Friday, 6 April 2012

Introduction to Book One: Cambridgeshire

This is the first draft of the introduction to my book. It is very much a work in progress, but it might give you an idea of what I'm working on!

'England is a country rich in history. Due to its dainty proportions there are few swathes of land untouched by human hand. Some places that seem desolate now are dotted with antiquarian interest and many places inaccessible to our ancestors are today bustling and industrial settlements.

In a land so well used over the last few thousand years it is hard to find somewhere without interest to someone. That said, you sometimes have to dig a little deeper and engage more than a little imagination to appreciate some of our forgotten sites; an empty field that once contained a windmill, a tumbledown house that was a hundred years ago the village pub or a lonely 'gallows hill' that would have scared local children because of the tales that were told about it. Not so long ago they were known to all around, but as people travelled further afield to work and television took over from story-telling as evening entertainment, the stories of these places fell into the closed books of history. Now it is only the likes of you and I that care to look them out.

Rather than setting out lengthy paragraphs on general sites across the county, this book has been arranged more as a localised gazetteer. With entries grouped into small areas, it is my intention that the reader can find their closest point and easily see all the sites of interest around them - be it our distant history, recent folklore or even just curious facts I have picked up on my travels.

It is my hope that I can go one to write similar books for more counties of England, but it is for a very good reason that I started with Cambridgeshire. Firstly, it is my home county. Secondly, it is where my Grandfather chose to write about. In the 1970s, before I was born, he wrote two small booklets 'Curiosities of Rural Cambridgeshire' and 'Dovecots of Cambridgeshire'. It was reading these that inspired me to seek out some of our more overlooked places. When I started visiting the dovecots and rural curiosities it became clear that much had changed in the thirty years since my Grandfather had been there.

I wondered what the next thirty years would bring and how many of our local places would be totally redeveloped or left to rot away to nothing. It was then that I decided to start visiting all the places I could find. Not only did I start seeking out buildings, but also airfields, burial sites and disused railways. I already had a collection of haunted sites from my hobby as a collector of ghost stories, so I had plenty to make a start with. Some places were well known to be haunted, but others were so infrequently visited by the living were more mysterious still.

I hope that you enjoy discovering the fascinating past that is all around us and will take an interest in how these places develop over the next few decade. I hope that all these places will be preserved, if not in fabric then in memory.'

A few of the archive of photos my Grandfather took during his research can be seen on Flickr.