30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 1 May 2007
For me, reading the Pelican edition in 1970 sparked a lifelong interest in the history, meaning and aesthetic of the landscape. Yes, it is 'parochial' in some ways - but if you're studying English local history the detail of a Parish (or a farm, or a field) is an appropriate unit of study. Yes. it has more to say about some places than others, but that's because it is based on painstaking personal observation and research. The magic of this little book is that by focussing on detail it gives a glimpse of the incredibly complex history of the use of the land and the relationship between our everyday surroundings and our history.
My only criticism is that in the final chapter Hoskins descends into some rather despondent criticism of change during his lifetime. Though many might agree about the insensitivity of post-war 'development', it's a shame that he couldn't see this to some extent in historical perspective, comparing it perhaps with the 'vandalism' of earlier townscapes by Georgian then Victorian developers. Not everything that happened to the landscape in the 20th Century was bad, though one can understand the concern of a historian that too much of the record was being lost, too quickly.
Buy this book, read it carefully and quietly and you might see your surroundings with new eyes. But to see the landscape as Hoskins saw it, you'll have to get out of the car and walk, stop, take your time, look, look again and be curious about what you see.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2001
Numerous pictures and the chronological layout aid the clarity of description that the author brings to a topic that he clearly loves. I found it fascinating and illuminating, explaining the everyday countryside. The parochial nature of the book mentioned in the previous review was not evident to myself, but I am sure that you should buy this book and provide a third opinion!
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2008
William George Hoskins (1908-1992) was a pioneering figure in the field of English local history, and in 1965 was appointed as the first ever university professor in that discipline (at the University of Leicester). This book, first published in 1955, has become something of a classic of its kind.
I bought it in the 1970s Pelican edition when I came across it recently in a second-hand bookshop, largely for the purposes of comparison with Oliver Rackham's more recent work "The History of the Countryside". The two works cover slightly different ground. Hoskins (as his title indicates) limits himself to England, and does not touch on Wales, Scotland or Ireland; Rackham covers the whole of the British Isles, although in practice he deals with England in greater detail than the other three countries. Rackham (as his title indicates) confines himself to the countryside, whereas Hoskins also covers industrial and urban landscapes, and even in rural areas deals with villages and the built environment as well as woods and farmland. Their methodologies are also different. Rackham devotes a chapter to each different type of rural habitat- woodland, fields, heathland, moorland, marshes, etc, whereas Hoskins' book is written in chronological order from prehistoric times to the twentieth century.
A key moment for Professor Hoskins was what he calls the "English Settlement"- the coming of the Anglo-Saxon invaders in the fifth century AD, after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. Few features of the modern English landscape can, in his view, be attributed to the Roman or pre-Roman period. Each succeeding age, however, has left a mark which still survives. The Saxons' great contribution was the English village; most of the population in Romano-British times either lived in towns and cities or in isolated hamlets and farmsteads. A few new settlements were founded in the Middle Ages, chiefly in upland districts or those with poor soil, which were consequently the last to be settled, but outside the industrial areas most of the settlements in existence today were founded between the fifth and eleventh centuries and mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Like Dr Rackham, Professor Hoskins tends to concentrate on some parts of England more than others. In his case there is a particular emphasis on the East Midlands; Rutland may be the smallest county in England but more space is devoted to it in this book than to larger counties such as Cumberland, Hampshire or Norfolk. One reason for this emphasis may be that Hoskins (originally from Devon) lived and worked for a long time in Leicestershire, but another may be that it was this area, more than any other, which was affected by the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Although he does not use those terms, Hoskins makes a distinction similar to the one Rackham was to make between "Ancient Countryside" and "Planned Countryside".
In the "peripheral areas" of England- the south-west peninsula, the Home Counties, eastern East Anglia, the Welsh Border counties and the upland North- the countryside had, broadly speaking, taken on its present appearance by the sixteenth century. These are the regions of small (often irregularly shaped) fields, winding lanes and small villages and hamlets, with isolated farms scattered among them. The rest of England, however, especially the East Midlands, was still dominated by the open-field tradition, and would remain so until the open fields were enclosed by Act of Parliament. This is the "chequer-board" countryside with larger, more regular fields, straighter roads and larger villages with few isolated farmsteads. Because these areas did not acquire their current appearance until around 1800, or in some cases even later, the processes which shaped them are better documented and therefore easier for the historian to study.
Hoskins also has some interesting points to make about the growth of towns and the built environment. He shows, for example, that traditional regional styles of building mostly developed during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a period when growing prosperity made it possible for the middle classes to rebuild their homes in local stone or brick; previously most houses, except those of the very rich, had in all parts of England been made of wattle-and-daub on a timber frame. The Enclosure Acts also had unexpected effects on urban landscapes as well as rural ones; Hoskins demonstrates this by comparing the growth of two East Midland cities during the Industrial Revolution. Nottingham was surrounded by unenclosed open fields over which numerous people possessed complicated grazing rights and which for many years made it virtually impossible to expand the city outwards; the result was overcrowding and some of the worst slums in England. At Leicester the surrounding fields had been enclosed before the growth of industry and it was easier to obtain land for building; consequently the city was more spacious and living conditions were better, even for working-class inhabitants.
For most of its length the book is not only very informative, but also a delight to read. In order to tell his story, Hoskins relies upon not only official documents but also literature and poetry; John Clare (another East Midlander) seems a particular favourite. At times his own prose style verges on the poetic itself. There is, nevertheless, a serious flaw in the book, which is why I have only given it four stars.
Hoskins was clearly a small-c conservative (which is not necessarily the same thing as a large-C Conservative) who tended to look back on the pre-industrial era as a lost Golden Age. He could see little good about the nineteenth century and nothing good about the twentieth. For him the Industrial Revolution achieved nothing other than the despoiling of once-beautiful landscapes and townscapes by dark satanic mills; he ignores the fact that by 1900, and certainly by 1955, most people enjoyed far higher standards of living than their ancestors had done in 1700 or 1800. In his final chapter Hoskins simply rails at the changes in the landscape wrought by the twentieth century without analysing the social causes of those changes or even saying in much detail what those changes are. He even bewails the large number of Air Force bases in Suffolk and Lincolnshire, even though only ten years before he wrote his book the nation had been very grateful for those bases and for the men who flew from them.
A book about something as subjective as landscape cannot simply be a record of objective scientific or historical fact, so I have no objection to personal opinions in a book of this nature. Opinion, however, cannot simply be a substitute for analysis.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2000
This was a pioneering study when it was first published in 1955. It dispelled earlier thoughts that the english landscape was almost entirely a creation of 18th century land use. Hoskins' book is a very readable one, mixing fine detail with a hand book like approach. The majority of field work was done by Hoskins on the ground, which allows for a unique insight into the historical make up of the countryside. The reader must, however, bear in mind that Hoskins account is not one stemming from a detatched ,scientific observer, but a human beeing that is passionate about certain facets of the countryside. For instance, it is clear that Hoskins does not have a love of anything in the modern era. Further more, the Victorian era is looked down upon. Care should be taken when considering the spatial distributions of some of the features he mentions, there is a tendancy for some areas of England to be more heavily studied than others, for instance his home county of Devon, and the area around Leicester where he worked for many years. All in all, the book is a reletively thourough account of the historical fabric of the English landscape in a very readable format.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
This has clear roots in the academic world, and the author has been made what could be a dry subject superbly accessible to the lay reader. The historical story is intriguingly intertwined with the modernday situation, and the reader is subliminally encouraged to go and see for himself. I have aleady, within three weeks of finishing the book, made three special journeys to see examples for myself, and additionally, appreciating the wonder that is the Ordnance Survey. This IS history.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2007
This book has been updated on a number of occasions so make sure you get the latest version, Amazon sent me an earlier version that was no use at all. Since then I have acquired the corrected version that updates Hoskins to more recent finds and it really proves what a pioneer he was, how astute some of his work was and how much the science of landscape studies has advanced. This book is a must for all students and brings forward that nothing within the landscape stands in isolation and there is virtually nothing in the English landscape that has not been put there by man. Read this book first then you will become a better landscpae historian and archaeologist.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2014
I found this book very interesting. It drew my attention to areas of landscape I had assumed natural and yet as Hoskins points out, a lot of what we regard as natural landscape has been altered by history and man.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
It seems Amazon have in error allocated reviews of WG Hoskins's 'The Making of the English Landscape' to this work of Christopher Taylor, which is titled 'The Making of the English Landscape: Dorset'. My own review of taylor's work is as follows: -
This is a review of the original 1970 edition, part of the county series on `The Making of the English Landscape', initiated by Professor WG Hoskins. This Dorset volume in the series is written by Christopher Taylor of (what was then) the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. The book has nine chapters, arranged chronologically, each with its own select bibliography. There are thirty-nine well-chosen (but black and white) plates, together with twenty maps and plans. (Note the book was written before changes in the county's boundary incorporated Bournemouth and Christchurch.)
Taylor writes in his opening sentence that, "The main problem of writing a book on the Dorset landscape is twofold. First, there are such great variations in the geography of the county that any generalisations about the history of the landscape will usually be wrong. More important, one is quite overwhelmed by the amount of material available to the landscape historian." But the first part, whilst a problem to the writer, is a blessing to the reader, for in his introduction to the `Making of the English Landscape' series, Hoskins stated that a county's diversity of landscape forms leads to "a far more appealing book than if we adopted the geographical region as our basis." And a very appealing book is the Dorset edition.
Taylor begins with `Dorset before the Saxons'. Further research since 1970 may have changed the details but, it seems to me, much of Taylor's framework still holds true. For example, Taylor emphasises that settlement occurred in the Dorset valleys despite the majority of the remaining evidence of man's prehistoric presence being on the hills. He also points out that settlements contracted before and not because of the arrival of the Saxons.
By far the longest chapter, which is in itself significant, is that on the English settlement. The book was written at a time when it was still unclear about what happened to the Britons, but Taylor (to me, rightly) comes down on the side of only a small Saxon presence and that Dorset successfully kept them a bay for a number of generations. In the meantime, he argues for continuity in the organisation of the Britons' landscape, but I am not sure he is correct to assert that it is "inherently improbable" that "a relatively small Saxon population in less than 200 years" created the settlement pattern and land units that came to exist by the end of the Saxon age: it doesn't seem "inherently improbable" to me. It seems, though, that the jury is still out on the change-or-continuity question of the Saxon impact.
Taylor offers much evidence - and, it must be said, much speculation too - on estate boundaries in the Saxon age, yet surprisingly there is nothing at all on the creation of the county boundary. Into the medieval period, he reviews the different landscapes of the county (chalk, heath, clay, etc), arguing that settlement on more difficult land took place earlier than what was once thought: Domesday is "merely giving us a picture of the process in the middle of its development."
By 1300 "nowhere in the county could one stand and view any scene without the imprint of man's work upon it." Taylor goes on to note, though, that "the most marked effect on the landscape of Dorset in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries was the abandonment and contraction of many of the existing settlements ... a curious contraction ... mainly in the chalk areas."
In the Early Modern period Taylor remarks how, "Advances in living conditions and in agricultural techniques and new fashions in architecture and garden design swept over the county in an ever increasing flood." He analyses both the changes in farming and in building with much to say on matters of sheep, enclosure, and water-meadows. As we move onward to the nineteenth century it is the turn of the downs and heaths to be enclosed, producing "an entirely new landscape, characterised as elsewhere by large geometrically-shaped fields, usually bounded by quickset hedges on low field banks."
In his admittedly brief consideration of industry and the arrival of the turnpikes and the railways, Taylor provides early examples of heritage preservation. More time is devoted to the landscape of towns, for the understanding of which "We must journey into the modern hubbub of a seaside resort in August, and climb the bare slopes of a chalk downland on a winter's day." Instead of Bridport, Taylor argues for Danes Camp in Little Bredy as Alfred's `burh' in the west, and queries why Melcombe Regis was founded so late: perhaps that was because it was previously under water! (Climate change evidence is showing how Britain's coastline was radically altered in places in this period, but this would not explain the late foundation of Weymouth.)
Taylor completes his survey by warning how thoughtless modern changes in the landscape were removing much of its former history and character, but that much still remained to allow the Dorset landscape still to be read. He wrote that over forty years ago: I wonder what he would have to say now.
Dorset is a county more set apart than most. For a start, one has usually to climb over hills or downs to venture any further into its heart. Taylor, whilst recognising the distinctiveness of the county's landscape, surprisingly does not seem to want to consider the effects of its distinctiveness within a wider context. Questions, for instance, about why it is one of the few counties without a cathedral or an ancient seat of learning - and yet where each parish today seems to have a modern private school in its manor house - are not raised. I could go on.
But in terms of addressing the origins and development of the county's landscape forms, however diverse they may be, Taylor's study is a classic of its kind. I see Dorset in a new light and with a quizzical eye - and Hoskins was right to suggest that the very diversity of the county's landscape makes Taylor's book an appealing read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2011
I ordered this book at the last minute when i had an assignment due in in a week and didnt really expect it to arrive on time but it did!! i was so pleased! it arrived really quickly and it was in good condition!.
The book was very useful for the assignment i was doing. It is quite readable and clear and illustrates really well some of the major landscape changes that have happened in england throughout history. I doubt i would read this book just for pleasure but for the subject i am studying it was very informative and interesting.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2009
A classic introduction to understanding the English Landscape by the one of the key thinkers and innovators.