THE COMMON STREAM: Portrait of an English Village Through 2,000 Years by Rowland Parker

THE COMMON STREAM: Portrait of an English Village Through 2,000 Years

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A patiently, diligently reconstructed history of English rural life over the centuries. Parker, a school teacher in Foxton, a small hamlet nestled in the hills of East Anglia, has used archaeological remains, manorial rolls, church charters, local statutes and the judgments of the Assizes to evoke the humdrum day-to-day life of the common people who tilled the soil, brewed their ale, married and died in Foxton, ignorant of and indifferent to the fate of monarchs whether Angevin, Tudor, Stuart or Hanoverian. The great overriding theme here is continuity: Parker turns up families--the Cocks, the Royners--whose names recur over five centuries. The town records and the fines imposed by local officials are both monotonous and illuminating: ""Matilda, daughter of Ate, fornicated with Richard Legat, fined 6d.""; ""William Cock lodged foreigners at harvest-time to the detriment of the whole village, fined 6d."" Parker estimates that two-thirds of Foxton's population perished during the plague years circa 1349--but for the survivors life became easier as there was more land to go around and the shackles of the feudal system were loosened, As a counterpoint to the life of the town Parker records the life of the little brook which sustained the small self-sufficient community. In every generation there are entries like the one re ""John Everard, butcher"" who was fined because he ""allowed his dunghill to drain into the common stream."" Parker shows that always the security of land tenure was the paramount and passionate goal of villeins and yeomen alike--though from the 18th century on enclosure and the depletion of the soil reduced the farmers to laborers and rural stagnation set in. Slow-moving, painstaking local history--but it's easy to be lulled by the simple rhythms and harmonies of English country life.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1975
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston