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Appleby History > In Focus > Introduction

Appleby's History In Focus


by Richard Dunmore

I have been delving into the History of Appleby Magna for about 30 years and these articles are my attempt to create a picture of the village’s past from the many fragmented pieces of information available.  No-one to my knowledge has written a continuous ‘History’ of the village; indeed such a thing is impossible.  Even John Nichols’ account published in 1811, along with the rest of Leicestershire, is a collection of snippets: quotations from various surviving sources, Latin documents, descriptions of buildings, anecdotes and so on.  Much concerns land-owners and the Church, but this is not exclusively the case: for example one Latin document, dated only thirty years after the Domesday Survey, provides the names of the workers on Burton Abbey’s land at Appleby early in the 12th century.

The survival or not of past records is a matter of chance, perhaps the result of one person’s foresight and another’s  ignorance or neglect.  One of my university lecturers likened the historical process to being in a vast medieval church on a stormy night.  The pitch black is broken by only occasional narrow shafts of moonlight, penetrating the building from high clerestory windows and briefly illuminating perhaps the base of a pillar, a carved screen or the pulpit.  Can we construct in our imagination what the interior as a whole looks like?

This is what the local historian faces: dislocated pieces of information from which he or she attempts to create as complete a picture as possible.  So my approach has been eclectic: I have collected all sorts of pieces of information on Appleby’s past to try to understand how the village has developed over the centuries.  Perhaps surprisingly this information is often as much about geography and topography as it is about ‘history’.  The lie of the land and its resources are the starting point for understanding a settlement.  Place names, field names and archaeology play their part too.

How the original settlement subsequently developed depends upon economic and political, even military, factors.  We do not live in isolation even on the Leicestershire borders.  External events, such as invasions, civil war or epidemics, even the climate, must all have had their impact upon the life of the village, although we cannot always find a great amount of evidence for them.

In a converse way the discovery of particular facts about a relatively small settlement can shed some light on the larger world around.  One example that I have found is that Lady Godiva’s possession of land at Appleby before 1066 points to a larger Saxon estate from which the parish appears to have been carved.  Another example is that the ownership by Burton Abbey of a second estate at Appleby shows that hereabouts the county boundary with Derbyshire was established during the narrow time period after the Abbey’s acquisition in 1004 and before the Domesday survey of 1086.  Both of these deductions contribute to knowledge of the early development of the counties.

These articles arose at the invitation of the Appleby Magna Web Site.  Although I have written small articles about the village before, in the Appleby Parish Magazine and the Hinckley Historian, these web articles are completely new and have appeared on the site at two-monthly intervals since May 2000.  I am grateful to the organisers of the web site, especially the Site Manager Marilyn Dunkelman, for producing a public outlet for my work and allowing me a free hand.

My approach has been to try to follow a chronological sequence, although as parallel strands of the story develop this is not always strictly possible.   Each article, or pair of articles, focuses on a particular topic or period in detail and I have researched each topic and thought out my deductions as I have gone along.  Some of my conclusions are ‘educated guesses’ at what lies behind the surviving evidence, so inevitably there will be need for some revision at a later stage - although I hope not too much.  I hope that the reader will be able to share with me some of the excitement of gaining new insights into the village’s history

©Richard Dunmore, December 2001

Appleby's History In Focus > First article

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