THIS volume deals with the three counties of Derbyshire, Devonshire
and Dorsetshire, each of them, as it happens being very fully represented
in the old Gentleman's Magazine. The contributions present
several points of great interest to the modern inquirer, and which
are not to be found in other publications, and it is one of the
pleasures of editing this portion of the "Library"
to find hidden away so many phases of local history which are now
of more than local importance.
Beyond the ordinary local information as to family history, Church
history, and topographical details-fully represented in this volume,
as they were in the previous volumes-there are some notes upon
subjects which are out of the general run. Thus the interesting
though meagre notes of local almshouses at Dorchester, Chesterfield,
Tavistock, Totnes, Sherborne and Beminster bring into prominence
the old system of supporting the poor and indigent, which has died
out before the inroads of modern officialism, and which some of
us think is better than the modern system. The cry of the poor
is bitter enough always, but it is made more bitter than is necessary
by the real and natural hatred they have of the workhouse system
and its hideous rigidity. These almshouses are scattered about
over the country, and they are memorials of a time when the poor
were considered to have rights as citizens of an empire in the
building up of which they have had a share.
Another subject interesting to modern times is that of fairs,
and the recent report of the Markets Commission explains how closely
connected are our modern requirements to the ancient methods of
meeting the necessities of the people. The fairs and markets of
South Zeal, Modbury, Honiton, Plympton St. Maurice and Tavistock,
have only a very few notes given to them in the several communications,
but they are very useful as indicating the activity in the past
in respect of this important machinery for distribution of food
supplies. The old municipal rights of South Zeal, Plympton St.
Maurice and other places are described with some curious details.
Of customs and manners that are gone, never to be revived-the
expression of people's thoughts by their action-we have the curious
description of games played at Buxton, the custom of separating
the sexes at church at Bilstone, the bell-ringing customs at Dorchester,
for the labourers to begin their daily work, at sundown, and at
funerals ; and the custom of holding schools in belfries, as at
Milton Abbas. It is mentioned, in connection with this place (p.
300), that the villein tenants could not send their children to
school without the consent of their lords, a state of things not
generally connected with manorial rights. The curious mention of
a brief for the renovation of the Theatre Royal, in 1673, which
occurs at Symondsbury, is an interesting bit of dramatic history
which is worth while pursuing somewhat further, and perhaps some
of our great authorities on this subject -Mr. Joseph Knight, Mr.
H. B. Wheatley, or Mr. T. F. Ordish- may take up the fact and see
how it influences their researches.
County boundaries are not unchangeable, as may be seen by the adjustment
between Dorsetshire and Devonshire, mentioned on page 248. The
Church Barn, at Hardwick, mentioned on page 237, is of interest
just now, when the destruction quite recently of the last one extant
has revived interest in this subject.
The communications upon the Revolution House at Whittington are
of great historical interest, as they describe the condition and
traditions of the place in a way that could not be attempted now.
These historical monuments are vanishing gradually from our villages
and towns; but it should not be allowed, so long as English people
take interest in a history which is second to that of no nation.
It is pleasing to think that the suggestion made in the preface
to the previous volume, that a catalogue of benefactions recorded
on church monuments should be undertaken, has found some considerable
response, thanks to the way in which some of the literary journals
took it up, particularly the Athenæum and the Antiquary.
At the meeting of the congress of archæological societies,
in July last, I brought forward a motion urging upon the local
societies to see to this subject, and it was carried, with some
hope that good progress might be made in the near future with this
important subject. Many charities have been allowed to lapse, and
are recorded only on their church tablets, and the Charity Commissioners
now pursuing their inquiries over the kingdom do not go outside
the charities that now exist.
The contributions are very unequal in length. Plymouth is dismissed
with a paragraph. But the smaller places are perhaps what we wanted
to know more about. Mr. Barnes, the Dorset poet, and Mrs. Bray,
the correspondent of Southey, both contributed for their respective
counties. Not long before her death I had the pleasure of seeing
Mrs. Bray, and I well remember the vigour with which she then spoke
of her beloved Devonshire home. Place-names are proverbially dangerous
ground to venture far upon, but it is worth notice that London
place-names are repeated in Devonshire four times.
Mr. F. A. Milne has read all the sheets and compiled the two Indexes.
The index of personal names is longer than either of the two previous
ones, thus showing that local family matters have been increasingly
attended to with reference to these three counties.
G. L. GOMME. BARNES COMMON,