MICHAEL Wood, loves telling stories, especially of nations, through its people. Now, he has told The Story of England through A Village and its people. Through the whole of English History. The village he has chosen is Kibworth, in Leicestershire. He chose the village after going through several names. When he started off, Wood says, there was nothing much to offer as evidence before 1066 AD, but as the research went on the enthusiastic villagers joined in efforts and digs in 55 tests-pits yielded evidence of prehistoric Beaker people and Romans. There were even Iron Age houses and a complete Roman villa.
Wood follows the history of England through the history of Kibworth. Says he “In England, the landscape has always been more than the sum of its parts: the English have always mythologised every corner. In every small locality it is possible to see part of the whole story. Which is perhaps why the local history of every county, parish and village has been more intensively cultivated here than anywhere in the world: in the belief that every place is its own version of the grand narrative, that every place is also part of the national story.”
The havoc caused by the Great Famine and Black Death are all detailed in the village records. They reveal how the inhabitants fell victim one after another, with the vicar unable to cope with the sacramental ritual. Survivors were unwilling to even go near the bodies of those who died of plague. So much so that they were buried in pits with money and gold on them. “These mounds have not ever been excavated,” Wood says.
Kibworth was very much a nodal point of all the social and temporal changes that swept through England. “…there were dramatic changes in labour relations across England. The consequence was a change from the feudal order to capitalism, from an agrarian, communally organised, close-knit society of self-sufficient peasants to diversified, regionally oriented society of commercial farmers, artisans and landless wage-earning labourers, supporting a growth urban and commercially minded society. What happened in Kibworth is revealed in extraordinary detail in the Merton archive.”
There was a custom that the tenents who left the land without the Lord’s permission were to be reported to the Merton. But increasingly people refused to give the names and the practice was finally dropped.
Wood has told the story of Kibworth by following the lives of families there, discussing how they reacted and survived through all the changes that were happening in the country, passing through Kibworth, it being located in the main linking road, in Central England.
The narration takes the reader through the industrial and agriculture revolutions, and the enormous changes they brought about in the lives of people of Kibworth. The influence of the British Empire also did not fail to leave its mark on the village with a few youngsters enrolling for the Company and coming back with tales from India. The first military funeral was held in Kibworth in July 1915, for a boy scout, who laid down his life for the country. His body, draped in Union Jack was carried by four of his friends. Wood concludes with the description: “Kibworth today is a thriving place of between 5,000 and 6,000 people. Typical of many large villages in modern England, many of its people work in shops and offices outside the village, some in Leicestershire…”
In a brilliant narration, Wood has the reader involved, as though to discover ‘what next?’ Wood, a journalist, broadcaster and film maker has over a 100 documentary films to his credit. One of his most recent films was The Story of India, which won him huge acclaim. A highly readable book.
(Viking Penguin Books Ltd 80 Strand, London WC2R ORI, England)