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The Gentleman's Magazine Library, 1731-1868
English Topography Part III Derbyshire - Dorsetshire
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Editor's Preface
Index of Names

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.

November, 1892.