BEDFORD ARCHITECTURAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL & LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY
BEDFORD LOCAL BOOK REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW by Bob Ricketts.
AN UNASSUMING COUNTY: THE MAKING OF THE BEDFORDSHIRE COUNTRYSIDE
By Brian Kerr
Published by Eventispress in 2014. Second edition October 2015.
ISBN 978-0-9572520-9-7. 161 pages. Obtainable from Amazon, or direct from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. price (including postage & packing) £12.50
Brian Kerr will be familiar to many readers, having given a fascinating talk to the Society in October 2016. In “An Unassuming County”, the author draws on his knowledge as a soil scientist and his familiarity with Bedfordshire’s landscapes, linking their development to its soils and their underlying geology, providing a unique perspective.
Eleven profusely-illustrated chapters encompass an introduction to the Bedfordshire landscape, providing a broad sweep through the centuries. ‘Scarps and Vales’ – describing the geology of the county, landscape types and characteristic areas, e.g. “the North Bedfordshire Uplands” characterised by Renhold and north to the border with Northamptonshire and south to Cranfield, or “the clay with flints plateau” south of Luton around Caddington.and into Hertfordshire. Chapter Three covers “The Chalklands”, Chapter Four “The Clay Vales of Mid-Bedfordshire”, Chapter Five “The Greensand Ridge”, followed by “The Clay Uplands” and “The River Valleys”. Chapter Eight – “The Landscape Beneath Our Feet” may be of less interest to the general reader, as it is more technical, dealing with soil types and the history of soil mapping. Chapter Nine, entitled “People and the Landscape” focuses mainly on landscape and wildlife conservation, but provides a useful reminder of the richness of reserves, SSSIs, parks and heritage sites. Chapter Ten – “Mud On Your Boots” is an exhortation to explore Bedfordshire’s long distance walks and footpaths, including the Bunyan Trail and The Clay Way - both running close to Bedford. Chapter Eleven – “The Changing Countryside” emphasises that the countryside is dynamic, under continuous change, touching on the impact of agricultural policies, forestry and tree diseases, housing development, flood risk and tourism.
Brian has produced an absorbing volume, which fills a major gap in the sparse literature about the development of the Bedfordshire landscape. Chapter Two, in particular, with its maps of the solid geology and landscape types, should be an invaluable source of reference to historians and ramblers alike. As a former geographer, I found “An Unassuming County” interesting and informative, and it already has a place on my bookshelves.
Criticisms are mainly about presentation. There is no index – a major ommission, especially for readers interested in information relating to their own areas or communities. Nor is there a list of illustrations. Some of the photographs are too dark, and all lack map references (useful for those tempted to visit particular scenes or viewpoints). There is a lot of useful historical content and context for the general reader, but I felt that Chapter One was too ‘broad brush’.
The single paragraph on “Roman Settlement in Bedfordshire” doesn’t take into account recent evidence and analysis showing a relatively high density of Roman occupation and agriculture in the Ouse Valley. The narrative moves from the Romans to Domesday, omitting the phases of spread of Anglo-Saxon settlement and any potential influences of soil type. Neither the paragraphs on “The Plague and Deserted Settlements”, nor the further reading list make any reference to Alan Baker’s ground-breaking work on Contracting Arable. Lands in 1341 (B.H.R.S. Volume 49, 1970, pp. 7-18), or to Dick Dawson’s Lost Villages of Bedfordshire, both of which provide useful insights.
Nevertheless, An Unassuming County represents a welcome addition to the literature and has much to commend it and is good value for money. Recommended.