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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When the silver birches shimmer", 23 Aug. 2012
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Making of South Yorkshire (Hardcover)
This is a review of the original 1979 edition. David Hey was then teaching at the University of Sheffield.

After a preface and an introduction, the bulk of the book is split into three sections, arranged chronologically - 1. Romans, Angles, and Vikings; 2. The Middle Ages; and 3. From the Reformation to the Civil War - and these three sections are then split into a total of twenty-seven subjects or `chapters'. The book is well-illustrated with photographs and maps, but all - alas - are in black and white. What's missing though is a relief map showing the watersheds. A map of all the parish boundaries would also have been key to understanding much of the text. One niggling point is that all measurements are given in imperial rather than metric.

In his preface, Hey writes that because of the common belief that history in South Yorkshire only commenced with the Industrial Revolution - the landscape of South Yorkshire "has paid a heavy price for being in the vanguard" - the book stops chronologically well before "in order to demonstrate how much the present landscape has been moulded by the ancient past and to show what a wealth of material survives." He says he also starts with the Romans rather than Prehistory because the realm of the latter has recently been radically transformed by the discovery of so many new sites that "much re-assessment needs to be done" of this new evidence.

South Yorkshire straddles the highland/lowland boundary. So, having thus defined his chronological parameters in the preface, Hey's introduction explores the contrasts of the county's landscape, using geology to emphasise the differences between the Peak District in the west and the fen country in the east, covering all the land inbetween.

Hey remarks how much of what he writes is as a result of transformative archaeology, for example the understanding of Roman Doncaster. The book is now over thirty years old, but I am not knowledgeable enough about the county to comment on whether much of what Hey himself then wrote has been superseded by subsequent historical research or archaeological excavation. But there is still here much that was new to me, in particular the importance of Tickhill, the second wealthiest town in South Yorkshire in 1334. It was fascinating to learn about the formation of this town as well as another - Bawtry - that was once of great importance in the medieval landscape.

Of course, Hey does not fail also to relate the early histories of the (today) much larger and well-known towns of Doncaster, Sheffield, Rotherham, and Barnsley. Hey writes, "The idea that South Yorkshire was a backward area in the Middle Ages and, indeed, that it remained so until the Industrial Revolution is one that simply does not convince anyone who is prepared to use his eyes." Questions remain, though. For instance, Hey tells us that farmers in the eastern lowlands operated a system of partible inheritance rather than primogeniture, but fails to tell us why this was or might have been so. And the origins of the early county of York's boundaries is also ripe for further elaboration.

Hey was writing before landscape archaeology became an academic discipline, whose present-day writers have introduced a large measure of theoretical and statistical academic terminology into their written style. Hey's writing, by contrast, is in the line of earlier magicians such as Hoskins and Finberg. Hey even becomes a little romantic at times: thus, "On a sultry day when thunder threatens, when the silver birches shimmer and the sphagnum mosses glisten, the remarkable stillness of Thorne Waste and Hatfield Chase provides a memorable experience, as powerful in its appeal as the peace of the Pennines."

The book comes with a good but not perfect index and a bibliography. There is also a glossary of terms from `advowson' to `zigzag decoration', which I found useful for purely local terms such as `bierlow'.
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The Making of South Yorkshire
The Making of South Yorkshire by David Hey (Hardcover - Mar. 1979)
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