RESEARCH IN LOCAL HISTORY

Notes on the Presidential Address by Dr. W. G. Hoskins, 9th November 1951.

Not only in our county, Leicestershire, but in all others too, a vast field of original research awaits us. This can be, and usually is, a very slow process, but to the keen and enthusiastic searcher it is always tremendously interesting.

A great contribution to the local history of our county is being compiled at the present time, in the form of Volumes II, III, and IV of the Victoria County History. The second and third volumes, which are almost complete, deal entirely with the county, whereas Volume IV is devoted to the history of the city. In Warwickshire they have just published Volume IV of their County History.

I have recently been doing research in the Black Country, Kent and Middlesbrough, but my methods employed could be applied to any county. Middlesbrough, a town of 150,000 today, started as a single farmhouse on the Tees. The town is laid out on a grid-iron plan, as they were in Roman times. Money, wealth and people moved south of the railway.

In the Black Country it was possible, in the course of one day, to get a complete picture of English industry, from the Palaeotechnic to the Neotechnic, from the small coalmine with only twelve employees to the latest type of large steelworks. In one small area, the whole range could be studied, from the decaying early 19th century industries and works, to the most modern ones.

Archaeology is a concrete research and much has already been undertaken by the Vaughan Archaeological and Historical Society. [p.7]

  1. Cruck buildings in the county. Already about 36 have been discovered, and more information is being collected with regard to these peasant dwellings. It is a solid contribution to pure archaeology.
  2. A small party are now engaged upon a survey of the existing watermills in the county, and they are also noting the sites of vanished mills.

There is ample scope for the keen student of archaeology, for we certainly need records of the early brick buildings of the county, and the windmills, too. A fascinating study would be to take a particular village or small town, such as Mountsorrel, and study the peasant or folk architecture, the history from earliest times, and the relationship to the present day.

The ridge and furrow which is such a common feature of our Leicestershire landscape could provide one with much interest by plotting this system on a 6” map for a particular village.

Archaeological Research

There is no end to the extent to which our Archaeological Researches may take us. We may ask ourselves. “What determines the shape of a village?”. For instance, Long Clawson, which is an odd, long village with right-angel bends, has had this prefix, “Long” for many centuries, so this was probably the original shape of this settlement. Arising from this I would like to suggest the plotting on a map of the different types of shapes of villages.

The development of market towns, and I am particularly thinking of Market Harborough, presents the student with a number of interesting problems. There is no churchyard, for Harborough was an offshoot of Great Bowden, created in the 1160’s, and a daughter church had no right to baptize or bury its own dead. The plan of the town is in the shape of a huge “V”. This is a characteristic plan of market towns, and can also be noted at St. Albans and Hitchen. Huge [p.8]medieval market were held in the open air, but with the advent of shops, and because space was so valuable, pat of the original market was built over. This can be shown clearly at Stamford.

Historical Research

This can be original, even if only reading is done, but one should take advice and keep to a restricted subject. With a limited objective, one may have hopes of completing a useful piece of work. Palaeography is usually necessary for early researches.

With the coming of the 19th century industries, a complete society perished from our land, for the Industrial Revolution had caused a great part of England to be completely shattered. A study of our old directories, commencing with Whites of 1846, gives us a good history of a village or a small town over the last 100 years. These directories, which used to be thrown away as unsaleable rubbish, and now cost as much as 20s. to 30s., may all be found in the Reference Library, where there is a good local collection. The decay of the villages in eastern Leicestershire, and the development of those in the west, can well be traced. This period, contributing just as much to history, as the medieval, is probably the most difficult to procure information about.

When writing up the history of Wigston Magna there masses of 13th century documents, but little about the 19th century other than the directories. Before 1894 there were scarcely any records for the 19th century.

Family Histories

The tracing of these makes a valuable contribution to the social history of the town. The old families of Pares, Craddock, Paget, and others have been collected for the Victoria County History.

The Freeman's Register from 1196 to the present day provides a means of tracing the ordinary families. [p.9]

A complete history could be written of a single family, a house, or even a road. We remember the book by Mr. P. Russell, "History of a Road," being the history of the road from Market Harborough to Loughborough.

Photography may play a very necessary part in our historical surveys, and in so doing, complete a valuable piece of research.

This talk has shown something of the great variety of research into Local History that remains for us to tackle today, and it is a privilege for Societies such as this to participate in such a contribution to the past history of our County. [p.10]

[From: The Transactions of the Vaughan Archaeological and Historical Society, 1951/52, Volume V, pp7-10.]

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