Homing in on England

Michael Wood begins with a quotation from Blake: “To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.”  This line betokens his aim, which is to zero in on one small English place and use its specific saga to tell the wider tale of all England from prehistory to present.

The place is Kibworth, an outwardly unremarkable assemblage of three settlements—Kibworth Beauchamp, Kibworth Harcourt, and Smeeton Westbury—nine miles southeast of Leicester.  It was chosen because it is close to the geographic center of England and because, since 1270, parts of the township have been owned by Merton College, Oxford.  Centuries of busy bursars have therefore kept voluminous records on their every transaction with their outlying asset.  Such completeness is rare and, when combined with other evidence, BBC money, the author’s imagination, and the interested involvement of residents, allows an unusually intimate glimpse into the private life of a place inhabited continuously for at least 2,000 years.  Kibworth is “emphatically England in miniature”—a representative locus whose triumphs and travails mirror those of the rest of the country, and which will share England’s fate, for better or worse.

Even in today’s swollen settlements bestriding the busy A6 road, the alert chorographer can find trace elements of dizzyingly distant...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here