|Photo found on the internet; my kindle copy has a very simple cover.|
"Vanishing England" was written by Peter H. Ditchfield (1854 - 1930) and published in 1910. The author bemoans how the change of times, needs of an ever-growing population and ever more industrialized society are wreaking havoc with what he loves most about England.
The book is neatly divided into chapters about walled towns, castles, churches, mansions, cottages, prehistoric remains, inns and pubs, bridges and crosses. But it is not limited to buildings and structures. It also talks about vanishing customs, fairs, documents and scenery.
A lot of the time, what the author complains about as ugly (because too modern), is now, more than a 100 years later, considered quaint and oldfashioned. Sometimes, he seems to be a bit unrealistic about his dreams of a "better" past, wishing for the country people to remain forever in their traditional dwellings without any modern comfort, and preferably, in the mental state of their forefathers, too, when they had not yet developed a taste for pleasures such as train trips to the Seaside.
But mostly, what he says rings true, and with a bit of an effort, many old buildings could have been saved from destruction. I especially liked what he says about the old English village:
I have said in another place that no country in the world can boast of possessing rural homes and villages which have half the charm and picturesqueness of our English cottages and hamlets. They have to be known in order that they may be loved. The hasty visitor may pass them by and miss half their attractiveness. They have to be wooed in varying moods in order that they may display their charms—when the blossoms are bright in the village orchards, when the sun shines on the streams and pools and gleams on the glories of old thatch, when autumn has tinged the trees with golden tints, or when the hoar frost makes their bare branches beautiful again with new and glistening foliage. Not even in their summer garb do they look more beautiful. There is a sense of stability and a wondrous variety caused by the different nature of the materials used, the peculiar stone indigenous in various districts and the individuality stamped upon them by traditional modes of building.In other chapters, he is very realistic about how dangerous and cruel life really was for most people; not just when they were engaged in battles and wars, but daily life with its horrible treatment of even the pettiest of crimes (or mere suspicion).
In the chapter about inns, of course there is also talk of inn signs, which made me think of John's (Scriptor Senex) posts about the subject.This illustration from the book is for you, John:
I also learned some ethymology in this book. Did you know where the word "tawdry" comes from? I do now:
Fairs have enriched our language with at least one word. There is a fair at Ely founded in connexion with the abbey built by St. Etheldreda, and at this fair a famous "fairing" was "St. Audrey's laces." St. Audrey, or Etheldreda, in the days of her youthful vanity was very fond of wearing necklaces and jewels. "St. Audrey's laces" became corrupted into "Tawdry laces"; hence the adjective has come to be applied to all cheap and showy pieces of female ornament.When it was written, the National Trust had started its work only 15 years ago, and is often referred to in the book as having saved this or that building from being pulled down, with the amount of money spent mentioned as well, which makes for quite interesting reading.
This is one of the books that will remain on my kindle for future reference.