Middle Ridgeway by Eric Jones and Patrick Dillon tells the story of the chalk downland of the North Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in a refreshingly new way, considering the themes of the influence of the London market for trade and agriculture, the relationship between ploughland and grassland, land use and countryside sports, all of which have contributed to make the MR what it is today.
Also taken into account are perspectives from nature conservation and the ecology of the bird population over time, using practical examples to show how environmental history can expand our view of the landscape. Historical literary references are included and add much to the text, with extracts from authors such as Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams well chosen to vividly portray the MR over time and illustrate the changes, both in terms of wildlife and also the customs and way of life for those who resided in the area. The archaeological record is also considered, as are the difficulties of evaluating data which is often historically patchy.
The artwork by Anna Dillon beautifully complements the prose, encouraging the reader to reflect on a sense of place and giving a wonderful colour and texture to the book. Jones and Dillon have utilised a wide range of historical material from diaries to trade directories, estate records, excavation reports and ornithological reports. Middle Ridgeway showcases the use of these varied and under-used, perhaps in some cases unfamiliar sources, providing a clear understanding of how they can be of practical use when researching a landscape to enable a more comprehensive study.
Middle Ridgeway aims to look at the landscape from a new angle; to combine the ecological and historical record to weave a story; to give a sense of place to what is a beautiful and compelling landscape. Jones and Dillon have been inspired by the idea of ‘storyline’; engagement with an area which connects people, places, events and ideas across place and time. With a clear and easy to read prose, MR has the power not just to help the reader understand the Middle Ridgeway as a unique environment, but it also provides the tools and inspiration to enable everyone to look more closely at the places which matter to them.
An extremely enjoyable read, Middle Ridgeway offers a unique insight into the study of the landscape. References are described within the text and there is a bibliography at the end. It is excellently written and thoroughly researched.
This publication offers a refreshingly different approach to the study of the landscape. A highly recommended read for anyone interested in local history, social history, agricultural history and nature conservation, as well, of course, for those who love the North Wessex Downs.
Middle Ridgeway was published by Wessex Books in 2016. Priced £16.95, it is available from all good bookshops, Amazon and direct from the authors via http://middle-ridgeway.co.uk/
Julie Davis, County Local Studies Librarian, Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre