ordinary people had made
an indelible impression on him. By bringing together an understanding of the
landscape with the people who lived and toiled in it, Hoskins used whatever
information he could find about ordinary people and produced a story showing how
they lived, which helps us to understand how our communities have evolved.
Michael has taken Hoskins’ approach and adapted it to television, using the
latest technology and techniques available to archaeologists and historians. In
this way, it is hoped that people will find it easier to understand how history
has shaped the way we live today.
‘The English Story’ will be a series of six one-hour television programmes
looking at the history of Kibworth, an apparently, undistinguished village on
the A6 between Leicester and Market Harborough. Dr Wood explained that the
original agreement with the BBC was to produce a series that would explore the
history of an ordinary village from the Norman invasion to the present day. It
was assumed that a year would be more than sufficient to complete the series.
But why choose Kibworth, or more accurately, the three linked villages of
Kibworth Harcourt, Kibworth Beauchamp and Smeeton Westerby? The answer lay in
the extraordinary amount of archival evidence that is available, especially on
Kibworth Harcourt, which came into the estate of Merton College, Oxford in 1270.
The Hundred Rolls of 1270 no longer exist but did so when Burton wrote his
history of the county in1672 and Burton’s notes are published in Nichol’s
History of Leicestershire (1779). The County Record Office holds over 20,000
pre-1600 wills, including a number from Kibworth. In addition, a number of
families have remained in the area for three or four hundred years and therefore
provide that link between past and present.
Having decided on a location, Dr Wood explained how the production team set
about their work after June 2009. The first that most villagers knew of the
project was a notice advising that a team of archaeologists from the University
of Leicester Archaeological Service, together with Carenza Lewis and a film
crew, would be in Kibworth at the beginning of July and villagers were asked to
participate and dig test pits over the weekend. As a result, fifty five pits
were dug in the three communities, the majority of which were in Kibworth
Harcourt. Finds included Roman pottery, fifth or sixth-century pottery, an
Anglo-Saxon bone comb and some eighth-century Ipswich ware at Smeeton Westerby.
Some pieces of St Neots and Stamford ware were also found as well as
considerable amounts of seventeenth and eighteenth-century items.
While the finds were being analysed, the team were looking for any other
evidence of early habitation. They came across evidence of a Roman villa that
had been located by Bert Aggass, a local archaeologist and historian, during the
1960s. At this point, the team became aware that the area had a rich history
going back much further in time and which offered the possibility of some
exciting finds. The BBC agreed for the project to be expanded. A geophysical
survey of the area located by Mr Aggass clearly showed the complete plan of a
large Roman villa, and in the same field the team found a bronze age barrow.
Also in the field is the mound of the first windmill which is known to have been
in existence before 1280. Not far away lies a mound, locally referred to as the
Munt, which has always been considered to be the base of a Norman motte and
bailey. Work undertaken by the survey team now suggests that the mound has a
much earlier origin and was originally the burial mound of a Romano- British
chief. It subsequently became a motte and bailey in later times.
Turning to later times, Dr Wood acknowledged the work of Dr Cecily Howell whose
PhD thesis on Kibworth Harcourt was subsequently published under the title Land,
Family and Inheritance in Transition; Kibworth Harcourt 1280-1700 (Cambridge,
1983). Her work enabled Dr Wood to delve further into the history of the
families and buildings and relate them to life in the community today. Much of
the research was undertaken at Merton College library and the Record Office for
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. A dendro-chronology survey of the Manor
Farm house has shown that part of it dates from the period 1320-40. Various open
meetings have been held where villagers have brought in all sorts of items that
have historical connections with the area. As the area is on the western
boundary of Danish influence, some of the families who have stayed in the area
were asked if they would take a DNA test to ascertain whether there might be
evidence of families having stayed in the area since the invasion.
Dr Wood ended the lecture by showing a short film clip of the day that test pits
were dug. Time did not permit him to talk about the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries but this did not seem important as his enthusiasm for his subject and
the enormous amount of information that has been uncovered held the audience’s
attention to the end.
This series of programmes will provide an opportunity to take Hoskins’ approach
to local history and use the latest technology to describe how communities
evolved and so contribute to The English Story. Local historians in towns and
villages up and down the country may well wonder how much more could be learnt
about their own community if only sufficient money, expertise and time were
available. Kibworth is very fortunate in having been chosen for this project
because it has elicited knowledge and information that could not have been
obtained by the local history society.