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English Villages   By: (1854-1930)

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Eleven years ago my little book on the antiquities of English villages was published. Its object was to interest our rustic neighbours in their surroundings, to record the social life of the people at various times their feasts and fairs, sports and pastimes, faiths and superstitions and to describe the scenes which once took place in the fields and lanes they know so well. A friendly reviewer remarked that the wonder was that a book of that kind had never been written before, and that that was the first attempt to give a popular and readable sketch of the history and associations of our villages. In the present work I have attempted to fill in the sketch with greater detail, and to write not only for the villagers themselves, but for all those who by education are able to take a more intelligent interest in the study of the past.

During the last decade many village histories have been written, and if this book should be of service to anyone who is compiling the chronicles of some rural world, or if it should induce some who have the necessary leisure and ability to undertake such works, it will not have been written in vain.

One of the most distressing features of modern village life is the continual decrease of the population. The rural exodus is an alarming and very real danger to the welfare of social England. The country is considered dull and life therein dreary both by squire and peasant alike. Hence the attractions of towns or the delights of travel empty our villages. The manor house is closed and labourers are scarce. To increase the attractions of our villages, to arouse an interest in their past history and social life, is worth attempting; and perhaps this Story may be of some use in fostering local patriotism, and in reconciling those who spend their lives far from the busy hives of men to their lot, when they find how much interest lies immediately around them.

The study of archaeology has been pursued with much vigour during recent years, and increased knowledge has overthrown the many wild theories and conjectures which were gravely pronounced to be ascertained facts by the antiquaries of fifty years ago. Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, or Richard of Cirencester are no longer accepted as safe and infallible guides. We know that there were such people as the Druids, but we no longer attribute to them the great stone circles nor imagine them sacrificing on "Druid's altars," as our forefathers called the dolmens. The history of Britain no longer begins with the advent of Julius Caesar, nor is his account of the Celtic tribes and their manners accepted as a full and complete statement of all that is known about them. The study of flint implements, of barrows and earthworks, has considerably thrown back our historical horizon and enabled us to understand the conditions of life in our island in the early days of a remote past before the dawn of history. The systematic excavation of Silchester, so ably conducted by the Society of Antiquaries, and of other Roman sites of towns and villas, enables us to realise more clearly the history of Britain under the rule of the Empire; and the study of the etymology of place names has overthrown many of the absurd derivations which found a place in the old county histories, and are often repeated by the writers of modern guide books. Moreover patient labour amid old records, rolls, and charters, has vastly increased our knowledge of the history of manors; and the ancient parish registers and churchwardens' account books have been made to yield their store of information for the benefit of industrious students and scholars. There has been much destruction and much construction; and this good work will doubtless continue, until at length English archaeology may be dignified with the title of an exact science. Destruction of another kind is much to be deplored, which has left its mark on many an English village... Continue reading book >>

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