‘Common People’ began as a platform to publish some forgotten voices from Berkhamsted Common in Hertfordshire.
I don’t know how well known the names of Augustus Smith and Earl Brownlow are today. Augustus Smith probably still has traction – but most people will associate him with the Scilly Isles, rather than Berkhamsted. Anyone who went to school in Berkhamsted in the 1970s will be very familiar with the epic battle between the two landowners over four hundred acres of Hertfordshire common. One school, Ashlyns, took its name from Smith’s estate, Ashlyns Hall. Another school took its name from the man himself.
Augustus Smith has been the subject of at least two novels. This site, however, begins with voices that have slipped under the radar. The source of the voices is court papers filed away at Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services. The witness statements amount to twenty-five thousand words.
The aim is to let the voices speak for themselves. The ‘blog’, rather than introducing or summing up, is intended to draw attention to odd details – ‘sidelights’ – usually the last thing the editor googled. Readers will have to look elsewhere for patient historical analysis.
My Berkhamsted accent began in the summer of 1966 when we moved to the town. I was four years old. A hundred years before that, the first witness in the trial, made his statement in, I think, a room at the King’s Arms. I’m old enough to remember a country burr in some of the pubs around Berkhamsted that I drank in the late seventies. But we repay our debt to our ancestors, not by imitating them, but by listening to what they have to say.
The court transcripts are punctuated only with dashes and new lines, so the punctuation and paragraphing (and errors in the application thereof) are my own. Where places exist in the modern landscape, I have silently changed the names to the modern ones. ‘Cold Harbour Farm’ has become ‘Coldharbour Farm’, but ‘Marlins Farm’ stays the same. I have swapped, for consistency, ‘inclosure’ for ‘enclosure’. I have also corrected obvious transcription errors such as ‘Outward Kiln’ for ‘Outwood Kiln’ – although some poetry is lost in the correction.
I hope that this list will grow and welcome contributions in all forms. Comments and corrections are especially welcome.
Richard Shepherd is a writer and musician who lives in Kentish Town.