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Renowned rural historian to head the Victoria County History project at the Institute of Historical Research


R Hoyle_Press Photo_300 dpi_largeThe Victoria County History (VCH) project, which publishes historical reference works on English counties and is coordinated by the School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Historical Research, is to get an internationally respected new Director and General Editor.

Part of the University of London, the VCH welcomes the appointment of Richard Hoyle, currently Professor of Rural History at the University of Reading. He takes up his position on 1 October as Professor of English Local and Regional History.

With its scholarly volumes based on original research, the VCH is an important resource not only for county and local historians but also for anyone researching genealogy and family history. As a leading economic and social historian of early modern England, Professor Hoyle brings a wealth of erudition and experience to an initiative that has been built into a national treasure over 115 years and is without parallel.

‘I have long been an admirer of the Victoria County History, which in many respects is the English national history,’ said Professor Hoyle. ‘I look forwards to maintaining both the principles of the founding fathers and the standards achieved by their successors. Under my direction I hope that VCH will continue to offer its readers the very best of the old whilst accepting new challenges. I am very much looking forwards to getting to know the VCH family over the next few months.’

Professor Hoyle has written extensively on the political history of the 16th century but is probably best known as a historian of the economic and social history of many aspects of the English countryside, with publications on subjects as varied as the history of tenure and popular politics in the 16th and early 17th centuries, early modern famine and 19th and 20th century field sports.

He retains a strong interest in the history of northern England, especially the history and landscape of his native Yorkshire.

He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and is the long-serving senior editor of Agricultural History Review, the leading English language journal in the field. He is also President of the European Rural History Organization (EURHO).

Professor Miles Taylor, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, said: ‘I am delighted that Richard Hoyle is coming to lead the Victoria County History. He has few rivals as a prolific and original scholar of the social and economic history of rural Britain. He will bring distinction and leadership to the VCH and ensure its remarkable work develops and expands.’

Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Dee Burn at the School of Advanced Study, University of London at / 020 7862 8670 / 07900 401 240. Images available on request.

2. Founded in 1899, the Victoria County History (VCH) was originally dedicated to Queen Victoria. It is an encyclopedic record of England’s places and people from earliest times to the present day. Based at the Institute of Historical Research in the University of London since 1933, the VCH is written by historians working in counties across England and is without doubt the greatest publishing project in English history.

3. The Institute of Historical Research (IHR), founded in 1921, is one of 10 member institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. It is home to two important research centres and a major open access library, hosts over 60 seminar series and offers doctoral supervision in a wide range of historical subjects. It has a substantial publishing programme, hosts a number of innovative digital research projects, administers fellowships, runs specialist research training programmes and organises a variety of conferences and workshops each year.

4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. 

5. Professor Hoyle is a leading economic and social historian of early modern England, notably of rural society. He was previously a Research Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford, taught for a period at the University of Bristol and has held chairs at the Universities of Central Lancashire and Reading. In 2004-6 he was a British Academy Research Fellow. He is also respected for the contribution he has made to Tudor political history, in particular to the history of the 1520s and 1530s, for his work on popular politics, on taxation and public finance, and the history of the North of England. In the first months of 2014 he was a visiting research fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, where he took the opportunity to write about one of rural England’s mythical inhabitants, Robin Hood.

2013 Donald Murphy Prize awarded to IHR Fellow


benbankhurstWe are delighted to announce that Benjamin Bankhurst has been awarded the Donald Murphy Prize for Distinguished First Books for his recent work Ulster Presbyterians and the Scots Irish Diaspora, 1750-1764. Ben is the Postdoctoral Fellow in North American History at the IHR, and his book examines how news regarding the violent struggle to control the borderlands of British North America between 1750 and 1764 resonated among communities in Ireland with familial links to the colonies.

The prize was awarded by the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS), which annually recognizes five books and one graduate dissertation for their contribution to the field of Irish Studies in the disciplines of social sciences, history, literature, and the Irish language.

You can find more details of the ACIS prizes here, and full details of Ben’s book are available here.

Historical Research: new early view articles


Royal 10 E.IV, f.18vIntelligence and intrigue in the March of Wales: noblewomen and the fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, 1274–82 by Emma Cavell

This article examines the part played by key baronial wives of the Welsh Marches in the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. It explores the hidden involvement of women in the conquest of Wales and considers the opportunities available to noblewomen, particularly non-widows, in the Welsh Marches and beyond.

Licit medicine or ‘Pythagorean necromancy’? The ‘Sphere of Life and Death’ in late medieval England by Joanne Edge

 The Elizabethan succession question in Roger Edwardes’s ‘Castra Regia’ (1569) and ‘Cista Pacis Anglie’ (1576) by Victoria Smith

 ‘A considerable portion of the defence of the Empire’: Lisbon and victualling the royal navy during the French Revolutionary War, 1793–1802 by Martin Robson

 Provincial news networks in late Elizabethan Devon by Ian Cooper

New reviews: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, early modern piety, Harlem, Mass Observers


armesto1Apologies for the absence of reviews last week – I was back up north on business (he said mysteriously) – and for the late arrival of this email today, for which my excuse is my sudden recollection that tomorrow is your deputy editor’s partner’s birthday, for which I am woefully unprepared. Given that her mum usually turns up with presents clearly bought from the 24-hour garage (mars bars, milk, petrol…) the bar is set mercifully low. And I’m confident that she’s not a subscriber to Reviews in History either…

To which we say – more fool her! She’s missing out this week on another great interview, as Anthony McFarlane talks to Felipe Fernandez-Armesto about his new book, Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States (no. 1606).

Then we turn to The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England by Gemma Allen, as Nicola Clark reviews a book which not only adds to our knowledge of early modern women’s experience, but brings together the adjacent historiographies of female education, piety, and political roles (no. 1605).

Next up is Camilo José Vergara’s Harlem: the Unmaking of a Ghetto. Daniel Matlin and photographer discuss a monumental, invaluable achievement, the product of an intensely felt and passionately described relationship with a neighbourhood and its people (no. 1604, with response here).

Finally, we have a review article by Nick Hubble encompassing James Hinton’s The Mass Observers: A History, 1937-1949 as well as Mass Observation III, the resource produced by Adam Matthew Digital (no. 1603, with authors’ responses here).

New acquisitions in the IHR library


With the recent European and council elections, and anticipation building for the general election next year, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of our new material relating to politics, included on the most recent New Books Display in the library. The late great Tony Benn stands out, proudly smoking his pipe on the cover of the final volume of his renowned series of diaries, and he also features in Emily Robinson’s History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politics: past politics and present histories.

Tony Benn

Benn is widely recognised as having been one of the top political diarists of his time, and A blaze of autumn sunshine: the last diaries, published the year before his death, completes his story. Although Benn stepped down from Parliament in 2001 he remained extremely active politically, taking part in campaigns and events throughout the period covered by this volume (2007-2013). Benn intersperses accounts of his day-to-day activities, which despite his age often included very early starts to attend different demonstrations or events around the country, with commentary on political issues at the time.

Amongst other matters Benn’s entries discuss the transition between Blair and Brown and his increasing despair with the state of the Labour Party, and on a more personal level his own declining health, though he remains upbeat throughout. Benn’s daily additions to his diary, which he had kept up for an impressive sixty-nine years, came to an end in 2009 due to illness. The final four years covered by this volume are in the form of a memoir, very briefly dealing with themes and events such as the financial crisis, the coalition government, Ed Miliband’s rise to party leadership, WikiLeaks, and the growth of UKIP.

Something that consistently comes across in Benn’s writing is his awareness of history, and his use of key ideas and movements from the past to try to influence political thought in the present. He had not lost his determination to present ambitious and potentially controversial ideas, even at this late stage in his career. His description of a speech he made at the Labour Party Conference of 2007 in front of his granddaughter and eldest son, both also active in politics, demonstrates this: “Emily and Stephen heard me speak at the Labour Representation Committee, where I tried to talk about the future, and say that we had to look ahead. ‘You know I’m always talking about the Chartists and the Suffragettes. Well, look ahead – we’ve got to have the world run by global Chartists. The UN has got to be represented in a proportion to the population of the world.’ It probably sounded as mad to them as the Chartists sounded.”

Both because of his role as a politician and as a political diarist, Benn is mentioned in History, heritage and tradition in contemporary British politics: past politics and present histories, in which Emily Robinson discusses the different ways British politicians use past events and political rhetoric to promote or dismiss current ideologies and policies. Alongside others, Benn’s significance as a politician with a focus on political history and its preservation is highlighted by Robinson:  “…the political memory of all three parties is perpetuated by a relatively small number of individuals, who tend to share a concern both for the preserving of contemporary documents and participant observations, and for recovering and remembering the stories of the past – usually with an intention of ‘learning from history’…There is also a great crossover between party memoirists, diarists, biographers and historians, with Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Winston Churchill being only the most obvious examples.” This is certainly reflected in our own collections, which include diaries, biographies, and historical works, by all of these figures.

Below you can find the full list of new books which feature on the current display:

New Book Display June '14 001


Royal Commission on Historical Monuments: Huntingdonshire


Last year British History Online published the complete series of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England. To introduce these volumes for readers who may not be familiar with the RCHME, we asked a number of experts to write introductions to particular counties. Here Charles O’Brien, one of the general editors of the revised Pevsner series from Yale University Press introduces the Huntingdonshire volume. Charles revised the volume Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough (forthcoming), so is the ideal person to put RCHME, Hunts in context. Charles writes:


Huntingdonshire was one of the smallest counties of England. In 1965 it was merged with the Soke of Peterborough as a new county but both were abolished in 1974 and absorbed into the newly reconstituted county of Cambridgeshire. Huntingdonshire’s identity is preserved as a district within Cambridgeshire but appreciation of local architectural identity is easily lost and so historians should still value the coverage given to it in one of the earliest RCHME inventories, published in 1926.


Nikolaus Pevsner, in his survey of Huntingdonshire for the Buildings of England series (1st ed. 1968) relied heavily on the Commission’s inventory while admitting ‘I am only too well aware of the inadequacies of my gazetteer. Anyone who studies the volume [of the RCHM] can see for himself how many timber-framed houses, how many staircases, how many domestic fitments are left, and guess from that how much more is missing for the C18 which the Royal Commission at the time …did not include’. Pevsner’s copy of the volume remains in the Pevsner Architectural Guides office at Yale University Press, and throughout the volume are his minute annotations and strikings out, indicating that the RCHME volume was in his hands as he carried out his visits during the spring of 1967.

plate 164

Staircase at Stibbington Hall, 1625


A notable contribution to the Hutingdonshire volume was provided by Sidney Inskip Ladds (1867-1950), architect and local historian who became one of the authors for the three volumes of the Victoria History of the Counties of England (1926-1936). Ladds came from a local family, his grandfather was rector of Ellington, one of the many stone churches with a tall Perp spire for which Huntingdonshire is, or should be, well-known, and his father John Ladds was also an architect, with a modest living from church restorations in the later years of his life, an area of practise which would dominate Sidney’s working life. Partly as a consequence of his church work Ladds accumulated a very considerable body of knowledge of Huntingdonshire’s buildings and his voluminous files of scraps of paper recording his observations, names of architects, genealogy, recollections of incumbents and others are lodged at the Norris Museum, St Ives. Much of his close interest in buildings of every period is reflected in the coverage of the VCH volumes and clearly expressed in the RCHME inventory.


At least part of the pleasure to be taken from the RCHME volumes of the earlier period is in making comparisons between the photographs with the present day, especially the village scenes with their car-less and thus immensely spacious streets but also in the general character of the vernacular buildings of the locality many of which have been significantly altered since the early C20, if not demolished. Others are pleasantly unchanged (the interior of the Lion Hotel, Buckden of c.1500 is an example) and for churches and major houses there is little to record in the way of loss. Only a small proportion of the county’s buildings recorded by photos in the volume have disappeared, notably Conington Castle, but among the timber-framed buildings there had even by the 1960s been a higher rate of attrition and one will search in vain for some of the houses recorded in the plates section of the volume or at least deplore the often insensitive restoration to which they were later subjected, e.g. a seventeenth-century house at Offord Cluny (plate 102) which is now hardly recognisable.


Master’s programme in Garden & Landscape History


Grotta Grande_Boboli

The Grotto Grande in the Boboli gardens.

We are launching a new Master’s programme in Garden & Landscape History this October here at the Institute of Historical Research. Librarian and lifetime-learner Clare Brown was excited to hear about our new MA and wrote to tell us about her experience of Garden History.

The MA in Renaissance Studies which I started in 2005 was the first serious study I’d done since leaving university in 1995. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about it, yet neither did I want to do anything related to ‘literature’ or traditional ‘art’. The reason I didn’t want to do literature was because my first degree was a joint honours in English and Librarianship. This ruled out Shakespeare and other literary modules. The reason I didn’t want to do ‘art’ was pure contrariness.

I’d made a conscious decision to choose courses in which I had no grounding at all. I wanted nothing conventional. Thankfully, The University of London promotes interdisciplinary study and allows you to connect diverse subjects.

I saw that Italian Renaissance Gardens was offered as the summer term module and immediately signed up. I knew nothing about English gardens or any kind of garden, apart from the fact they are pleasant to sit in when it’s sunny and best to avoid on wet visits to Versailles. So my starting point was open minded ignorance.

Comparing Renaissance Italy and Enlightenment England served to remind me that England was a cultural backwater for most of the early modern period, until travel became wide spread. Everything began in Italy and wealthy English land owners took these fashionable ideas and made them suit the English countryside. Hence the interdisciplinary nature of the study of Garden History: to get a sense of its origins, you have to look to Italian literature, culture, botany. It was in doing this that I came upon the Medici gardens and met the man of my dreams.

The man of my dreams was Francesco I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. He was a hopeless statesman and worse ruler, but as a science-obsessed melancholic dreamer, he was perfect. After an introduction to him in one of the course lectures, I was hooked. I also had my essay topic. My module course work focused on the Grotto Grande in the Boboli gardens. This necessitated a midweek dash to see it in the flesh, and was the first of many Italian garden visits where I’ve skipped the churches, galleries and academies in favour of curious outdoor mannerist fancies.

I brought together alchemy and natural philosophy as a way of understanding the grotto, which led to my dissertation topic. My title was ‘Pratolino and the transforming influence of natural philosophy’. The topic is PhD worthy in my view so ultimately, I probably didn’t do it justice, but I achieved something to be proud of, and it has informed much of my later work and interest and opened up a fresh way of thinking about places I’ve visited.

Read more from Clare about the Grotto Grande

Historical Research – new articles published online


Royal 10 E.IV, f.18v

Intelligence and intrigue in the March of Wales: noblewomen and the fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, 1274–82 by Emma Cavell

Licit medicine or ‘Pythagorean necromancy’? The ‘Sphere of Life and Death’ in late medieval England
by Joanne Edge

The Elizabethan succession question in Roger Edwardes’s ‘Castra Regia’ (1569) and ‘Cista Pacis Anglie’ (1576) by Victoria Smith

A considerable portion of the defence of the Empire’: Lisbon and victualling the royal navy during the French Revolutionary War, 1793–1802 by Martin Robson

Provincial news networks in late Elizabethan Devon by Ian Cooper

New Reviews: Claire Tomalin interview, medieval memory, pyschoanalysis, early modern women


tomalin1I’ve just finished reading, and would heartily recommend, Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe – which features various characters from the 1980s London literary scene, including by chance none other than this week’s Reviews interviewee, Claire Tomalin. She comes across well in the book, and well in Daniel Snowman’s interview – please do have a listen, and do let us know what you think (no. 1602).

guerryBack to our conventional reviews, and first up is Memory and Commemoration in Medieval Culture, edited by Elma Brenner, Meredith Cohen and Mary Franklin-Brown. Emily Guerry and the editors discuss a multi-disciplinary volume greatly enhances our comprehension of medieval cultural history in France (no. 1601, with response here).

ShapiraThen we turn to Michal Shapira’s The War Inside: Psychoanalysis, Total War and the Making of the Democratic Self in Post-War Britain. Helen McCarthy finds that this absorbing book is a valuable contribution to the literature (no. 1600).

nelson2_copyFinally, there is Attending to Early Modern Women: Conflict and Concord, edited by Karen Nelson, which Dustin Neighbours believes is a valuable collection to read and own as well as employ in future studies of the lives of early modern women (no. 1599).

Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities – welcome to our 11 bursary holders


buddahOne of the main aims of the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities project is to involve arts and humanities researchers in the development of tools for analysing web archives, thereby ensuring that those tools meet real rather than perceived researcher needs. We recently ran an open competition inviting researchers to submit proposals across a range of disciplines which focus on the archived web, and have selected 11 from a tremendously strong and varied set of applications. The topics that will be studied over the next eight months are:

  • Rowan Aust – Tracing notions of heritage
  • Rona Cran – Beat literature in the contemporary imagination
  • Richard Deswarte – Revealing British Eurosceptism in the UK web domain and archive
  • Chris Fryer – The UK Parliament Web Archive
  • Saskia Huc-Hepher – An ethnosemiotic study of London French habitus as displayed  in blogs
  • Alison Kay – Capture, commemoration and the citizen-historian: Digital Shoebox archives relating to P.O.W.s in the Second World War
  • Gareth Millward – Digital barriers and the accessible web: disabled people, information and the internet
  • Marta Musso – A history of the online presence of UK companies
  • Harry Raffal – The MOD’s online development and strategy for recruitment between 1996 and 2013
  • Lorna Richardson – Public archaeology: a digital perspective
  • Helen Taylor – Do online networks exist for the poetry community?

We very much look forward to working with our bursary holders over the coming months, and will be showcasing some of their research findings on the project blog.

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