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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, July 14, 2005
    Beyond the landscapes of Hell
    Part two of the Making of the English Landscape course today. The latter part of W.G. Hoskins' book covers enclosures and then the impact of industry and transportation on the land up till the mid-twentieth century.

    Our lecturer Alan Crosby again underlined Hoskins' disdain for the 'modern'. Devonian Hoskins reserved some of his harshest words for the industrial cities of the north. Preston's houses, he wrote, were 'neither good enough to promote happiness nor bad enough to produce hopelessness'. He called St Helens 'the most appalling town of all', whose glass and smelting works had these consequences:

    The atmosphere was being poisoned, every green thing blighted, and every stream fouled with chemical fumes and waste. Here, and in the Potteries and the Black Country especially, the landscape of Hell was foreshadowed.

    But one thing this course has taught well is that landscape - inextricably linked to economy and society - is never static, it's always changing. And fifty years on, the northern English landscapes of hell, cleaned up and de-industrialised, have become sites for designer homes and upmarket outlet villages. Hell hasn't disappeared, though - forces of capital have made it reappear in formerly picturesque parts of Asia and other 'developing' parts of the world.

    I'm going to have a go at the essay for this course, just for fun not accreditation. Choose a landscape which is familiar to you and write about the factors which you think have most influenced its development over the past five hundred years... I'll choose Norris Green, of course. Now it's tempting to say that its history doesn't go back that far, as before the 1930s it was all just fields round here. But Alan Crosby and W.G. Hoskins have demonstrated very well that fields themselves have stories, which tell how they have changed shape, size, ownership, and use, many times over the years. It will be a fascinating investigation.