English local history
Research into local history, history ‘from below’, came into its own in the 1950s with the publication of WG Hoskins’ The Making of the English Landscape. Hoskins was Reader in English Local History at what is now the University of Leicester, after the formation there of the first Department of Local History in the country in 1948.
By the 1960s Tony Wrigley and Peter Laslett had formed the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure at Cambridge University. Wrigley is well known for his research with Roger Schofield into the local history of the settlement of Colyton, Devon using the methods of family and total reconstitution. That is, using all local archival sources possible to investigate people and place.
Barry Reay and Mike Winstanley continued this exploration into what had become known as the microhistories of settlements. Reay investigated the families of three parishes in the Blean, Kent, from the early nineteenth century to the 1930s and Winstanley carried out research into the uniqueness of small farms in east Lancashire. Microhistories are the very epitomy of history ‘from below’.
As the twenty-first century approached, local historians Bridget Hill and Edward Higgs amongst others began exploring the invisibility of women and children in the sources used for research, and the hitherto obscured part both played within the family and economic structure of society. Well into the 2010s, Higgs, fellow historian Amanda Wilkinson and more continue to discuss these issues.
It is from this background that I carry out my own research into the landscape, people and places of the past, my expertise being the ‘long nineteenth century’ from around 1780-1918.
My research for you
Perhaps you’d like to discover details of all the working mills in your local area. Or trace the movements of a milling family who gradually expanded so much that they ran most of the local mills! A family like the Hayhursts of Millness, near Crooklands for instance, who appear as far afield as Sellet Mill, Whittington, in Lancashire, and many places in between.
For my Masters dissertation, I investigated a farming family, the Woods, as they moved around the farms edging the moors west of Haslingden, Lancashire during the nineteenth century, many of them ultimately leaving to earn a living either in the local mills, or travelling further for more secure, and larger, farm tenancies.
Whereas history ‘from above’ casts an expansive glance over a region or country, my approach follows the local historians of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by burrowing deep, and finding out as much as there is to know about the fine details of a small area.