[ELH] Dr Graham Jones: Residential Field-Course

An historical case study in the field

of the culture(s) and society (or societies) of a selected region from the sub-Roman period until the twentieth century: April 2-8, 2003, Gloucestershire

Naunton. Photo from the Gloucestershire County Council Environment web-pages


These are the preparatory notes for the Centre for English Local History's field-course in 2003. Gloucestershire was the locale, as in 2001 and 2002. Now that Professor Harold Fox has returned to the centre after his British Academy readership and university study leave, the 2004 course takes places in Devon, a region about which Professor Fox has published and to which he has taken the MA field-course for many years.

Though now inapplicable for the MA course, I'm leaving these notes posted as a record, and to give an idea of the way such a field-course has fitted into my teaching.

The course was organised in six itineraries, each focusing on a different theme or pays with an attempted balance as between periods and landscape types. Each day was devoted to examination in the field of a specific issue, posed as a question. Some pre-course familiarity with published material was deemed essential, but even so, the point of the course was that issues were considered 'on the ground', with the benefit of handling and assessing visible, tangible evidence.

Two evening exercises were scheduled (Friday and Monday), and two discussion sessions (Thursday and Sunday evenings), leaving Saturday and Tuesday evenings free for writing-up notes.

It should be emphasised that some Romano-British and older features were included in those to which the students' attention was drawn (outside the time-span set out in the course specification), on the grounds that (as Hoskins and others since have pointed out) it is impossible fully to understand early medieval Gloucestershire without reference to what went before.

In addition to the theme of the day, points of interest illustrating other themes and periods were glimpsed from the coach in passing. It is not practicable to list these here, but a detailed, thematic check-list was issued at the preparatory Saturday school.

Complementarity with the Landscape History module was sought in this course. In the light of both, students were asked to consider how a revision of H. P. R. Finberg's The Gloucestershire Landscape (1975) might be attempted today.

Course outline

Thursday. If weather was DRY,* South Gloucestershire: Pastoral landscapes How convincing is the cumulative evidence in a given area for seasonal settlement and/or stock movement as an element of early agrarian regimes?

Examining ecology, route lines, place-names, standing structures, territorial divisions and allocation of landed resources, folklore, and legal-religious, and other cultural forms.

*If wet, Monday's itinerary was to be brought forward and Thursday's put back.

Friday, if weather was DRY*, Mercian minsters: Settlement and urban morphology. What does a survey of Tewkesbury's streets and property plots contribute to the dating of its abbey's foundation?

Use of analogy, comparing Tewkesbury's layout with those of recognised minster settlements in the region and having regard to hypothesised patterns of 'dateable' pre-Conquest urban development.

Includes field exercise.

*If WET, Tuesday's itinerary was to be brought forward and Friday's put back.

Saturday, Stroudwater and east Cotswold textile communities: Landscape aesthetics. By what values are the Stroudwater settlements perceived today as urban, dingy, and 'failed', and those in the eastern Cotswolds as rural, picturesque, and 'successful', and how accurate are these assessments?

Examination in detail of the fabric of select settlements, and subsequent analysis of the built environment and the objective and subjective factors creating a 'desirable location'.

Sunday, Bristol and Bath: Urban form and function. How and why should two towns, apparently similar in their earliest urban forms, develop so differently?

Emphasis on the Early Modern and Modern periods, examining, inter alia the two cities' geographical positions, the effects of 17th, 18th and 21st century globalisation, architecture as an expression of social standing, and the rise and fall of the Spa.

Monday (or Thursday, q.v.), Forest of Dean: Industrial cultures. What windows on the world, in the form of trade routes by land or water, were available historically to Forest communities, and how might their examination revise the characterisation of such communities as isolated, inward-looking, and inbred?

Bringing together evidence from historical geography, archaeology, transport economics, and literature - antiquarian and modern historiography, and fiction.

Tuesday (or Friday, q.v.), Further urban contrasts: Gloucester and Cheltenham. Social differentiation and settlement hierarchy. How can fieldwork add to the stock of evidence for groups of ranked settlements within discrete landed units, historically, together with shifts of sites and functions, and in what ways might it assist the analysis of comtemporary and future landscapes of work and domicile?

Revisiting documentary, place-name and mapping evidence in the light of site visits, and a concluding discussion of the contemporary relevance (or irrelevance) of landscape history.

The itineraries in more detail

Thursday, South Gloucestershire: Pastoral landscapes

The ancient rocks which complicate this part of the county (known at least as early as the thirteenth century as the 'Province' of South Gloucestershire) are a southernwards extension of those underlying the Forest of Dean. Historically they have supported a rather different economy, however. Four pays are comprehended: the Vale of Berkeley (alluvium and Lias clay), Saltmarsh, Kingswood (complex, ancient rocks), and Cotswold Edge (Oolitic limestone). Together they offer the possibility of exploring the likely organisation and structures of early seasonal settlement: pastoral transhumance and seasonal exploitation of the natural landscape generally.

Seasonal pastoralism here probably involved the Saltmarsh (later drained for grazing by ditching known as rhines, wood pasture in Kingswood (n.b. Michael Wood motorway service area, mickle wood; Earthcott and Maiden place-names; multiple transverse drove-lanes), probable IA hilltop enclosures, and Cotswold Edge upland grazing (n.b. the two Oldbury's with the same patron saint on Edge and Saltmarsh respectively). A possible RB field system in the north of the Vale, Woodchester villa (the largest north of the Alps) and early deer parks at Dyrham (deor ham) and Berkeley, both roayl estate centres, testify to the prosperity with which this regime appears to have been associated.

Friday, Mercian minsters: Settlement and urban morphology.

Northern Gloucestershire takes in part of the Vale of Evesham, a pays in its own, distinctive right, dominated by horticulture, fruit-orchards and hop-growing, adn the related valley of the Carrant brook. (Between them stands Bredon Hill, a massive outlier of the Cotswolds.) In contrast, the Vale of Leadon is hardly a vale at all, but rather a broken, undulating landscape, rising to the Severn/Wye watershed on its west and the tail of the Malvern Hills on its east. Nevertheless, in addition to grazing and managed woods, it is characterised by orchards, market gardens, hops, and revived vineyards.

It is not this rich agrarian landscape which is the focus of the day's activity, however, but rather the concentration of early religious communities (minsters) in this part of the Severn basin which proliferated in a favoured landscape. They are important to historians because of the documentary sources surviving from their scriptoria. A number of minsters were visited in the morning: Pershore, Evesham, Winchcombe, Bishop's Cleeve, Deerhurst, and, if time allowed, Ledbury (the latter actually in Herefordshire but a districtmservice centre for the Vale of Leadon and possibly a British and early AS episcopal see for the territory between Leadon and Wye). The afternoon was devoted to an investigation of the morphology of the abbey town and former river port of Tewkesbury, which had its origins as an RB settlement and was a market town by the late eleventh century. Whether the existing abbey represented the refoundation of a pre-Conquest minster is disputed.

Saturday, Stroudwater and east Cotswold textile communities: Landscape aesthetics.

The Stroudwater Hills are an extension of the Cotswolds through which the [Stoudwater] Frome runs its swift course down the steep-sided Golden Valley whose direction swings from eastwards to westwards. Together with its tributaries, the Frome provided power for water mills to process wool from the Cotswold sheep runs with the assistance of fuller's earth, which outcrops between the limestone beds. The woollen industry in the small valley communities which grew up here was subject to competition from which it did not recover. Consequently, many of the Stroudwater woollen towns and villages are largely fossilised and available for scrutiny, unobscured by later redevelopment.

Woollen mill buildings survive, for example, at Painswick, Stroud, Minchinhampton, King's Stanley (with cast iron arcading), etc. So does the Severn and Thames canal to Lechlade (1789) to which they gave rise (n.b. many locks on west of 2-mile Sapperton Hill tunnel). Also surviving are New Street (1428), Bisley Street ('donkey' doors for wool panniers), and 17th century clothiers' houses at Painswick; 'weavers' assarts' houses (Minchinhampton); Dursley turnpike cottage (Kingshill entrance to town), and the canal roundhouse and tunnel portal at Coates.

This day's itinerary provided an opportunity in the afternoon to compare and contrast these towns with those of the eastern Cotswolds (including Burford, Lechlade, Fairford, Stow, Chipping Campden, and Winchcombe). Woollen manufacture fuelled the prosperity of most of the towns and larger villages in this district (note the water mill at Lower Slaughter, stable-door entrances of home-workers' dwellings in Winchcombe, etc). However, there was lace-making at Blockley, also.

The itinerary will also take in the 'capital' of the Gloucestershire woollen trade, Cirencester, with its great merchantile church.

Sunday, Bristol and Bath: Urban form and function.

Two neighbouring cities built on hills alongside a major, part-navigable river. Both are of national importance but their fortunes developed very differently. Issues to be addressed include the geographical, social and cultural factors which drove these fortunes and the reasons for their varying impacts on the urban landscape. Bath qualified for inclusion in this region because its historical core lay on the north bank of the Avon, it remains a service and tourism centre for the southern Cotswolds, was united administratively with Bristol from 1974 until the 1990s, and was part of Mercia until c. 900 - as well as for the contrast it provides to Bristol.

This has been chosen as the Sunday itinerary for speed and visibility. All the Bristol city centre sites can be seen in the course of a walk of less than a mile.

Monday, Forest of Dean: Industrial cultures.

This is an idiosyncratic region created by complex geological formation (Old Red Sandstone, Mountain Limestone, Millstone Grit, Coal Measures) and industrial exploitation of iron-ore, coal and timber since the Romano-British period and probably earlier. As well as looking in detail at the surviving structures of the industrial landscape, the visit will explore the cultural characteristics of the Forest and the effects of relative isolation and individual enterprise.

Tuesday, Further urban contrasts: Gloucester and Cheltenham. Social differentiation and settlement hierarchy.

Had Cheltenham's potential as a spa town not been realised in the early years of the 18th century, it would have remained a village to Gloucester's county town (and from 1540 cathedral city). This is a further opportunity to explore contrasting urban landscapes arising from differing economic fortunes. Gloucester's began with the replacement by a Roman colonia of a likely IA oppidum on Churchdown, which overlooks the city. (Note British place-names on the west bank of the Severn opposite Gloucester: Maisemore, Morwent.) Gloucester's abbey was founded in the seventh century (the existing medieval structure has fine Gothic cloisters, Romanesque crypt, and Lady chapel, with early use of Perpendicular for blind arcading), but at its west end is St Mary de Lode, which has been suggested as represesting the survival of a British episcopal church. Gloucester's later prosperity (New Inn from the 15th century, Greyfriars, Market Arcade, Town Hall, etc) derived from its position on the Severn as a river port and the lowest dry river crossing on the way to Wales; now it has extensive manufacturing, including high tech., and an airport at Staverton.

Cheltenham, on the other hand, while an AS royal estate centre, 'took off' only in 1716 with the 'discovery' of the spa (later exploitative success characterised by Montpellier 1788, Pittville pump room c. 1810, etc). Its Regency buildins may be contrasted with the concrete functionality of the Eagle Star Insurance building (1968), Whitbread's brewery, the shopping parade, and the GCHQ buildings on the edge of the town. After the decline of the spa, only gentility remained to maintain some degree of prosperity in opposition to the more workaday Gloucester. Whether this contrast persists in the era of retail chains and traffic management is for the student to determine.

Course objectives

The field-course represents the keystone of the M.A. course. It should integrate many of the distinct methodologies and concepts that students have acquired in other parts of the course, and focus them on their application in particular locality. In the process it hopefully underlines for them:

The crucial importance of the visual evidence for all local historians;
The necessity to comprehend all periods of the past together;
The fact that an intensive study of this kind in a region new to most of you inevitably furnishes a comparative understanding with which to return questioningly and questingly to areas that are more familiar.

So important should the field-course be to students that they are encouraged to begin to prepare for it in the autumn - or at least over the Christmas vacation - to avoid being caught on the hop at the last minute. It is impossible - even was it desirable - for the tour leader to bellow forth information on every subject under the sun in the field. Self-help is thus absolutely essential.

These notes represented the first of a number of contributions made by the Centre (as follows):

To introduce - as here - the aims and methods of the course with advice on the personal preparation which each of you should make well in advance. Students were told please to note that although this is a preliminary announcement, they would need constantly to refer back to the body of this document.
The Saturday School between 10.10am and 4pm in March (as per the centre's calendar). Here the concentration, with the help of the maps and slides, was on some of the topics to be pondered later in the field and so, hopefully, bringing together into some sort of pattern the more scattered topical reading that each student had been able to do by then. In the time then available it was not possible even to attempt to compensate for personal preparation that may not have been done.
Helpful documentation issued on that occasion and on each day of the course, including guides to each day's activities.
Comments and discussion where relevant and feasible was given by the tour leader on the ground and in the coach, all of which based on the assumption that the background reading, and studying of the relevant OS One-Inch maps (preferably Seventh Edition, and not Landranger Series) had been done in advance.

THE STUDENT'S INPUT to all this would therefore be:

To digest the accompanying statement of aims and to decide from them how best to organise their personal preparation for the course.

To do their preparatory reading as systematically and as inclusively as possible. Intelligent use of photocopying facilities, and a good deal of swapping of copied material, would help a great deal. Ring binders of relevant material are kept in the Map Room, but will never be totally complete.

To make sure that students attended the obligatory and inevitably concentrated introductory Saturday School (even on a stretcher if need be!).

To work through the route-notes issued later in detail with the help of the maps (felt-tipped pens help): (a) before the field-course itself; (b) on the evening before each day-trip.

To follow the route with a map and to keep notes, observations, sketches, etc. as we went along. It is fatal to think that one will recall information without notes when there is so much to take in (strongly recommend is a clip-board large enough to take at least A4 sized paper and with waterproof see-through cover or, even better, a small hard-backed notebook which does not pulp under incessant rain.)

To be scrupulous and visually 'ferocious' in personal observation, especially when given time for individual viewing. If a camera is carried (recommended: it need not be an expensive one) don't just snap: inspect on all sides and then snap. Small group participation in explorations is especially valuable when opportunities are provided.

To discuss each day's findings with fellow victims every evening while memories are still fresh and to inspect one's notes and annotate them.

To be prepared to contribute one's own observations in the field to the general pool.

To bring photographs, considered thinking, and own sandwiches to the cooperative seminar (10am to 1pm in the Seminar Room) on the morning before the annual W. G. Hoskins Lecture on a Saturday early in the summer (again as per the centre calendar). This is wholly the students' meeting and no lecturer is present, so it gives students a last chance as a group to share personal interpretations of the region with each other before writing up. Swapping of photographs is practised at these meetings. Discussion should focus on the main themes to be incorporated into the evaluation, and the relevance of individual sites to those themes. Students are encouraged to select a chairperson or persons at the end of the field-course itself. Full-time students may wish to fix up their own seminar.

The individual production of an Evaluation (5,000 words) in the light of the follow-up reading that each student obviously needed to do in accordance with their own personal interests as a result of questions raised in the field.

Practical matters


It was up to students to organise their travel to Bristol, sharing if possible. All other transport was paid for by the Department.

Accommodation (Bed and Breakfast only)

Churchill Hall, University of Bristol (Stoke Park Road, Clifton, Bristol BS9 1JQ; tel. 0117 903-3361; web pages at http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Churchill/). The date for final payment for accommodation and meals was after the field-course.


All students were asked to remember that at all times during the field-course, everyone was personally responsible for their own safety.

A First Aid kit was available and it was hoped that the party would include at least one First Aider of each sex.

Students were advised not to venture near any old masonry, to beware of potholes and rabbit holes on moorland, to be careful at the water's edge and to avoid stepping off pavements in order to admire or photograph buildings.

For the sake of the University's reputation, students were asked please to avoid actions that unintentionally might damage private property (e.g. clambering over or up walls; not to enter property which appears to be private; and to respect the sanctity of churches and the tranquillity of some sites by, if possible, not 'swarming' in large numbers.


Students were told to remember warm clothing, rain proofing, stout shoes, flasks, and lunch-making equipment.

If students needed to, they were encouraged to borrow a camera and a clipboard. In the past those without cameras found themselves disadvantaged when they came to write their evaluations.

Details of final arrangements,

plus detailed route guides, were available in the spring term.

Field-Course Evaluation

As indicated in the ELH Student Handbook, students were required to write an evaluation following the field-course, for which the word limit was 5,000 words and the deadline was the end of August for part-time students (mid May for full-timers). The marking of the evaluation followed the benchmark principles set out in the Handbook, but also reflected the extent to which students achieved the following objectives:

Concentration on a reasoned evaluation of the regional society (or societies) and culture(s) and their particularities

Comparison with those of another region familiar to you

Application of landscape, as well as documentary, published, and visual evidence to these tasks

Consideration of two (preferably contiguous) periods, together with a forward or backward look at a third period

Assimilation of reading

Degree of personal observation


Adherence to departmental conventions

Students might wish the core of their evaluation to concentrate on a specific aspect or sub-region. This was acceptable provided it was set in the context of the region as a whole, pointing out how it relates to other aspects or parts of the region, and drawing lessons from these relationships so that the region as a whole is the opening and concluding point of reference.

Good marks were not attracted by superficial, 'Shell Guide' descriptions of the region, or the dropping in of slabs of generalised economic history.

The word-limit included captions, footnotes, and appendices.

Illustrations were to be used judiciously and effectively, generally placed either at the end of the evaluation, or together at an appropriate place within it, or on pages facing the relevant text. Only in crucial cases should they be placed within the text, thus breaking it up. Students should use illustrations as aids to the evaluation, not as aids to design. For the same reason, captions should normally be placed directly beneath the illustrations to which they refer, and straight-forward typefaces should always be used. Students were also told to resist any temptation to include 'holiday snap' records of the course in progress.

Reading List (in additional to items in the bibliography for the Landscape History course)

The Victoria County History volumes for Gloucestershire.

The Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society - to be trawled for relevant articles.

Domesday Book. Both the Phillimore and Alecto editions. MR

Pevsner, The Buildings of England. The two Gloucestershire volumes (I: The Cotswolds now revised and enlarged), plus North Somerset and Bristol. MR

Brian Smith and Elizabeth Ralph, A History of Bristol and Gloucestershire (2nd edn, Chichester, Phillimore, 1982). TR.

The Gloucestershire collections in both the Main Library and the Library at Marc Fitch House should be trawled. Sample local histories include:

Christopher Whitfield, A History of Chipping Campden (Eton, Shakespeare Head Press, 1958). TR.

F. A. Hyett, Glimpses of the History of Painswick (Gloucester, The British Publishing Company, 1957). TR

David H. Aldred, Cleeve Hill: The History of the Common and its People (Stroud, Alan Sutton, 1990)

Published work on Gloucester Cathedral should be looked for, particular Canon Wellander's publications. Descriptions include:

G. H. Cook, The Story of Gloucester Cathedral (London, Phoenix House, 1952). MR

Here is a list of Gloucestershire titles published by Alan Sutton (Stroud).

Other important information for those taking part

Gloucestershire place-names. Click here for an outline of a ten-week course.

Dates for the course. The course began in time for an introductory briefing at 6pm on the evening before the first day of teaching, and ended after breakfast on the day after the last day of teaching, after which students travelled home.

Maps students needed to acquire: OS One-Inch, Seventh Series or earlier, Sheets
143 Gloucester and Malvern
144 Cheltenham and Evesham
155 Bristol and Newport
156 Bristol and Stroud
157 Swindon

Useful web-sites include 'Estuarine Archaeology, The Severn and Beyond', Stephen Rippon's site, maintained at the University of Exeter.

Berkeley Notes.

[Leicester University] [*]
Last updated: 23 March 2004 22:25
Dr G.R. Jones

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