Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why it might just pay to know your place-names

Richard Jones

Getting up this morning, I was struck by a story on the local news.  It concerned the plight of a dairy farmer.  His lush pasture had turned to quagmire as his cattle had trampled over sodden ground resulting from the recent unseasonal downpours.  He suggested that the lack of fodder was having a deleterious effect on the quantity of milk being produced, and that we might expect imminent hikes in milk-prices as a direct consequence of this shortfall.  All very interesting (I am a voracious milk drinker), and made all the more so since the national news which followed reported that dairy farmers were marching on Westminster to protest against the price of milk they were receiving from retailers. 

In a sense this is by-the-by, but upon reflection it is actually the ‘by’ in the story that is most interesting.  Because the dairy farm in question was located in Somerby, Leicestershire.  Now there is some debate among place-name scholars regarding the derivation of this name.  Three alternatives are offered: either ‘Sumarlithi’s village’ or ‘village of the summer travellers’, or ‘village of the concave hill-slopes used in the summer’.    Somerby stands above the 180m OD contour in High Leicestershire.  The rather uncomfortable shape of the parish appears to suggest that it is squeezed between older more established land units which may once have enjoyed access to, and use of, what would be formalized as a separate entity Somerby. A seasonal farm, that is a sheiling, seems to be the most likely explanation, where the pasture was grazed in the summer perhaps because under other conditions the ground was no good.  And this is certainly how Somerby in Lincolnshire is interpreted, where the radial pattern of the surrounding parishes, together with its elevated position on the Wolds, reinforces the case that this was once communal pasture. 

Given, then, the problems faced by our Somerby farmer today, when in the absence of a summer sun, his ground has become inundated and unworkable, does this strengthen the case for interpreting the place-name as a warning to early farmers that this land was only suitable for grazing in clement weather?  And might, therefore, this farmer have been able to predict the fate of his cattle had he considered what his village name was telling him, that when the weather turned inclement or unseasonal, then problems would follow?  Which makes you think, or at least it makes me think.  Is the modern world missing a trick by paying scant regard to the information contained within place-names?  Many names might be over a thousand years old, of course, but as this example demonstrates, at times they still continue to convey information that, were we to take careful note of it, might help us to navigate through busy lives. 
Nor is Somerby an isolated example.  Take this from the This is Devon website published on 14 January, 2010 appearing under the headline ‘Police defend Haldon Hill snow response’   
‘Police insist they “could not have done more” to  respond to the  heavy snowfall which left hundreds of  motorists stranded in   frightening conditions  near Exeter. Drivers who were stuck  on Haldon Hill and Telegraph Hill, where  the M5  branches into two dual carriageways just past Exeter,  have  criticised the lack of  information flowing  through to them, and  questioned why ploughs and  diggers were not at the  scene  earlier.’ 
Haldon Hill is a notorious black spot, and, when it comes to strandings, a repeat offender; only eleven months earlier the same thing had happened, hundreds of motorists again marooned as they attempted to climb the hill and who were forced to spend the night in their cars.  Now it is not my place to assess whether the police could not have done more on these occasions, but had motorists been aware of the fact that the name derives from OE hagol meaning ‘hail’, thus giving us Hail Hill, then they might just have been aware of their folly in attempting to continue their journey south of Exeter.  For this hill, it would seem, has attracted hail, which we might take as shorthand for snow and ice for centuries.  The lesson of Haldon Hill must be that if our lives were informed by the meaning of the place-names through which we pass, we might just avoid considerable personal hardship and inconvenience when our journeys go wrong; and that moreover, society as a whole might have saved on these occasions the thousands of pounds from the public purse required to rescue those stranded in their vehicles.

Or what about this?  Three days ago (9.7.12) the Shropshire Star reported that the Environment Agency had issued Flood Alerts for two locations in the county—Buildwas and Eaton-on-Tern.  Well surprise, surprise!  As Margaret Gelling observed in her discussion of Buildwas, and in particular its second element OE w├Žsse ‘[t]he flood-plain can be a lake one day and a stretch of firm grazing ground on the next…This behaviour on the part of a river does not create swamp so, although the semantic reference is certainly to wetness, ‘alluvial land liable to sudden floods’, or the like should replace the earlier definition [‘land by a meandering river which floods and drains quickly’].’    And Eaton?  OE ea ‘river’!   All of which leads to the  conclusion that if you want to avoid costly insurance claims for flood damage, when choosing your new home, perhaps consider the meaning of the name of the town or village to which you intend to move.  I might even suggest that this should become a required element of any survey undertaken by your surveyor or solicitor before purchase. 

Whether or not these examples are representative, there are good grounds to suggest that the observations of our forebears, relayed through the names that they coined for the places in which we still chose to live, continue to hold relevance into the twenty-first century. Which leads me to one final remark.  For the good of society and for the economy of this country the study of place-names should be made an essential part of the National Curriculum.  The meaning of place-names should be accessible to all.  Because if everyone possessed the ability to interpret these names, how much better informed they would be when it came to taking life’s decisions, both great and small.  Should I stall my cattle? Is it wise to travel?  Should I buy a house here?  For the sake of your family, then, together with your home, your business, and your purse, it might just pay to become more versed in place-names.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Peter King: Population of early nineteenth-century Coventry petition for black rapist, James Frayde, to avoid the gallows

As part of a broader study of pardoner's tales - of the pardoning petitions of 18th and early 19th century England and Wales I have recently come across this case which raises a mass of questions about gender, race and the criminal justice system - issues I have been working on for many years
Here is a brief outline of the evidence i am developing into a case study of 'Race, rape and the pardoning process'

I would really appreciate any comments on this developing project and any other information from anyone who knows the area's history or who can help us  trace further newspaper articles in the Midland press.

In 1805 James frayde, an African who had only been in England for a couple of months was tried at the Warwick assizes for the rape of an adolecent white girl. He was sentenced to death. But a huge petitioning movement immediately kick started in the locality as seen in this article from the local paper

Warwick Advertiser 30 August 1806
Mr Alderman Whitwell left Coventry on Thursday last, for London; the worthy Alderman is the bearer of a Petition to his Majesty, signed by upwards of 3,000 inhabitants of that city, recommending Joseph Frayde (a native of Africa, who on the day of his trial had been but seven weeks and three days in England), to the Royal clemency, for a mitigation of punishment, who was left for execution at the late assizes of for that city, for a rape.

Why were such a high proportion of the local middling sort and all the local magistrates  petitioning in this way?
The coventry paper gives an amazing explanation

Coventry Mercury  Monday, 18th August 1806
            Frayde, first saw the light of Heaven in Africa; a country wherein the doctrine of the Cross is seldom preached, yet seldomer understood, whose neglected inhabitants groan beneath an iron yoke of dark, gloomy, superstitious ignorance; nor can it be fairly supposed that the seven weeks and a half, this man has employed in roaming through England, could have afforded him an opportunity of acquiring some knowledge of its laws, or the punishments annexed to their infringement.

We know from a document in the pardoning archive that Frayde was eventually reprieved and transported . The judge  was a vital, if not the only player in this process so his report (transcribed below) would have been very influential
Here it is:

Document in The National Archives Home Office Papers
Report of case of Joseph Frayde a convict under sentence of death at Coventry for a Rape.


31 August 1806
My Dear Sir,
                I have just received your letter respecting Joseph Frayde, and must acknowledge my obligation to Lord Spencer and yourself for writing privately to me on the subject before you require a public official Report and opinion.  Such a Proceeding often  ? much Trouble & Inconvenience to both Parties.
                The man is a Negro, a very stout man, & was convicted before me upon evidence, which satisfied the jury, & was by no means unsatisfactory to me, of the full offence of Rape on a girl under 14 years of age.  I intended that the law should have taken its course against him, & I thought that the ground for mercy stated in the Coventry Petition (that he was a stranger here and ignorant of our laws) was quite futile:- there is no country on Earth, (which is not wholly savage,) in which Rape is not considered as a crime; & if a man does what he knows to be wrong, he must abide the sentence of the law of that country in which he offends.  But an Alderman of Coventry has been with me, who is a surgeon & gave evidence at the trial, & had brought with him an affidavit respecting the girl (the prosecutrix) & a Petition signed by inhabitants of Coventry to the number, I suppose, of some thousands:- for, there are signatures which fill 12 large sheets of paper, & contain some 3, some 4, some 5 columns of names, - & of persons of such a description that it is impossible that Party should have any influence thereupon.  I have likewise received applications from the Petty Jury, & Grand Jury, & every Magistrate in the place.  I have therefore sent a Respite for Frayde during his Majesty’s Pleasure: & I had intended to apply at your office, that his Majesty might be requested to order him to be transported for Life: you will consider this as an application for this purpose.
                I have been moved to mitigate the sentence, by these considerations – 1. The Alderman? that the father of girl had been capitally convicted of sheep-stealing, & that the mother was a woman of bad character, & was frequently at the Barracks among the soldiers. 2. The Affidavit stated that the child was a forward child, & very apt to speak men as she passed them, & that she had told the Deponent that if she could convict the black man, then her mother should have a reward of 40£.  This it seems was the amount of a reward advertised and paid by the farmer, who convicted the girl’s father of sheep-stealing, & she was led from thence to believe that everyone who could convict an offender capitally, would receive a reward of 40£.  This inducement might possibly lead the child to swear more particularly to the circumstances which constitute the full completion of rape, than she would otherwise have done; but the surgeon swore to a recent destruction of the hymen – & they saw her within 2 hours after the injury. 3. But another consideration weighed still more strongly with me, & will ? have its weight with me, while I have the honour to bear a judicial character.  It is this that the case of an offence, in which Party Dispute can have no concern & where it is impossible that the criminal should excite the attention of any particular  Party of any denomination, an ? of general sense of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, instead of having the effect generally intended, of deterring by the example, & of making others more fearful to offend –  lends rather to render the execution of the laws odious & to render juries unwilling to trust the criminal in the hands of the judge, by finding him guilty.  You may possible recollect an instance of this sort some years ago at Lancaster.
                                                I am Dear Sir
                                                                Your obliged & obedient Servant
                                                                                                J Rooke

Cheltenham 31 August 1806
Mr Justice Rooke
In this amazing mixture of motives and perspectives on the crime and on the subsequent conditional pardon the true story is difficult to unravel
Was he guilty?
Was the judicial response appropriate?
The criteria used to make the decision reveal a whole range of prejudices and presuppositions
This young African was transported to Australia
But was the outcome fair?
We would be very interested in your thoughts and also help in tracing further information ( the assizes records do not survive for this circuit) If anyone knows the right site to go to to trace his possible life in Australia that would be very interesting
Pete King

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Professor Peter King - Inaugural Lecture - 5:30 Tuesday 8th May 2012

University of Leicester, Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1: 5:30 pm on Tuesday 8th May, 2012

'Homicidal crime across space and time. Why are some societies so much more murderous than others?

Homicide rates vary massively across time and between places, but attempts to explain these variations have revealed a number of paradoxes and contradictions. For example, in Europe in the Middle Ages murder prosecution rates were twenty times greater than they are now. The long-term decline in recorded homicides which was a major feature of the period from the fourteenth to the late nineteenth centuries has encouraged some historians to argue that the modernisation and the urbanisation process that occurred across Europe in this period was been the key factor behind this drastic reduction in levels of inter-personal violence. However, the geography of homicide does not necessarily back up this argument. In the second half of the twentieth century, for example, urban areas have been associated with very much higher murder rates. Drawing initially on Professor King’s recent primary research on nineteenth-century homicide rates in the two most rapidly industrialising and urbanising areas in Europe – England and Scotland – which has shown that homicide rates were 6 times higher in rapidly urbanising areas such as Glasgow than in peripheral rural ones such as the Highlands, the lecture will indicate how problematic this simplistic connection between modernisation and declining violence has turned out to be. It will then use data from across Europe, from twentieth century America and comparative world homicide rates available for the early twenty-first century as the basis for developing a model of the key factors that create high homicide rates in any specific place or time. By exploring the impact on homicide rates of factors such as the oppression of racial and national minorities, the survival of vendetta, the level and nature of state intervention, or the disruptions that result from large-scale in-migration into rapidly growing cities or industrialising areas, the lecture will attempt to develop a more sophisticated historically grounded understanding of the roots of high homicide rates in different societies.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Muddy Boots and Sat Nav

Richard Jones

The headlines are stark:  ‘Warning over decline in map skills as ramblers rely on Sat Navs’ announced the Daily Telegraph on 19 February of this year; ‘Sat-nav and the lost art of map-reading’ the same paper lamented on 16 June 2011.  Supporting these views, there are some hard statistics: sales of Ordnance Survey sheet maps have fallen by 25% since 2005; and in a survey conducted on behalf of Which? Conversation in July 2011, the frightening revelation that two-thirds of under 25s cannot read a map!
Large-scale maps, together with muddy boots, have traditionally been part of the English local historian’s essential toolkit.  If we are to believe what we read, and there is no reason to doubt it (recently I asked a second-year undergraduate group who among them now used maps—no-one raised their hand!), then one of the prerequisite skills for local study, particularly among the younger generation, is rapidly disappearing.  To whom does W.G. Hoskins now speak when we read passages such as this?
‘There are certain sheets of the one-inch Ordnance Survey maps which one can sit down and read like a book for an hour on end, with growing pleasure and imaginative excitement.  One dwells upon the infinite variety of the place-names (and yet there is a characteristic flavour for each region of England), the delicate nerve-like complexity of roads and lanes, the siting of the villages and hamlets, the romantic moated farmsteads in deep country, the churches standing alone in the fields, the patterns made by the contours or by the way the parish boundaries fit into one another, and in so doing so learns a good deal of local history, whether or not one knows the country itself.’
Pack up, turn out the lights, lock the door, it’s time to go home.  Or is it?
Cartographic literacy is a relatively modern phenomenon and certainly rare in the general populace much before the end of the nineteenth century.  Local historians who study earlier periods must accept, I think, that for the majority of those they study, maps were rather inconsequential.  The view that they formed of their world was not constructed as ours so often is.  It was known from the ground and not from some vantage point 35,000 feet above.  It was experienced in three dimensions rather than in a two-dimensional abstraction.  Buildings had facades not just floor plans, fields were defined as much by what they contained as their boundaries.  Once a map has been seen, it is never forgotten.  It burns itself into the imagination, structuring all subsequent impressions of place.  And because of this, I have begun to wonder just how wise it is to look at maps at an early stage in any study of a particular locality (a heretical position for a landscape historian).  But what should we make of Sat Nav technology?    
Even those who had access to maps in the past did not necessarily use or rely upon them when travelling.  William Cobbett revealed in 1823 that he ‘had not looked at a map of Kent for years, and perhaps, never’.  A year earlier he had made his way through Surrey and Hampshire without the aid of a map of the former.  To navigate he asked the way from those he encountered; or employed (not always successfully) the services of a local guide.  A lone traveller in the past was thus accompanied by the oral instructions of others.  In an echo of the woman who instructed Cobbett of the way to Hawkey ‘Right up the lane, sir: you’ll come to a hanger…’  so the Sat Nav now commands, ‘In four hundred yards, turn left’.  ‘Left’, note, not north or south, east or west.  Left, because the top of the Sat Nav map, just as it has been for travellers across the centuries, is where one is heading, not a privileged cardinal point.  Past geographies were always more fluid. 
Intriguing though this may be, it is often claimed that Sat Nav is doing considerable cultural damage, because it removes details which would be found on a map highlighting interesting aspects of the  landscape visible either side of the route being taken. Two miles west of Amesbury there is a fork in the road made by the joining of the A303 and the A344.  If you are off to Ilminster and the West Country, your Sav Nav will plot a course which highlights the lefthand side of the Y shape which emerges on the display.  The blank background on which your route has been superimposed has hidden one of the most iconic structures in the English landscape from your view—Stonehenge.  You continue oblivious to its existence if you rely on Sat Nav; you strain your neck to see it if you have a map.  But is this really any different from the Ogilby’s strip maps of the seventeenth century, destinations at the top of the page, the actual route clearly laid out with important junctions identified, but almost all other peripheral landmarks eliminated?  The Sat Nav screen is simply a digital version of the same. 
This aside, there is the question of distance.  From the sheet map, distance is a linear measure, and so it remains in the Sat Nav.  But here it is paired with time: ’52 minutes remaining’.  It is not only Sat Nav that deploys this experiential device to measure distance.  ’16 miles, 14 minutes to Jct 20’ announces the motorway matrix and we breathe a sigh of relief: the carriageway is clear and traffic is flowing freely; we will arrive at our destination on time and unflustered.  This equation of distance with time is also historically interesting, for it was time more than anything which dictated the daily cycle of local life, particularly agrarian life, in the past.  Have you ever wondered why the mile has become such a significant distance, and why it is the distance that it is, and not longer or shorter?  It is a distance that can be covered in a quarter of an hour on foot, a distance within which it is still economically viable to drive a team of oxen, have sufficient time to plough the fields.  The mile is a social and economic construct, a human not scientific measure.    
Then there is the question of route.  We can ask our Sat Nav to plot the quickest route, the most direct route, routes which avoid certain types of road.  And again, we might use this to think about how people navigated through the historic landscape.  Can we use these decisions and the routes taken to think about path-making in the past?  I would argue that it can.
Sat Nav thus makes us think differently about space, time, distance, and direction.  It does so because it challenges the hegemony of the sheet map upon which we have come to rely.  However disembodied the voice, Sat Nav returns us, it might be argued, to more fundamentally human ways of navigation and orientation based around the direction in which we are facing, and the time it will take us to achieve something.  This should help us, should we care to allow it, to think ourselves back more readily into the shoes of those who have walked or ridden in the past through the localities we study.  The new generation brought up with Sat Nav may just have the skills to gain a far better insight into the lives and thoughts of these people than those of us brought up on the Ordnance Survey.  To paraphrase once more the most paraphrased of phrases, Levi-Strauss’ ‘Animals are good to think with’, it might be contended that for local historians, ‘Sat Nav technology is good to think with’ too. 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Why was London the 'state slaughterhouse' of eighteenth-century England?

Peter King

The Unbloody code

Among the new perspectives I am currently working on is the geography of the so called 'bloody code' of the eighteenth century. This turns out to have varied massively between localities. The eighteenth-century 'bloody code' has much occupied historians. This accumulating mass of penal statutes that attached the death sentence to many, often minor, property crimes ( stealing a sheep, pickpocketing a hanky, stealing stoce from a particular bridge, even giving food to a gypsy were all capital offences by the mid eighteenth century) has always been seen as a central part of the criminal justice system. Many historians such as Hay and Gatrell have argued that the gentlemen of the eighteenth century loved the death penalty and used it strategically to reinforce their rule. When I started looking at the geography of the bloody code, however, I discovered that in some very large parts of England and Wales it was not bloody at all. In the middle third of the eighteenth century virtually no one was hung for property crime in Cornwall, much of west Wales and much of the north-west and the north. Murderers were hung everywhere but hanging for property crime was used massively in London but hardly ever in the west of Britain. Scotland, it seems, also made little use of the 'bloody code' although I have not researched this.

Even allowing for population difference the 'bloody code' was regional. The number of people hanged in London per head of population was as much as twenty times greater than that in certain western counties. Places like Cumberland, Westmoreland , Cornwall, Breconshire and even Glamorgan could go decades without a hanging for a property crime. The people of the west did not believe in the bloody code and refused to put it into operation but historians, by focussing on the centre - London, the Midlands, Lancashire etc - have missed this. London was a state slaughterhouse. Several hundred offenders might be executed for property crime there in any given decade. The state murder rate, or execution rate if you like, was much higher than the prosecution rate for murder in general in London. This was not the case in the West. So ….......why?

Herein lies a fascinating and complex story that I am trying to unravel. I have some ideas - prosecution rates in general were lower in the West - for all crimes and massively so. Also people did not see the state courts as necessarily the best way to deal with crime. The survival of Celtic languages in many of these areas also coincides interestingly.

Any thoughts would be gratefully received

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Local History and the Death of the Parish

Richard Jones

I live in Upton, Nottinghamshire.  Last week the Upton Tonic dropped through my door.  This monthly newsletter does not claim to be a parish magazine, but that is what it is.  It reports on activities across the parish, includes the minutes of the Parish Council meetings, and is delivered to all villagers and occupants of outlying farms and houses within the confines of the parochial boundaries.  For the last couple of years, a second separate flier entitled The Four Ton Tattler has been inserted into the newsletter.  This provides church news including the orders of service in the churches of Upton, and the three neighbouring parishes of Rolleston, Fiskerton, and Morton (hence the four tons).  These churches constitute a single benefice.  On the recent appointment of a new vicar, the Four Ton Benefice was united with the Trent Group Benefice covering the parishes of Bleasby, Thurgarton, Halloughton, and Hoveringham.    Eight churches and their parishes are now served by a single vicar. 

These changes, and the quiet rebranding of a parish magazine as a newsletter, should interest local historians.  First, we might point to the fact that slowly, insidiously, stage-by-stage in piecemeal fashion, parochial identities and allegiances are being dismantled and replaced by larger spatial units.   We are witnessing nothing short of a fundamental change in both the way that the landscape of England is organized and how it is now perceived by its occupants.  These changes demand to be recorded if the death of parishes is not to be veiled in the same silence that accompanied their original constitution during the tenth to twelfth centuries.   

Secondly,  those who know their early history will recognize that we appear to be returning, in purely spatial terms at least, to the kinds of arrangements that preceded the formation of parishes, an England made up of greater and lesser ‘estates’ characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon period.  This emphasis on medium-scale territories is further reinforced by the formation of modern council districts.  What is fascinating  is that these new groupings are not based on historical precedents, but are carving up the landscape along different lines.  To take Upton as an example.  Upton’s history is closely associated with the minster estate of Southwell.  Recorded from the mid-tenth century, this comprised Southwell and eleven members or outliers.  Upton, Fiskerton and Morton were part of this estate family, but never Rolleston; likewise Bleasby and Halloughton were included in the estate, but Thurgarton or Hoveringham always lay beyond.   Even today, relations between Rolleston and Upton remain remote, despite being only two miles apart as the crow flies, while affinities with Fiskerton and Morton are stronger despite the two villages being geographically more distant.  The new landscape thus comprises new territorial units, while at the same time and perhaps more significantly destroys the older units from which it has formed.

As a local historian this situation intrigues me.  I ask myself, are there any lessons to be drawn from the current reorganization of the countryside that might help inform on the processes that must have been at play in the early medieval period?  Do new times always demand new solutions?  Why are historical arrangements apparently no longer relevant and what does this say about constitution of communities past and present?  Are we currently creating artificial, ill-fitting, internally incoherent territorial units and social groupings which will be inherently unstable, or are we creating new and appropriate territories which will shape the countryside for the next millennium?  And what role should I play, as a landscape and local historian, in helping to define these new territorial arrangements? 

Thirdly, there is the issue that gets to the heart of local history.  Since the nineteenth century, no other spatial or administrative unit has exerted so much influence over the practice of English local history than the parish.  The scholarly template was firmly established when parochial histories became the principal organizational device of The Victoria History of the Counties of England.  Across the country a constellation of groups continue to meet to discuss and research their parish resulting in the publication of hundreds of parish histories.  But what shape will local history take in the post-parish era?   Younger generations no longer share the sense of parish belonging which has been the foundation of the local history society.  Even now, most people when asked would be unable to tell you where their parish boundaries lie.   Few families enjoy a multi-generational connection with a single place.  This lack of rootedness will only be further eroded as the idea of the parish fades into the distance: as the parish magazine becomes a newsletter, the parish a benefice, the village simply a part of a planning district.    

My feeling, for what it is worth, is that local historians should not just sit back to observe and record what is happening (they must continue to do this of course).  Far less should they present a conservative voice that harks back to the golden age of the parish and condemn the ahistoricity of modern life (after all, while the parish has a long and noble pedigree, there was a time before the parish existed).  Rather they should be taking the lead.  They should ensure that the lessons of history that tell us that communities have continually organized and reorganized themselves according to particular circumstances are conveyed to the widest possible audience.  They should stress that there are many solutions not one, while at the same time demonstrating that some things work and others do not.  It is only when the long-term appreciation of the development of the English landscape is effectively communicated to all those responsible for or who must live with inevitable change that we will find the means avoiding the many pitfalls that lie in wait, and be able to develop new sustainable and resilient ways of living together.  The parish is dead (or at least dying), its raison d’├¬tre largely defunct in a multi-cultural society.  Local history must change as a consequence, in its scales of operation, in its horizons, and in its themes, if it too is not to become a historical irrelevance.