Completed at last: unfinished work on medieval peasants' moorland migration

Posted by mjs76 at Mar 23, 2012 02:50 PM |
Posthumous publication for Leicester academic’s groundbreaking work on a fascinating piece of English local history.

Schubert left an unfinished symphony. Charles Dickens never explained The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Similarly, our own Professor Harold Fox passed away before he was able to finish his book on medieval Dartmoor. But hard work and dedication on the part of his colleagues means that the book has finally been published.

Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands: Transhumance and Pastoral Management in the Middle Ages provides a new perspective on that part of the English landscape. In the middle ages the extensive moorlands provided summer pasture for thousands of cattle from the Devon lowlands, which flowed in a seasonal tide, up in the spring and down in the autumn. Evidence presented in Fox’s book shows for the first time how the lowlanders migrated with their cattle and lived on the moors in the summer. Later however the Crown, manorial lords and Dartmoor farmers provided a service of keeping and feeding the cattle each year - for a price.

Professor Harold Fox joined what was then the Department of English Local History in October 1976 initially as a Senior Research Fellow. He was eventually promoted to a Personal Chair as Professor of Social and Landscape History in April 2003 and retired in July 2007, passing away only a few weeks later.

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Professor Harold Fox on Dartmoor in 2006, standing on one of the drove-roads along which cattle were driven up onto the moor every spring, and back down again every autumn.

Chris Dyer, Leverhulme Emeritus Professor of Regional and Local History in our School of Historical Studies, tells the story of how this remarkable book came to be:

"Harold Fox was Professor in English Local History. He specialised in landscape history, and had done a great deal of research over a period of 30 years on Devon, his native county. In 2001 he began work on a book on Dartmoor, and had finished the text of all but one chapter (and had done quite a lot on that chapter) in August 2007 when he died.

"We found the typescript of the book, kept neatly and systematically in folders in his room, together with records of his sources. The six completed chapters were very polished - he had revised and rewritten them, often through five successive drafts (he wrote in longhand, and employed a former history administrator as a typist). The maps had been prepared carefully by a volunteer, Ken Smith. The main tasks to be completed included writing an Introduction and Conclusion, and making Chapter 7 into a coherent whole. This was done by Matt Tompkins and me.

"A larger problem was the lack of footnotes. We were helped because Harold had published two articles on the subject, and they were fully annotated. But the main work on the footnotes was completed over many weeks by Matt Tompkins, who used the methods of a detective to locate the sources.

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Chris Dyer (second left) and Harold Fox (far right) with colleague Keith Snell and Lady Gretton at a Centre for English Local History event in 2006.

"This was very much a collective effort. Funding came from Harold's family, from the Friends of the Centre for English Local History, and from an admirer of Harold, a former lecturer in historical geography in London University, Eleanor Vollans. Many people contributed: for example local experts in the south west checked the text and supplied illustrations. Friends of Harold and former students supplied photographs of Dartmoor.

"Matt and I approached the University of Exeter Press, which had been in correspondence with Harold over the book, but initially without a firm conclusion. Once they had seen the text they were enthusiastic to publish it, and now the volume has been published. It was launched at Lydford on the edge of Dartmoor, on 12 March.

"The motives of those who did so much to turn the typescript into the book was partly because the book is clearly an important contribution to landscape history, with its revelation of the organisation of grazing on the moor, in which transhumant herds of cattle were driven on to the moor each summer. It was also inspired by the admiration and affection with which Harold was regarded."

Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands by Harold Fox costs £30 and is available from our University Bookshop.