History on the Ground by Maurice Beresford (1957)

The penultimate sentence of History on the Ground is

The minimum equipment is an affection for the landscape of town and field; a good pair of boots; and the firm determination that study of documents and exploration of the landscape shall be conducted side by side, and that neither branch of the enquiry shall be self-sufficient

This neatly encapsulates the purpose of the book – to show the reader how to move from ‘field to archives, from archives to libraries and from libraries back to the field’.

My interest in landscapes had been piqued whilst exploring the north and mid-Cheshire landscapes as a child, and it developed as an academic interest whilst at University. What I didn’t know was how to go about conducting my own research into landscapes, until I bought a copy of this book.

The book has six chapters, each describing elements of Beresford’s work on different landscape themes, namely: boundaries in the landscape; Elizabethan villages; deserted villages; new towns; Elizabethan market places; and parks. The book was originally published in 1957, and although later research by others has added to, or even superseded, many of its conclusions, it is not these that make it useful, nor of course was this the intention. In each of the six chapters, or journeys as Beresford calls them, it is his methodology that he is conveying to the reader, showing how the current landscape relates to a variety of maps and archive material, and how to build up a picture of how the landscape has developed.

The book enabled me to take my first tentative explorations into research and led eventually to many years of happy wanderings, map in hand, over a variety of landscapes, or to the county records office. The book continued to be reprinted for over 40 years, which is a testament to how useful generations of landscape historians have found it, and although new methods of research have appeared it is still as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Phil Davies

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